Saturday, July 30, 2011

The Hot Potato

You'll find a bit of a ramble over at my blog Once Was Von:  about what I call 'the hot potato' and the issues which surround it. Many adoptees experience 'the hot potato' in reunion or in striving for reunion when they are welcomed or make themselves known in a family or a relationship and are suddenly discarded, dropped without notice or sent the 'Dear John' letter.
"While most of us dream of our mother, whoever she might be, I have yet to find any adoptee who believed in the myth of the perfect mother. By the time we reach the stage of reunion we are no longer children, dreaming the dreams of children, haunted by the past we may be, but we have made an adult choice about our future. It takes courage to follow through on the decision to search for our mothers, our history and our family. It is not just a fun bit of geneaology, but holds deep significance, connection to our true identity and the often deeply painful quest for the knowledge of why we became adoptees."
The feelings and need we have for connection to our biological relatives and knowledge of our families are part of our identity. We often have a longing to look like someone, have a sense of humour that fits in or interests in common with people we can call family. Some will never have those chances to belong. If reunion becomes possible, it gives a family a second change to welcome us or to discard us. For those who suffer again, adoption can be a lonely place.

Friday, July 29, 2011


First photos after I was adopted in Wisconsin
By Trace A. DeMeyer
I coined this phrase today relating to adoptees whose mothers refuse to meet them or tell anyone “the adoptee” exists. In my own first family, my mother Helen did not want contact with me and had what I call “scandal-paralysis.” She imagined the truth about me (and my birth) would cause such an uproar, disrupt her life and require hours of explanation, she refused to meet me. This is what I assume. I was 22 when I opened my adoption file and Helen was 22 when she made the decision to abandon me to total strangers.
After I met with a judge and got my name, I did find her, but she refused to return my call. So I wrote to her and she sent me back an unsigned letter stating if her husband found out – it could end their marriage. So, I was stuck. I wanted to respect her wishes but wait, I have a father and possibly siblings. How would I ever find out who they are if she refused to talk to me? I was illegitimate. My dad was not named in my adoption papers.
Had Helen ever considered that I might meet a brother and date him? Or I might have a child who might date a blood relative? Come on, this could happen. Twins were married in England and when they found out they were twins, they were granted an annulment of their marriage.
I can hardly believe that heredity and genetics was never a concern for the women who gave birth to us and left us without a clue as to who we are! That is more of the scandal in my mind. I used to worry and have my own scandal-paralysis about this when I was in my 20s – who was related to me, and what if I met and dated someone from my blood family. In Indian Country, you never marry into the same clan. They knew long before science the dangers and wonders of genetics.
My birthmother was extremely selfish to withhold what was mine. I needed my identity, period. In her mind, my finding her and disrupting her life and lies was the worst that could happen. Well, it happened, I found her. It didn’t end her marriage.
Long story short, I wrote again and demanded the name of my father. She obliged. I met my dad, we did DNA and the rest of my journey is in my memoir “One Small Sacrifice.”
As far as why we need open adoption records and our original birth certificates, this reason “heredity” alone should suffice. Every adoptee has a host of relatives. Don’t they deserve the chance to meet us? Don’t we adoptees deserve to meet them? Don’t future generations need to know their heredity, too?

Thursday, July 28, 2011

What Being a Daughter has Taught me About Being a Mother

As an adult adoptee, I have plenty of opportunities to view things from the position of "daughter" in my family systems.  When I'm not worried about what my parents or family members will think about an opinion I have, or taking back my original surnames, or whatever else, people are reminding me to be.  How many times have we perpetual children all been asked "what do your parents think about that?!" when we voice an adoption issue?  Or, "your mom and dad are your REAL parents" when we talk about reunion?  When I hear these questions and statements, I am taken aback for more than one reason.  Yes, they are belittling to me as an adult adoptee, especially when I am spoken to like a child regarding my adoption.  But they send up a red flag in my mind as a mother too.  Because, hey wait a minute, I wouldn't want someone talking to my kid like that!

Parenting my children is not about me.  It is about them.  It is about their rights and needs and welfare.  Why should it be any different for my parents or anyone elses for that matter--especially when being adopted is concerned?

I would be positively mortified if at every turn of one of my sons talking about something that was important to them people reminded them to think of me and my feelings.  I am here to support them, not ask them to forsake what is meaningful to them based on how I would feel about it.

I am sure people wonder how my parents feel about me re-taking my former surnames, as if what name I carry should be more about validating others than about validating who I am.  Is that really what being a parent and giving a name to a son or daughter is about?  Self validation?  I don't see it that way, not as a daughter, and not as a mom.  It is my name.  Shouldn't what I am called best describe me and how I identify?

As a mother, I would be mortified for my children to be reminded to be "grateful" to me.  While I hope my sons will grow to be courteous and respectful young men to everyone (me inclued, of course), I do not need gratitude for being their mother.  Putting them first is what I am supposed to do; why do I need an ounce of gratitude for it?

"What about the adoptive parents, they're the real parents" is still an objection to adoptee rights.  Adoptee access to their original birth certificates is not about who is more "real" than who.  It is about the right to be treated like everyone else.  Saying that adoptees should only have access to one certificate, the one with the adoptive parents' names on it because they're more "real," places the validation of parents in importance over the equality of their sons and daughters.  I am not an adoptive mother but as a mother I can tell you that my sons' best interest comes first; period.

Why don't people realize it should be the same for adoptees?

I can't help but noticed the double-standard where adoptees are asked to put aside what is important to them based on the assumption of how their parents will feel about it.  My wish for the moment is that before saying these things people would stop and think "is this how I would want someone to talk to my kid" before saying something to an adoptee about their parents.

Photo credit: Vlado

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Feministe asks Some Questions on Adoption and Feminism

Brigid at "Feministe" wants to know if adoption is a feminist issue. Brigid asks:

How can or should we view adoption as a feminist issue? As a class, race, or disability issue? Whose rights stand to be compromised when adoption is or is not an available option?

Does every child have a right to be raised by the people whose genetic material helped create them?

Does every genetic parent have a right to raise their genetic children?

Do people who are unable (though biology or circumstance), or do not desire, to conceive children have a right to raise children?

If you believe adoption is problematic, what circumstances would make it less so?
Join the discussion here.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Adoptees - Twice Lost

Adoptees - Twice Lost

I read the “Ask An Adoptee” question about adoptees feeling given away, and finally have my own response to it.  I’m having a tough time with feeling unwanted lately, and lost more than usual.  Dealing with multiple debilitating health issues is hard enough, especially without any family.   It’s not the first time and it won’t be the last.  I’ve been down this road before and walked the path of despair and I know the way out.  It’s through coping tools and mechanisms like writing, adoptee support groups, allowing myself to feel emotions and not deny or allow them to come out in some unhealthy manner.  Ok, except for screaming at random objects left on the carpet I trip over, or the cats in my way, or my son’s failure to take out the trash when asked three times. But, I know it’s really not about the tripping, or the cats, or the trash.  It’s about adoption.

I have no real relationship with my adoptive parents and I haven’t for a very long time.  Although we’ve come to the point of not rehashing the abusive past they have apologized to me for, the rejection continues.  The lack of my adoptive parents visiting has been blamed on me living so far away.  But, many families live far apart and see one another when they can.  It’s a five hour drive at most.  It’s Arkansas to Texas for God’s sake not cross country.   There are planes, trains, and automobiles readily available.  There are telephones, and email, and regular mail for communication when travel is not possible.  I know, I am the one who uses them to visit and contact them!

Neither of my biological parents can step out of the veil of secrets and lies that cover up my very existence.   I have had the times and circumstances explained to me over and over.  I get it!  I grew up in “those times” of shame and stigma in unwanted pregnancy and girls sent away.  But, this is not about “back then” it’s about now.  

The truth is it’s a sad, sad, sad, story about two people who gave up their child for adoption and went on with their lives, and adoptive parents who couldn’t bond with these children, and then had a biological child they did and went on with theirs.  But it’s not just about my personal situation with adoption it’s SO much larger than that.  It’s about the system of adoption that failed us all.  We are genetic beings created from our heredity and biology, not generic interchangeable family parts.

The whole truth is that the system of adoption lied, and is continuing to lie, to us and to the rest of the world about the realities of all of this while they continue to profit.  I wonder and think about the brothers and sisters I was told I have out there who don’t know about me, and may never know because of closed adoption records.  I am still on my fourth petition to the adoption courts over the last thirteen years.  My pleas and cries still fall on deaf ears, hearts, and minds.

The final truth for me is that the system of adoption has left me in the dust without either adoptive or biological family.  And that’s a tough life sentence to be given especially when the only crime you seem to have committed was that of being born.

Meet And Greet

My natural mother and I continued to email the next few weeks after my natural uncle's death.  We got to know each other better and often we'd have several email threads going at once because one or both of us would think of another question we had for the other.  (Our in person conversations are much the same...we're both Geminis and tend to flit from topic to  We'd joke about meeting secretly for the first time, just the two of us, to "get the butterflies out of the way", but then we'd drop it and keep writing for hours about other stuff.

It was in the middle of one of those marathon email sessions, while I was at work, that she slid in the following:

"So I was thinking that maybe Cate and I would come out your way tomorrow night and take you to dinner....just a thought...too soon?...forget it, I was just being impatient...all in due, how's work?"

Ummmm.  I think my heart stopped.  Did she just say TOMORROW?  She wrote back, asking if I was okay.  I replied that yes, I was fine but I was going to call my adoptive sister to see if she might be able to come with me the next night.

You'll all be wondering why I thought I should have someone else with me for the first meeting.  Honestly, I think I've watched too many Lifetime movies and assumed that was just what one did when meeting your natural mother and sister for the first time.

My adoptive sister put me at ease though.  She said that of course she'd come with me, but would totally understand if I wanted to go alone too.  It was completely my decision.

Go...alone?  I told her I was scared and terrified but in my heart, knew she was right.  I had to do this alone.  Full circle and all that.  So I wrote back to Chris and said that I'd be able to meet them at the restaurant at 6:30 the next night.  You could almost sense the relief on the other side of the email. 

Work dragged by the next day.  I was anxious and tense and my manager finally took pity on me and told me to leave...and have a fantastic night.  When I got home I found my baby album.  Pictures of me from 1974 through 1976.  My adoptive mother was snap happy and I have several other albums, each in two year increments...that was the first time I appreciated her putting those together. 

I left the house and drove to the restaurant.  My hands were shaking and my stomach was twisted in a knot.  What if I wasn't what they were expecting?  What if I wasn't good enough?  The internal tapes played over and over inside my head. Pulling into the parking lot, I saw them at the same instant they saw me.  And they were beaming. 

I don't remember all that we talked about.  Just that we talked for hours, both inside the restaurant and later standing next to our cars.  I was surprised there weren't any tears.  Just laughter. 

Chris loved the album.  The first picture was me as an infant.  Only a few weeks old.  "That's how I remembered you.  So little.  So delicate.  So beautiful".  She ran her fingers over the picture, lost in her thoughts.  I brought out two gift bags, presents for them that I'd picked out on my lunch break that day.

I'd gotten them silver necklaces, with a butterfly charm.  Instead of chasing the butterflies away, I wanted to honor honor the specialness of the evening.  To acknowledge that we were all nervous but that we were finally together as family.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Guest Post: When Lightning Strikes

By: Jasmine

"I am an adopted female that sought and found my birth farther when I was 33 years old and 7 months pregnant with my second child.  I found my birth mother 2 years latter.  I was raised in a family where my older brother was also adopted, but not blood related to me, and my adoptive parents eventually had a child of their own, who was my sister 4 years younger than me. When I found my biological family I experienced a wide range of emotions that were overwhelming at times. My blog is about the honest feelings, and emotions that evolve when I found my long lost biological relatives. I am an individual who is navigating and stumbling through in hopes to weave more deeply the love and untangle the confusion."  You can read more of Jasmine's writing at her blog: Weaving Love, Untangling Confusion.

As I continue to figure out, 'where do I fit?' after being reunited with my birth family for five years now, an image comes to mind of a strong beautiful tree with reaching branches and full foliage, that gets struck by lightning. CRACK! And one of the branches becomes fragmented from the whole. A severation drops the branch lowering it down to the ground swiftly with a hard landing into trauma.

Lightening lacerates the limb from the tree as adoption sieges the innocent babe from the arms of their kin. This first profound loss shapes a frame for the adoptee to mature within a scaffolding cemented with abandonment and loss forevermore. The adoptee can grow and build from this with amazing love, strength, and vitality, but the early structure has been soldered with a wound of abandonment.

This tree continues to grow and move on without the amputated limb for decades. My birth mother and birth father once married, then divorced before I was born, have lived separate lives apart from each other and have been without contact since my birth. Yet the image of a solid tree takes me back to my conception, and that primal need to want to bond to my lineage, my blood, my family tree. According to Lorriane Dusky on her post, The universal need to know who you are,,

"..there is plenty of hard evidence that people do want and need to know where they came from, where they fit on the tree of life, whom they are related to, whom they look like, where they get all of their special and unique traits."

The truth is in my exile away from my biological family I have been raised, nurtured and molded by another.  Reuniting, I found I just don't easily fit as if I was always an extension on the biological tree from the onset.  I have been changed under the circumstances I was sequestered.

My adoptive family sought for and found that limb lying on the ground many years ago. I laid on the ground exactly 4 months after the lightning struck, before I was adopted to their orchard. I was picked up, and eventually realized the humbling truth that a limb cannot be attached to another tree either.  To keep me safe and nurtured I was planted next to my adoptive parent's tree. My roots took hold and underneath the provision soil of my adoptive parents guidance, love and care I began to heal and grow.

I always knew I was not from the same genetic fiber of the larger tree that took me into their haven.  About 3 years ago, the family tree I knew began to deteriorate. It started to become diseased with diabetes and cancer. First, side effects from decades of suffering from diabetes swiftly and quickly manifested brain lesions in my adoptive dad's head and ended his life rather abruptly. Secondly, my mom suffered from another form of cancer, one that was not so swift but rather long and painful with many treatment options only to end in the unavoidable. She died five months ago.

This large tree that took me in, helped me blossom and sheltered me is gone. There is a large crater in the ground where it stood for 30 years shy of a century. My perspective has undoubtedly changed as the void in my scenery now displays a different point of view. I am coming to terms with this significant loss and barren pasture that has reshaped everything I now see.

In this ruin where my adoptive parents now lay, I found in this void that I have been reaching for my original roots. I want to know where I came from, who I am, and what is the story behind the people whose genetic code makes up my DNA? My adoptive parents sheltered me and steered me away from any inquires of my birth family, in simplest terms I was told, I am their family. I was challenged and questioned when I had wonderings. They would ask me, "isn't our love enough?" Of course it was, and as to not provoke their belief, "if I seek and find my birth roots, then I am seeking more love," I didn't investigate my own history. The fear that they lacked insignificant love for me or that my biological parents could love me better is heartbreaking.

I kept my curiosity for seeking my biological parents at bay out of respect for not wanting to hurt my adoptive parents and not wanting to challenge what was always unspoken. It was when I started having children of my own that I broke the unspoken taboo, and claimed my birthright to find truths of my past to know the initial fibers of who I am. An anonymous person responded to Lorianne Dusky's post by stating,

"It is usually those who are secure in the knowledge of who they are biologically who tell those of us who aren't that it really doesn't matter and that family is based solely on relationships. I don't think the issue is whether or not the adoptee feels it is important or even if s/he wants to know his bio-relatives, I think the issue is that every person has the inherent right to know this information about him/herself.  What s/he wants to do with the information is up to him but everyone should at least have access to the information."

As I understand and learn about my birth family, I find I want to adhere back to the original tree that has welcomed me with open arms. And this is where the visual of the lightning humbles me to an understanding, which I will never be able to rivet myself in that place where I was once fragmented off and expect to grow from there as if the trauma never happened.

Reuniting with my birth mother and birth father has been a struggle to comprehend re-connection similarly in a severed limb's effort to reattach to its origin. A painful truth begins to sink deep within... as a limb cannot be reattached to the tree once fractured off, nor can I be reattached to the place of origin of my beginning. As I continue to develop a relationship with my birth family, I have continually tried to tie myself back to the tree, only to fall back off with a gust of wind. I have tried to use screws and rods and drill myself back onto the tree, but I end up with more scars and cannot get the necessary nutrients from the sealed over aperture.  Where do I fit in?

When unrolling my biological ancestry family tree scroll, I seem to be an addendum. The calligraphy of the known members have been inked in for years and the branches already colored in, I feel like I am a footnote to the whole tree, or a *that says see below.

*This is our biological child given up for adoption, raised by another family. She sought and found us when she was 33, now added to the family tree on this date.

Parental loss is one of the greatest loss an individual will ever grieve. Whether that be as an infant and a lifelong grief process or as an adult when parents age, grow ill and die. The pain is unbearable at times. The pain of my adoptive parent's death has awaken the first affliction of parental loss from adoption. I am grieving on top of an abandonment wound that has never fully healed.

In deep despair and heartache where the open wounds of parental loss ooze with mournfulness, I can now allow myself to finally flush out the deepest part of the wound with love. Love passed on from my adoptive parent’s epitaph along with new found love that has been running through my blood all along.  As a tree drinks up the nutrients and cleansing water from the sources around her, so do I sip up an abundance and rich nutrients left by my parents. Their life cycle is returning to the ground composting their teachings, love and beauty within me and my siblings.

It is here in the soil where I was raised that I am gaining the strength and wisdom to journey on, and to stretch my branches and grow fuller and more beautiful every day. It is here in their loss that new life is blooming in me and allowing me to stretch my roots beyond their soil to my original land. It is in this strange dichotomy juncture, or division and connection of parents, where I am finally beginning to feel as one. No longer separated or severed, but standing strong on my own with support from all the ample parental minerals and supplements offered when lightning strikes you away from the main tree and you preserve through the pain and trauma.

I am finding comfort in knowing where I stand strong in my adoptive parent’s soil and where I can continue to reach for compassion and love from the origin of my biological heritage. In the midst of grief, I found I have new life and two reservoirs to gather from, and two ecosystems to support me as I continue to discover what it means to be a daughter.

Photo credit: dan

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Letter From an Aggravated Chinese Adoptee

By Mei-Ling

Dear adoptive parents and/or other outsiders (people with no personal connection to adoption),

I get that you want to acknowledge I am Asian. I get that you think think it's important for you to acknowledge that.

But you're doing it The Wrong Way.

When I'm out at a Chinese market or in a vicinity with Asian signs and shops, I don't need people suddenly asking me if I can understand the signs. I don't need people conveniently becoming "aware" that oh hey you're Chinese and expecting me to know the characters because wow, they just realized my ethnicity is Chinese even though they have viewed me as being culturally Caucasian.

Or wondering why I can't read a cartoon clip on the Internet that's in Chinese, and subsequently asking me why I can't read it - and then, in some cases, furthering the exchange to ask how I can't read it - "You studied the language, you really can't understand it?"

Please don't tell me to just "study harder", "buy a dictionary" or "take classes." I have done all of that, multiple times. No, it doesn't work. No, it does not allow me to do anything more than ask for simple directions, and oftentimes, I can't understand the answer, which makes the whole asking issue pointless. It might help a little for survival, but please think about the reality of the situation.

Don't tell me to add in my cover letter that I speak Mandarin just because there's a bilingual job that requires Chinese, or that I should try and apply for an admin job which states the employer's name is Chinese. Why? Because it's the only type of job where you seem to think putting down an Asian "whatever" will get their attention! or hired! No, putting in my Chinese name and "boasting" about how I have survival skills in Mandarin does not equal job professionalism. Yes, I've put my Chinese name in my cover letter for Chinese restaurants. No, it doesn't work. Don't use my ethnicity like that.

Don't tell me you saw a cute Chinese boy at the mall and talk how about it's "too bad" I couldn't date him. On that matter, don't suggest that you have seen an Asian co-worker or a friend of a friend whose son is an immigrant and happens to be from China therefore maybe we can set up a date. Hello? I was raised Caucasian. I am not going to obtain fluency in Mandarin, I am not going to suddenly have intimate knowledge of the culture or food, and I am certainly NOT going to have anything in common just because we're both Chinese. Get that idea out of your head, because it's a privileged generalization. It's nothing more than convenience to you.

Why is it a convenience? Because you only talk about it within of another Asian guy or when we go to an Asian district! It's never ever mentioned anywhere else!

If you're going to acknowledge me as being Chinese but only when there's a cute guy in the room, or when you want me to translate, then don't do it at all.

Being Chinese is not a matter of cultural or linguistic convenience.


an aggravated Chinese adoptee

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Ask An Adoptee: Given Away or Taken Away?

The question was for a reunited adoptee from a first mother.  She was wondering if we ever realized that we were not “given away”, but rather that our mothers were coerced and had no choice in the matter.  So I’m answering the question, did my mother give me away or was I taken away?

Reunited Adoptee here!  I figured I’d tell my story because sometimes I think that stories like mine get overlooked online.  I see a lot of first mothers who swear that first mothers don’t give away their babies ever, never had a choice, and were coerced.  I feel for those mothers.  No mother should ever feel like she doesn’t have a choice in raising her child.  That being said, there are mothers out there who do have a choice and who choose to give their children to others.  Mine is one of those mothers.  I know this because she told me so.

When I found my mother, I thought that we would enter a wonderful reunion.  I sent that first letter to her and wasn’t sure, but when she responded back and said she’d love to keep in touch, I felt like I had crossed the mountain and was now in happy reunion land.  I mean, getting that first answer is the hardest part right?  She wanted to get to know me!  Yay!  I had one of those great first mothers and things were going to be wonderful and she was going to love me and accept me and we’d live happily ever after!  Um, yeah.  I was a bit delusional.

We started emailing and I learned why I was given up.  My first mother kept her pregnancy with me a secret from everyone.  She was afraid her parents wouldn’t approve.  She didn’t tell my father, she didn’t tell her parents whom she was living with, didn’t tell her friends, just kept it all a secret.  I have yet to figure out how nobody knew that she was pregnant.  I was a seven pound baby.  While not huge (like the sixteen pound baby that was born recently) but I wasn’t a peanut either.  Yet they all just thought she had gained some weight.  Nobody coerced her because nobody knew.

Her parents found out (because let’s not lie, our parents eventually find out everything when you live in the same house more often than not) and they gave her a choice.  They wouldn’t let her continue to live in their house with a baby but it was up to her.  She and my first father considered getting an apartment (though I’m pretty sure they told me this just to make me feel better and really never seriously considered it).  They did have a choice.  They talked it over and decided that they didn’t want to raise a kid at that time.  They decided together that they would give me up.  She told me that there was never really any question in her mind.  She didn’t want a baby.  She wanted to be a 21 year old and live life.  She didn’t want to have a kid that young.  Yes there are women out there like her.  No she’s not a witch, does not fly around on a broom, and does not wear a big black hat.  She was a normal girl who made the mistake of sleeping with a guy without any birth control.  Remember kids, don’t be silly, wrap your… you get the picture.

Furthermore, my first father has explained to me that she doesn’t see me as her daughter.  She severed that link mentally the minute I was out of her body.  Once the cord was cut we were done being mother and daughter in her eyes.  She doesn’t love me like a daughter because she sees me as someone else’s child.  I was given away in that sense.  She and my father picked from three families.  They picked parents for me and in her mind, they are my ONLY parents.  She never thought I would come back.  She wondered about me, but was hoping I’d stay away.

My first mother really did not want to raise me.  My first father was more on the fence but he didn’t want me to grow up the way he did, with parents who had no money and were poor.  He “gave me” to people who were married and who had nice things.  There was no coercion, nobody forced either one of them, and they truly did not wish to parent.  It does happen.  People like that do exist.  And they aren’t bad people.  They are good people who made a decision that maybe wasn’t the best.

I know that I have four parents.  And they are all real.  She may not love me, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t love her.  Do I wish things were different?  Sure!  I wish that she would agree to meet me.  I wish she would tell her family about me.  I wish I could call her and ask her advice on shoes (we’re both big fanatics), jackets (our closets are both full of them), and when the time comes, on pregnancy.  But unfortunately I wasn’t dealt that hand in life.  And I’m getting to be ok with that.  We can’t pick our family… right?

Friday, July 22, 2011

Ask an Adoptee: "Do you realize that you were not 'given away'?"


I would like to know if those of you that have been reunited with your mother, realize that you were not 'given away'. I keep seeing that in most of your blogs and it must have been a terrible thing to have inside one's head, especially a child's head.

Most of the the mothers of loss that I know, including myself, did not EVER give you away. Most of us were coerced and had absolutely NO choice in the matter. Most of us had our babies ‘taken away’, never did we ‘give them away’. I would love to say to the children in you all, NO your mother did not give away. Be interested in hearing your comments.

Julie's Response:

As a reunited adoptee, I internalize the statements above in a few different ways. My immeidate, gut reaction is to roll my eyes because I am once again finding myself being told what my mother thinks from someone who is not my mother. And much like when adoptive parents say "she loved you so much that...," statements such as the ones made above are not informed with knowledge of my particular circumstances. Hence the eye rolling. This person has no idea if my mother gave me away or not, had choices or not, or was coerced or not.

For the record, it is my feeling that my mother did have choices. This is my personal opinion regarding my own mother based on my interactions with her over the past 13 years. And in no way do my personal feelings about my own mother represent how I view the mothers of all adoptees. Other women may not have had choices. My mother simply was not one of them.

That said, do I think that my mother chose to give me away? No, I do not. I think that she was not strong enough to stand up to her parents. So as far as I'm concerned, my maternal grandparents were the ones who actually gave me away and decided that I was not wanted by my own family.

Here's the thing though. My mother now has all the choices in the world. No one is coercing her into anything. Yet for the past 13 years of our reunion, she has made it clear that I am not welcome in her life. She has had 13 years to take control and face the past. And she has chosen not to do so. Therefore, at this stage in our reunion game, I am holding her responsible for her decisions and how they make me feel. Her continued distance and silence makes me feel unwanted, unloved and, yes, "given away."

This is why my eyes tend to roll when I'm lectured to about my mother's thoughts, intentions and experiences by someone who is not her. Because in my world, the only person who can speak for my mother is my mother--and she has made herself very clear to me.

But then I have to step back and really consider what this mother-of-loss is truly saying with the words expressed above. She is speaking of herself. She is speaking of her lost child. She is speaking of her own experience. She sees her own child in us and does not like to see that so many of us are hurting. She wants to help relieve our pain. Because she is a mother. And that's what mothers are supposed to do.

Unfortunately, however, she simply cannot assume that all mothers are like her or feel the same way she does.

~ Julie

Ask an Adoptee: Messages and Meanings

"I would like to know if those of you that have been reunited with your mother, realize that you were not 'given away'. I keep seeing that in most of your blogs and it must have been a terrible thing to have inside one's head, especially a child's head.

Most of the the mothers of loss that I know, including myself, did not EVER give you away. Most of us were coerced and had absolutely NO choice in the matter. Most of us had our babies ‘taken away’, never did we ‘give them away’. I would love to say to the children in you all, NO your mother did not give away. Be interested in hearing your comments."

At first I hesitated to respond to you, because I often find that communicating with fmoms on the subject of what it means to have been left behind in the hospital is too fraught with emotion. It's really difficult to listen to each other. As Von said in her answer to this question, all sides of the hellagon (thanks to Joy for coining that term, my new preferred way of referring to the "constellation") have trauma, but they are different traumas. We may say that we feel "abandoned," but we are then told "I NEVER abandoned you!" by mothers who aren't OUR mothers. There may be a difference between being abandoned and feeling abandoned, but our feelings can get lost in the shuffle of collective fmotherly anger, shame, and guilt. 

I have been thrown down on the mat by some fmoms for using the word "choice" in relation to relinquishment. They had no choices themselves. I get that. My bad. 

But you know, some fmoms did choose to give up their kids. Mine is one of those. She was slow to come to the reunion table. She took 11 years to talk to me, and among her first words were the charming, "I wish I had aborted you." She wasn't the wounded woman whom you describe in your paragraphs above. Although you say "most," not all mothers "did not EVER give you away." I feel that your use of "most" pathologizes those of us who didn't get the presumably "normative" experience of the distraught mother who had her baby pried from her arms against her will.  

I think that the best discussions about adoption occur when we recognize that while we may share some experiences and feelings, adoptees' relationships with our families are all very, very different. There are as many stories as there are adoptees and mothers. It's extremely important to be respectful of individual differences in how adoptees think of their relationships with their mothers.

The words "gave you away" don't bother me nearly as much as they seem to bother others. To me, that phrase is just part of society's script (yes, a very flawed script) for explaining what happened to us, and after 42 years, I am numb to it. What hurts, by contrast, is not feeling accepted my natural family for who I am. But that's another story.

I grieve for the loss of my mother, the loss of the family to which I was born, and the loss of my connection to personal history that I feel could have grounded me and helped me better weather some of the more difficult parts of my life. 

Intellectually, I thank you for wanting to love us all. Emotionally, saying that "most" mothers love their children, did not give them away, and instead had them taken away, doesn't help me. It's not my truth.

I think all of us in the hellagon do best by listening, recognizing where our own pain stops and another's begins, and paying attention to the infinite variety of experiences out there. 

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Ask An Adoptee: Given Away?

The Question: -I would like to know if those of you that have been reunited with your mother, realize that you were not 'given away'. I keep seeing that in most of your blogs and it must have been a terrible thing to have inside one's head, especially a child's head.
Most of the the mothers of loss that I know, including myself, did not EVER give you away. Most of us were coerced and had absolutely NO choice in the matter. Most of us had our babies ‘taken away’, never did we ‘give them away’. I would love to say to the children in you all, NO your mother did not give away. Be interested in hearing your comments

This remark of Amanda's in her post on the question struck a particular chord - 'Many of us feel given away or feel as though we were left'.
I was a product of the forced adoption era in Australia, the subject of a current Government Inquiry. Many things will come out of this Inquiry and have done so already. It has been illuminating and useful for adoptees in particular and there will be some practical and supportive outcomes hopefully ...long overdue.
What is clear for me personally, is that my mother, with whom I was reunited when I was 50, followed the practice of the times. She did consider raising me, but realised that it would be too difficult and impractical. She clearly loved me, wanted me and was glad to have me back in her life after reunion. Her account of peeking through the window at my adopters as they walked away after viewing me, would break any feeling person's heart, as would her account of the day I was collected, taken away and made an adoptee.
Having that knowledge, however much sympathy, compassion and lack of judgement I had for her situation, both then and  in later life, did nothing whatsoever for the loss I suffered and the fact that I was given away. There is no way to put a different slant on that, for me or for many other adoptees. However much mothers put their ideas, views and feelings forward about their situations and circumstances, it never alters the fact of being given to others to raise and being made an adoptee.
I understand that that is often a big sticking point in understanding and in moving forward, in what here in Australia could now best be called reconciliation. There has been much damage because mothers, in insisting on their truth, have ignored, criticised or denied the experience of adult adoptees. Yes it's hard, yes it's painful but it is the next step in adoption understanding.
Adoption for mothers is a very different adoption to the one adoptees experience and live with for life.It is time to separate out the experience of mothers and the experience of adult adoptees. They are connected but separate, unique and often very individual. The trauma of mothers is not the same trauma for adoptees, adult adoptees are not 'our kids' and the stories of adult adoptees are valid and deserving of respect. Until that separation is achieved, we will continue to be asked questions about being given away and continue to be told we were not. All adoption begins with loss and that painful fact will never go away, whatever words are spoken.

Ask An Adoptee: Semantics

 The question being posed to us was as follows:

"I would like to know if those of you that have been reunited with your mother, realize that you were not 'given away'. I keep seeing that in most of your blogs and it must have been a terrible thing to have inside one's head, especially a child's head.

Most of the the mothers of loss that I know, including myself, did not EVER give you away. Most of us were coerced and had absolutely NO choice in the matter. Most of us had our babies ‘taken away’, never did we ‘give them away’. I would love to say to the children in you all, NO your mother did not give away. Be interested in hearing your comments."

A lot.  Several.  Most.

I have come to hate these words. 

“A lot of adoptees I know grew up happy and well-adjusted.”
“Several adoptive parents adopted because they wanted to save an orphan.”
“Most natural mothers did not give their children away.”

My own mother and I have a very special bond.  After our first contact, we clicked instantly.  Bonded immediately.  But she did give me away 37 years ago.  I was left at the hospital as she walked out…not adopted until six days later.

I was given up.  Abandoned. Adopted.

Honestly, the language doesn’t matter.  It all boils down to a mother and child being separated. 

Embrace your's yours.  But please don’t take away mine.

 I'm not sure my adoptive parents ever actually said, "You were given up".  They just told me that they wanted another daughter and the agency called them.  The whole "given up" conversation never came up...and wasn't something that was ever explicitly said to me.  But it's how I felt.  Then and now. 

I deserve to live my truth.

Ask an Adoptee: Do I Know I Wasn't "Given Away?"

"I would like to know if those of you that have been reunited with your mother, realize that you were not 'given away'. I keep seeing that in most of your blogs and it must have been a terrible thing to have inside one's head, especially a child's head.

Most of the the mothers of loss that I know, including myself, did not EVER give you away. Most of us were coerced and had absolutely NO choice in the matter. Most of us had our babies ‘taken away’, never did we ‘give them away’. I would love to say to the children in you all, NO your mother did not give away. Be interested in hearing your comments."

An asker implores us.

The short answer? Yes. I do know that I was not "given away."

As for the long answer....

"Given away" has become part of the language used in adoption discussion, especially by those of us who have heard it so often in relation to our adoptions.  Being "given" was supposed to make us feel special but for many of us, it didn't.  And thus, we shake our heads at a society that still encourages young women to "give" their babies as gifts to those deemed more deserving.  "Given away" has become part of what adoptees say for many reasons.  Here I present just one.

Language doesn't always describe what we know; sometimes it describes what we feel. When you spend your childhood and a large portion of your life with the "given" language and message, changing what you feel is extremely hard to do.....even once you've changed what you know.

Many of us are told we were given to a better life, given away as a gift, or given up "and at least she didn't abort you!"  The "given" language is stitched into nearly every "you were adopted" revelation there is.  Yes, I personally have not found comfort in the thought of being "given."  To be "given" is a reminder of our powerless in the matter that changed our lives (and saying that I was powerless does not mean I am pointing the finger at mothers either, many of which I understand were powerless themselves).

"She loved you so much she gave you away" and so the young adoptee may wonder, does love = leaving?  These are things we have had to attempt to come to terms with, even pre-reunion, and without information.  It's hard for a young person to do.

Many of us feel given away or feel as though we were left and have felt that way for as long as we can remember.  Reunion beings new information and it is a relief that many find to know that they were loved and wanted and that the circumstances and powers that be weighed against our mothers so heavily that many of them had no choice.  Some of us are angry on behalf of ourselves and our mothers but glad to have been wanted.

But knowing does not make the feeling suddenly nor magically go away.

For adoptees who have heard their own mother's stories, is not for lack knowledge of the details of what actually happened.  It just is.

I know my mother's story and even from the little bit of it I knew growing up from the agency.  I have never felt that she did anything wrong and I do not want to appear to be assigning blame to her by talking about how I feel.

And this is why I don't often get into this topic.  I do not want what I have to say about being "given away" to be mistaken for assigning blame when I'm not talking about what someone did.  I am talking about how I feel.

A lifetime of feeling "given away," left, or unwanted may for some need a consider able amount of time to heal.  It often takes plenty of love and reassurance and the support of others.

And not everyone had the experience of a warm welcome at reunion.  It's very sad, it's heartbreaking, but is nevertheless true.

Let me close by saying, I am just one adoptee with one experience; my own.  These are my thoughts about the topic of being "given away."  Some of our other authors are working on their own responses from their perspectives.  I hope everyone will come back to read what they say.

Photo credit: Master isolated images

Is the Portrayal of Adoptees/Adoption on These TV Shows Offensive?

"Oh wow...did that character just refer to orphans 'dumplings'?!" I thought to myself when watching one episode of Futurama. "Dumplings" as in "dump...lings." Do things like these just stick out to me because I'm adopted or would anyone have taken notice? I wonder. Adoption is everywhere in television shows, movies, and even commercials. I discussed a while back on my blog the kids show "Dinosaur Train" with its nauseating "its healthy to learn more about who I am while making it exhuberantly clear that my adoptive family is my one and only real family" theme. But television shows with bizzare adoption themes are not exclusive to kids shows. There are quite a few shows for older audiences that use adoption themes for humor. Do shows like Futurama and American Dad cross the line when it comes to using adoption themes to poke fun

Turanga Leela, one of the main characters in Futurama, grew up in an "orphanarium." Abandoned as a baby and treated as an outcast in the "orphanarium," Leela spends a considerable amount of her adulthood searching for who she is and where she comes from. She believes that she is an alien and thus searches far and wide throughout the galaxy for her people. She finally discovers that she is not an alien but a mutant. As mutants themselves, her parents are banished to living in the sewer system. Believing that Leela could pass as human, they abandoned her in a basket on a doorstep where she is taken to the "orphanarium." They have watched her wherever she has gone throughout her life; she just didn't know it.

(From episode 4.5, Leela and the "warden" at the "orphanarium")

Leela:  Mr Vogel?, Remember me ? 
Warden Vogel:  Leela., You're worthless and no one will ever love you. 
[both laughing and hugging] 
Leela:  You used to say that all the time. 
Warden Vogel:  Those were happier days. 

The show features Leela's emotional breakdowns, poor and rash decisions, and her suseptibility to being taken advtangage of whenever her past as an "orphan" or her search for her roots and people are brought into play.

American Dad, another cartoon, also has a main character who spent part of her childhood in an orphanage. Francine Smith, wife, mother of two, and caregiver to an alien the family is hiding and a talking goldfish, is adopted.  She also became a surrogate mother as a favor to the neighbors. Francine was adopted by Chinese parents who saw her at the orphanage and wanted to adopt her immediately but waited until the price went down so they could get her cheaper.

Scenes featuring Francine's adoption are heavily saturated with Asian stereotypes. It is difficult to tell if Francine doesn't see eye to eye with her parents simply because she's adopted, because she's portrayed as a "dumb blonde," or because of how they are so heavily stereotyped in the show.

We have our own jokes in the adoptee community as do we women amongst ourselves. As Von stated so well on a past post on her personal blog, a sign that a group is doing well is when they have the ability to make fun of themselves and incorporate some humor into their movement. But what about when it isn't adoptees making fun of themselves but other people doing it? Shows like these leave no topic untouched. Is it funny? What is the difference between "being able to take a joke" and feeling disrespected?

There's a fine line between the two, I suppose.

"All I really wanted was a mom and dad, to hold me and stroke my hair and tell me they love me."  --Turanga Leela, Futurama

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Unhappy Birthday

Recently I was asked to write a guest blog for a social worker trying to educate adoptive and foster care parents about the issues these children can have, and to help them better understand and lend support to them.  I had posted a poem I wrote about the emotions I had that my birthday brought with it.  I had a 600 word minimum which is struggle for someone as wordy as myself.  So, I had to really restrict what I wanted to say and limit expanding upon it.  But, these are some of the feelings and issues I believe adoptees struggle with that nonadopted people don't grasp or even imagine we deal with.

Unhappy Birthday

There were no birth announcements.
No cigars were handed out.
No newborn baby pictures.
No parent's joyous shouts.
No counting toes and fingers.
No comparing eyes and chins.
No nursery decorated.
No proud grandparent grins.
Instead the day that I was born,
a mother silently wept.
While in a room close to her,
her newborn daughter slept.
So close we were together.
So far we're now apart.
Two lives were separated.
A love doomed from the start.
And so each year since I was born,
this day has been the same.
No one can know the sadness.
No one can know the pain.
No candles ever bright enough
to light my darkened soul.
No happy birthday party.
No heart that can be whole.

I wrote “Unhappy Birthday” at the age of 43 when trying to come to terms with my adoption situation.  After giving birth to children of my own I began to question even more the genes I was created from, and the genes I had passed on to my children.  But, I had no support or help in obtaining any information. 
I had spent my adult years struggling with my birthday and acting out each year around that date and the ensuing depression that would follow.  I did not understand why but neither did anyone around me.  Because the impact of adoption was not, and has not been, something discussed and understood even by the parties involved.  I was told I should be happy I was chosen.  But, that perplexed me more because first I was “unchosen”.

I heard it presented by someone once in the following manner, and I think it is a very good example of the misconceptions about adoption.  If I tell people I lost my mother at birth the first reaction would be one of sympathy.  If I told people I was adopted the reaction would be something along the lines of “how wonderful”.  They are the same thing.  I know numerous adoptees that have wonderful, supportive, encouraging adoptive parents.  But they still have underlying feelings of loss, rejection, abandonment, and questions about where they came from and why they were given away.

Only in adoption are genetics white washed as unimportant.  It’s natural to want to know where we came from, how, and why.   Adopted children will always have other family out there that may, or may not be, important to them.  Certain days such as birthdays, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, and holidays can bring extra emotion for adoptees.

I can’t stress enough how important it is to be honest with an adopted child.   Be open to their question and give them the answers you can, age appropriate of course, and it will help give them a solid foundation and sense of identity they will carry with them into adulthood.  If you don’t know there is nothing wrong with saying so.  There can be some extremely sensitive and hard to hear subjects and issues that may come up.  Be prepared.   Read and learn all you can about adoption but mostly, listen to the experiences of adoptees.
I did not have a reunion with my birth mother but I am glad we exchanged non-identifying letters via the adoption court.  I found out I was loved, wanted, and thought of.   If I would have had this information younger what a different life I might have had.  I would not have spent nearly 40 years believing everything about me was wrong because I was physically, emotionally, and mentally different than my adoptive parents and given away because there must be something inherently wrong with me.  So now I write, and I try to heal, and I pass along what I have experienced in hopes of helping others.

If we teach our children to tell the truth, then first we must tell it to them.

Friday, July 15, 2011

What's Cooking?

Standing over a saucepan of sauce for lasagne, concentrating, as you do, so that it doesn't stick and burn, I thought back over the years of cooking and the things I've learned from dear friends - mustard in the sauce for cauliflower cheese, thank you Chris; a cupful of water in with the butter and flour to start before the milk goes in, thank you someone now forgotten. So it went on through every step of putting it all together. Food memories, life memories interwoven through everything that matters.
Many people who cook would have learned from their mothers or fathers or another family member and it makes me sad to think how hopeless Mum's cooking was; sometimes inedible, always unappetising because it was a chore, for which she had no enthusiasm whatsoever.She was creative in other ways which absorbed her far more than turning out a nice meal. I never felt comfortable with it and what a relief it was to visit the homes of school friends or relatives, where food was wholesome, enjoyed, celebrated.
I've just spent a relaxing afternoon with a piece of chicklit, in which cooking and food feature almost as another character. Italian food and cooking! The aromas, the variety, the richness and the comfort of it all, so well described you could taste it. I am lucky to have Italian neighbours and to buy most of my vegetables and olive oil from their relatives, who garden professionally a stone's throw away. How I would love to have been brought up in that atmosphere where a love and respect for food runs through everything!
You adoptees can probably guess what's coming! After reunion with both sides of the family, I discovered all were cooks, some professional, some enthusiastic amateurs. Two of my sisters cooked on an oilrig for riggers and enjoyed themselves immensely. My father cooked for every family celebration until he got too old and infirm to do it...the boy who had starved at the hands of the Christian Brothers and considered himself lucky to get a job in the gardens, so he could surreptitiously eat the produce. He keep poultry and grew vegetables, just as I do, although his ducks were for eating, my geese are for beauty.
The thread that runs through my heritage, both sides, is in me, has found it's place and explains one of the things that caused me to be the piece of the jigsaw that didn't fit in to the space alloted for me as an adoptee. Part of me came home when I discovered not just one family, but both, had skills, enthusiasm and a love for food and cooking. As Davis Suzuki says, "our food is our medicine" and my discovery was certainly a big tonic!