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Thursday, September 8, 2011

Issues Of Identity Are Serious Matter For Adoptees, Families

By Abigail Van Buren | Dear Abby – September 8, 2011
DEAR ABBY: May I weigh in on the letter from "Noah's Real Dad in New York" (June 27), whose adult adopted son wants to reclaim his original last name? I am an adult adoptee who searched for and found my birth family. I also joined a support group that was formed to support the adoption triad.
Research has shown that male adoptees struggle with their identity more than females do. After all, in our patriarchal society it is the male surname that most often does not get changed in marriage. Women are accustomed to the fact that they will most likely change their name.
This family needs to do some reading on the subject. There are many resources out there. A family counselor who isn't well-educated about adoption issues will not be helpful.
Unless you walk in an adoptee's shoes you cannot judge their actions. After all, the adoption decision is made without the consent of the child. We also resent being treated like children after we are adults. Noah is a 34-year-old adult able to make his own choices and decisions.
Noah is fortunate that he knows his birth father and didn't have to search a bureaucratic maze to obtain any information. Laws have been passed in several, not all, states allowing adoptees to get important information about their birth families that is necessary for taking care of ourselves and our own children. -- DEBBIE IN FLORIDA
DEAR DEBBIE: Your letter reflects the strong sentiments of many adoptees and their families who wrote to me expressing their disappointment in my reply to Noah's adoptive father. Here are some of their responses:
DEAR ABBY: I am an adoptive parent in an open adoption with our children's birth families, and I vehemently disagree with what you wrote.
My children have two mothers and two fathers. My husband and I are the parents who are raising them, but that slip of paper signed by a judge does not erase their family of origin. It shouldn't. They have an adoptive family and a biological one and should be able to have a relationship with both.
My children also have two names. The names they were given at birth and the names my husband and I gave them when we adopted them as infants. They will always know about these two sets of names. When they are older, if they wish to be called by their birth name, we will have to respect that. It does not mean they love us less or that we are not their parents.
What is does mean is that adoption is more complicated than most people realize, and as our children grow into adults, we need to give them the space and freedom to discover for themselves who they are. -- AN ADOPTIVE MOTHER IN ILLINOIS
DEAR ABBY: I agree with you 100 percent! How horrible, disrespectful and mean-spirited of that 34-year-old son. I understand why he is interested in the family history of his biological father, but he could record that history for the future without changing his current surname. Doesn't Noah realize his biological father was an adult who made up his mind to give up his rights to his son, including the rights to his last name? If Noah doesn't respect his adoptive father for giving him his last name, and if Noah is set on changing his surname, it would be more respectful to take his mother's maiden name as his surname. I hope Noah reconsiders the issue he's creating, and at 34 he makes a wiser adult decision than his biological parent did. -- PHYLLIS IN OHIO

Dear Abby is written by Abigail Van Buren, also known as Jeanne Phillips, and was founded by her mother, Pauline Phillips. Write Dear Abby at www.DearAbby.com or P.O. Box 69440, Los Angeles, CA 90069.

“How horrible, disrespectful and mean-spirited “ – this is a common adopters attitude I have run across many times. Until adoptive parents embrace the fact that we are not their possession, and that every adoptee has a right to our true name and ancestry, adoptees will face further discrimination, verbal attacks and have to fight archaic barbaric laws that prevent access to our birth records and identity. Dear Abby and Phyllis in Ohio show their bias based on adoption propaganda, and one that seriously needs to change. Adoptees have been silenced far too long...
- Trace A. DeMeyer, an adoptee and journalist, www.splitfeathers.blogspot.com

Family Trees and Other Projects

Family tree projects often present a lot of stress to adoptees growing up.  It's a reminder to us that we have limited knowledge of our roots.  We can put down our legal family tree but discussion of the project between parents and peers reveals that what we're learning about with such a project isn't just legal or nurturing roots: it's biological too.  My friend George's* ancestry is from Italy.  He tells a story about how his last name is supposed to be pronounced but how they choose to pronounce it because his great-grandfather, upon arriving in the U.S., thought it sounded more sophisticated this way.  A girl I played softball with, Angie*, she tells of how she and her cousins have two different last names from the same ancestor.  You see, her grandfather's birth certificate was wrong.  It was supposed to say "Smiths" as the last name but the Vital Statistics Office left off the "s" and so while her great-grandfather and the rest of the family is "Smiths," her father's line is "Smith;" they chose not to fix the error.  Another classmate, Julia* comes in for Family Tree Day with a book about her family.  What a sight it was to see such a tiny little girl carrying a book that seemed to weigh near as much as she did.  She beamed about this book her "great-great, well, 16 times great grandpa!" as she had put it, had been friends with John Smith.  She descended from a lot of important people.  She carried their genes and it made her important too.  I remember contributing my adoptive parent's names and my adoptive grandparent's names.  My dad doesn't know half of his ancestry and the other half is French and German.  My mom is Welsh and German.  She's Iroquois Onondaga too but that never got talked a whole lot about in her family.

An equally irritating issue that goes along with doing family tree projects in school is that often times, it is mandated by the state government.  The very same state government that tells an adopted person they have no legal entitlement to their roots may very well be the same state government mandating that their second or third grade class do a family history project.  Family history being important to a lot of people isn't lost on adoptees yet the option of it being important to us is taken away and not enough lawmakers are seeing the contradiction.

I thought the days of having to explain my family tree to a teacher or a classroom full of people were over.  Not so.  In college, I have probably had about five assignments that have asked for information on my family/social history and family tree.  A lot of how these assignments are described are formed around the assumption that your genetic history and social history are one in the same and that you know your narrative from birth-forward.  I have a project due this semester that wants to know details about my delivery and other birth details.  We are learning how environment shapes people from birth forward.  Had I been assigned this over a year and a half ago, a lot of it would be blank.  We're supposed to incorporate what may have been recorded in our baby books.  I was adopted at 5 months of age, several milestones shared with mysterious temporary parents who never wrote them down or passed them on.

I have an "adoption book;" I don't have a baby book.

I am supposed to write about my birth.  Was it a "normal" delivery?  Were there complications?  Were there any unique circumstances?  Do I write down that no one really knows about my delivery because my mother was sedated during delivery without her consent for no reason other than to prevent us from bonding, with a white sheet drawn in front of her face so that she wouldn't see me be being born while pushing?  Do I write down that when she woke up she wasn't even in the maternity unit any more, nor was I available for her to touch and to hold?  Do I write that the next 5 months are a mystery?

As we adoptees grow up to be parents, for adoptees who are not yet reunited or given access to their roots, our children hit the same roadblocks we did.  Teachers aren't always sensitive.  We'll get the same "can't you just write down the adoptive information?!" eye roll that we got as kids.

Even those of us reunited or with our information can have issues with incorporating both nature and nurture on family projects when the project is clearly designed for just one family, not two.

What I've found myself doing is expecting others to be inclusive.  I have two families, not one.  I will not deny my reality of having two families to fulfill a project designed for people who are not adopted.  I have found myself altering projects (and my kid's baby books, even) to reflect what fits me.

How do you handle family tree stuff?

(the *asterisk means I didn't use anyones real name).