Saturday, June 17, 2017

How to Help an Adoptee with an Unknown Father

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 or fantasies. 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 may be acted out in self-destructive ways. Because adopted (or donor conceived) 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.  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? 

4.   If possible, order your child’s original birth certificate before it is sealed and amended by the Court.  In some states, 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 regularly have sales). Build a family tree and you may be surprised how quickly you will have a close DNA match that will lead to a name.   Ancestry DNA has over 16 million dna testers currently and is growing every day. (updated 7/2020).

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. 

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 and lifelong resident of Dayton, Ohio.   She is a contributing author to Lost Daughters, and to various adoption anthologies.  Lynn lives with her family in Dayton, Ohio.