Total Pageviews

Monday, June 4, 2012

Where do Family Ties and Adoptee Rights Intersect?


I've been doing a lot of babysitting lately, so not so much blogging.  Memorial Day week-end my husband and I had all six of our grandchildren down at the shore along with one set of their parents -- the other set was attending a wedding in California.  This past week-end we were in charge of our two-year-old grandson while the rest of his family were off on a camping trip in the New Jersey Pine Barrens.  I watch three of my grandchildren every Wednesday and Friday from 7:30 A.M. until 4 P.M. while their mother teaches school in Philadelphia.  I see all of my grandchildren often, a fact for which I'm extremely grateful.  In the long run, what really matters except for our love for each other?  Pictured above are five of my grandchildren -- I couldn't get all six to cooperate for a family photo!

Here's the other little guy -- he's 17 months old.

  
The two oldest, Grace and Emma, are eight and seven.


Unlike many adoption bloggers, I am not in reunion with any of my original family.  When I approached my natural mother ten years ago, she did not wish to meet, although she did share medical and some family history with me.  Her decision hurt, but I've moved on.  She is 87 now and lives in a continuing care facility.  I have a great family, and I feel as if she has missed a great deal by not electing to meet them.

One of my daughters is a physician, and I am proud of all she has accomplished, but even prouder of the type of person she is -- compassionate and family-oriented, quick to laugh and fun to be with.  My other daughter is a high school teacher at a city magnet school for talented kids.  She too is a giving soul, sensitive and talented.  Both daughters are happily married, and their children and families are the center of their lives.

My husband is my best friend.  We have lived many years together now through happy and sad times, and we feel blessed to have each other.  I believe that my original mother would have been proud of the person I've become, if she had been able to open herself up.  But we are both adults, adoption is what it is, and I have to accept that she relinquished in a different era that presented different challenges.

I often think I am a good one to speak out about adoptee rights because there wasn't any Norman Rockwell-type reunion in my case.  From my perspective, that's not the point.  I had loving adoptive parents and a stable upbringing.  For people looking in from the outside, I'm sure my adoption story looked like a total success.

What was always missing, however, is the fact that I had no control over the most basic elements of my life.  I wasn't entitled to know who gave birth to me or how I spent  my first few months.  I never thought that this was a fair scenario, and I felt so much more empowered once I knew the truth about my life and history.  Whether or not a reunion is successful has nothing whatever to do with a human being's civil right to know the truth about her own personhood.

In the future, I will have other decisions to make, but at least they are my decisions, and no one else's.  My original mother had another daughter, five years old, when she relinquished me.  For now, out of respect for my natural mother's wishes, I have elected not to contact this half-sister.  My original mother is in fragile health and does not want to disrupt her life.  She never told anyone else about me except for her own mother.

When my natural mother passes away, however, I may contact my half-sibling.  She too has grandchildren, and we may have something in common.  We may not.  But I am proud of my family, and I think she has a right to know that they exist.

24 comments:

  1. I hope that you do contact your sister ~ you have every right to. I understand your wanting to respect your natural mom's wishes, but what if by waiting till she passes it ends up being too late for your sister also? One of the greatest gifts reunion with my son has brought into my life is seeing him and my raised kids all together. They are so much alike, they so enjoy being together, and all regret the lost years with each other.

    And aren't grandkids the best?

    ReplyDelete
  2. Susan,
    I say this with the utmost respect. I think your hesitation to contact your half-sister comes from your adoptee self who was expected to always put everyone else first, to ignore your own wants and to make everyone else happy. After all, isn't that what happened to us as children in a closed adoption? The script was written for us and we were expected to go along with out any regard to our own feelings. I think you have every right to contact your sister, not only for yourself but for her as well. She and her children have a right to know that you and your family exist as well. Given your first mother's age when she had you and that you were her second child, I'm betting that she has an enormous amount of shame and guilt about relinquishing you that she just doesn't want to face. But at this stage of the game it is really not your job to keep her secrets anymore. (I'm not saying that you need to tell the whole world her identity). And I agree with Susie, we do not live forever and you may not have as long as you think to make this contact. I just think that your wants and needs matter, too, and that if handled with tact and diplomacy you have every right to connect with your own sibling.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for commenting, Robin. You're probably right, and I have wrestled with this decision a great deal. I found out who my half-sister is by accident, when I was surveying public records to see if my original mother was still alive. My half-sister just recently lost her husband -- that's how I discovered her identity, through an obituary -- and I didn't want to deliver another shock on the heels of that one. I'm not sure what I will do, but you're right -- I still have a number of those "You shouldn't do this" and "You shouldn't do that" voices in my head, an unfair result of the closed system, I agree. I'll keep you posted!

      Delete
    2. Did you every think that this would be a good thing for your sister? I mean your natural mother is of an advanced age and your sister has lost her husband. More family could be just what she needs. Also, your mother DID have another child with another man, you were given up for adoption, this is the TRUTH. And I think your sister has the right to know the truth about her family.

      One thing puzzles me though. If your sister was 5 y.o. wouldn't she have remembered the pregnancy and wondered what happened to the baby?

      My only concern for you would be I would not want you to be hurt if your sister didn't want a relationship. Do you think that perhaps your original mother not wanting any further contact might be making you reluctant to reach out to your sister?

      Delete
    3. Hi Robin,
      Yes, who knows how my original mother and her mother hid the pregnancy and relinquishment from a five-year-old. When my natural mother answered my inquiry ten years ago, she said that her daughter does not know about me and asked me to "please not make trouble." At that time, I had no idea who her daughter was. It is just recently that I accidentally discovered her identity. But it's true -- until now, I have been honoring my original mother's request, even though I understand I'm under no obligation to do so. I guess I'm a little afraid of more rejection, when I have dear people in my life who love me, and also a little afraid of stirring up "trouble," even though I had nothing to do with causing the "trouble" in the first place! The only thing I'm sure of at this point is that the closed adoption system is extremely dysfunctional and unfair to the child and should not be perpetuated.

      Delete
    4. Struggeling FulcrumJune 5, 2012 at 10:40 PM

      Susan -

      You speak of your natural mom so gently and respectfully. Your heart speaks from all those life experiences as an adoptee/child/adult/wife/mother/grandmother. "Relinquished in a different era that presented different challenges" are words that come from deep/inner wisdom. You actually used the word relinquished and not abandoned. I take a different view in that I applaud you for respecting your natural moms wishes. Honor and respect are virtues of self denial and will be rewarded. Even if you are certain that your half-sister has not been "told", I would venture to guess that she suspects that something happened to "mom" that affected their lives and relationship thus when you do seek her out, it will not be as big of a surprise as you might think. I have a client/friend who did not seek his natural mom until his adopted mom passed away out of respect for his amom. He was 64 and found that his natural mom had died some years earlier. But through research, he met his half-sister and they have begun walking down life's path from this time forward. He is totally satisfied with his decision. You do what you think is best for you. Do not let other adoptees nor first parents (which is me) make your decision for you. Thank you for sharing your hurts and your joys with us through your life experiences.

      Sincerely

      SF

      Delete
    5. SF,
      Thanks so much for taking the time to write these supportive and encouraging words. For me, when to contact the half-sister does present some ethical dilemmas, as I try very hard to live my life by the maxim, "Do no harm." Who knows what the results of contacting her now might be? And I really have no interest in hurting or disrupting the life of my elderly original mother -- while I did not like her decision, I can understand it, at least partially, given the time period. I loved my adoptive mother, and I have feelings for my natural mother as well. I save my anger for the adoption establishment that wants to continue the practice of "closed for life" adoptions, and I try to channel that anger constructively

      Delete
    6. @SF,
      Of course Susan should follow her own heart and mind in making her decision about what she wants to do. And I'm sure she will. Although you wrote you comment in a very gentle way, I still sense an element of coercion. What about an example of a 64 y.o. who waited until his APs passed to search, found his first mother was deceased and deeply regretted that he had lost his chance to meet her. And what if he learned from family that she had wanted to know him but didn't think she had the right or the means to find him? I read your comment as "put the parents first". This is something that adoptees have been doing all our lives. And I think this is why myself and others wanted to give Susan some food for thought that her wants and needs matter, too.

      Delete
  3. Oh and I forgot to mention. Your grandkids are ADORABLE!!!!!!

    ReplyDelete
  4. Beautiful family!
    I am sorry to hear your birthmother was not receptive to reunion. How hurtful and what a loss for her...
    My birthdad is not keen on his sons knowing about me either and keeps putting it off- 7 years now. The hardest part for me is that he is missing out on knowing my kids and my kids knowing him and their uncles. I can take the rejection but how could you not want to know your beautiful grandkids!!!???
    Do you have pictures of your birth family? That has been one of the coolest things to me as a reunited adoptee and mother. I got pictures from my birth uncle. I know where my daughter gets her curly hair my birthmom... and my daughter looks exactly like my birthdads twin sister did as a baby. I have a picture of both of them as babies and they look like the same baby. She has passed and I never got to meet her but really love having that picture. I also have been lucky to connect with a birth uncle and we are so much alike and he has really made a positive difference in my life. You are right your voice does carry a lot of weight since you did have one of those "success" adoptions where everything looked great on the outside. I am glad you are speaking out!

    ReplyDelete
  5. Unfortunately, I have no pictures. I asked my original mother for one, but she seemed unable to deal with any further contact after an initial letter and phone exchange. It helps that one of my daughters looks very much like me, as does one of my granddaughters. My original mother did tell me that she loved me in her heart, which is better than nothing, I suppose. I do know that she is coming from a very different place than what is the norm in today's open society. For example, she said, "I can't tell you anything about your father because he was a married man." I know a few details from my adoption agency, such as he was separated and a family friend, an outdoor guy and an airplane pilot. He sounds interesting -- how ridiculous that I am not permitted to know his name and further explore my own genealalogy!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Wow. I am so very sorry for you. It's such a shame that she cannot bring herself to see the joy she would receive from meeting and getting to know you. I know she is older, but isn't what she says about "not being able to tell you" a sad state of what closed adoptions were/are all about? I am in reunion with my son (surrendered 1976) and had to tell a lot of people my story. My theory is if they don't like it, too damn bad. I lived the lie for 35 years - no more. And, his father was a somewhat well known person, but I don't care - I have nothing to hide anymore. I've hidden long enough. And, he deserves to know the truth - about everything. Our relationship is amazing, and if "coming out of the closet" (so to speak) is what I have to do to get that, then so be it. Much love to you - and yes your grandkids ARE beautiful!

      Delete
    2. Thanks, Jackie. I wish my original mother had your courage. The closed adoption system is not good for anyone, and I get really angry at those who wish to perpetuate it. My life has been blessed in many ways, and I try to focus on the good while advocating for much-needed adoption reform. So glad your reunion has been successful!

      Delete
  6. Susan...too many of us adoptees find our relatives too late or not at all. I know. I'm still searching for my father.

    I hope you don't wait to reunite with your sister. None of us know when it is our time to go. Don't let your natural mother's fear and shame keep you from knowing your sister. If she lost her husband, finding you might be the blessing that she needs right now in her life.

    About finding your father...maybe it's time to put your DNA out there and see if you get any "close relative" matches? FamilyTreeDNA has autosomal testing (covers both sides of our family)...23andme...also, Ancestry.com will have it soon and it will be linked to it's family tree site, so any time you get a DNA match, it'll link to your tree.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Your sister could get you pictures. The pictures I have from my dads side come from an aunt and uncle.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Great post, mom! I would like everyone to know that I am "quick to laugh and fun to be with" too :) Anthony confirmed. Love you and see you in the morning! -Jenn

    ReplyDelete
  9. Hi Susan,
    I had a similar experience of rejection from my mother. She did speak to me a couple of times after a second attempt many years apart. She too, didn't want me to contact my five siblings and found the whole thing too confronting. My father had died many years prior, but his widow was kind enough to send me some photos. She too said she didn't want me contacting my sister. By this time I can tell you I felt pretty rejected. It seems I' m some kind of optional extra. I could easily track down several,of my siblings but I just feel I've had enough.
    The last thing I want to do is put you off contacting.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Anon,
      I can see why you have had enough, and I am sure this kind of scenario is the reason I'm not feeling an urgent need to contact this sister at the moment. The results might be good, but then again, they might be bad. I feel so strongly that we are entitled to the truth, but let's face it, rejection hurts. Best to you, and thanks for writing.

      Delete
  10. I think one of the reasons this post is so compelling is that it touches on two of the most important issues in adoption.
    1. You were one of the lucky ones who had wonderful adoptive parents whom you love dearly and who made you a full member of the family. As an adult you have built a wonderful, fulfilling life for yourself with work and family. This was how adoption was supposed to work for children. However, even with all of that you still feel an enormous pull to your biological heritage. And this is what the powers to be said wouldn't happen in the BSE. The real truth is that you cannot and should not be expected to deny your origins and ancestry. No one should be.

    2.Even though society has changed and there is no longer the stigma there used to be, those of us who were given up for adoption because of our out-of-wedlock births still represent shame to our families.

    ReplyDelete
  11. "The real truth is that you cannot and should not be expected to deny your origins and ancestry. No one should be." Exactly, Robin. Whether an adoption works well or not, that is the main point, and that is why the adoptee rights movement is so important to me. We have a right to our own legal documentation. The shame still exists for some original families, but we are all adults, and we should be left alone to make our own decisions as we navigate through our lives, just as all other people are. Life is messy sometimes -- for everyone. As always, thanks for commenting -- really appreciate all the perspectives here.

    ReplyDelete
  12. Hi Mom! I'm getting to this months late, but I just had to chime in and confirm that Jenn might be even more fun to be with than me. Imagine that! In all seriousness, your posts are a tribute to the beautiful person that you are. Enjoyed reading tonight (while I should have been doing many other things). Love you.

    ReplyDelete
  13. by the way that last comment, in case you have not figured it out, was from Kate, who apparently should join you at your computer classes.

    ReplyDelete
  14. Oh, this is sad and yet, as the grandmother of a yet unborn granddaughter that will be put up for adoption, I'm glad we have open adoptions, now. Children can't have enough love or family. I'm praying for the adoption family to be open to all we have to offer.

    ReplyDelete
  15. I too hope that your granddaughter's adoptive family will be inclusive and honor her connections to all of you. Adoption should not be about severing a child's identity. Best wishes to all.

    ReplyDelete