Sunday, January 20, 2019

On Being Excluded, Rejected and Feeling Like Ugly Betty


Being excluded happens to us all at one point or another.  However, that doesn’t make it any less painful, just because it’s common.  

My 14 year-old daughter and I have been watching Ugly Betty on Netflix while hanging out in our house during the Level 2 snow emergency this weekend.  

Choosing a show that mom and daughter both approve of is a feat in and of itself.  I love the focus on Latin culture in New York City and she approves of the nuanced and well-developed characters. 

America Ferrera, who plays Betty-a first generation immigrant- is far from ugly; however, the show is all about family sticking together, being who we are and moving forward with confidence, despite repeated exclusions and rejections.  We are already in Season 2 and haven’t lost interest.

The show is a bit of an emotional support for something I recently experienced in my personal life.  I learned this week from a source that a close family member will be flying to another state to attend a milestone birthday party that my immediate family was not invited to.  

The last time I have seen this family was before my daughters’ birth.  Christmas cards, letters, birthday cards and emails have all come to a screeching hault over the last decade and a half.  But in fairness, my extended family on this side, has never been particularly close. 

The main form of communication has been through one particular gate-keeper relative who has all the latest information, which is then reported to other family members. 

I have told this particular gate-keeper that if the person they are gossiping about wanted me to know what was going on, they would call and tell me themselves (surprise! They haven't!).  This side of my extended family and my immediate family all live in different states; however, this family was my only connection as a child to cousins who I spent time with every summer of my childhood.

As adults, we have all gone our separate ways and I can count on one hand the number of times this family has come to Ohio in the last 35 years.  On the other hand, my family has made an effort to visit (or attempt a plan to visit) them in their home state on quite a few occasions.  

I recognized at some point that there had almost never been independent contact with my family (I define my family as contact with me, my husband or my children – one of whom is an adult).  In fact, our adult son has no memories whatsoever of this family because of this inherent distance (physical as well as psychological). 

So, I have been thinking back to the last time I felt excluded and what I did to make myself feel better . . . . which then brought me to the recognition that on some level I have always felt excluded. Just like Ugly Betty, I have been existing in a world where my kind is rarely understood and appears different to others.  

There is always the thought in the back of my mind that I am being excluded because I am adopted and do not share blood with my extended adoptive family.  By the same token, I am aware that I have been excluded from my birth family because we don’t have shared experiences. Add family dynamics, generational secrets, envy, inheritances, etc. into the mix, and this exclusion may have almost nothing to do with me (or you!) individually.

I have come to believe that being adopted comes with it a tendency to feel inherently excluded as part of the experience.  The reality is that we were at one time excluded. I was excluded when I was the only child in my birth mother’s family to be relinquished.  Exclusion happened on the day of my birth! 

Many adoptees are excluded from genealogy, their medical history, joining their Native American Tribes and from groups like the Daughters of the American Revolution. 

We can also experience exclusion and rejection from both our adoptive families and our birth families. Many of us feel we are straddling two families (adoptive and birth), never able to have both feet on either side.  These feelings of being on the outside can become stronger over the holidays or on anniversary dates (relinquishment, birth, adoption day, etc.)

What does this mean for us as adults? It means we may be more sensitive to perceived rejection and exclusion as a result, even when unintentional.  It means we have to be aware that when we are feeling excluded that self-care can be increased and may look like:

*allowing time to grieve the feelings (journaling, talking with a close nonjudgmental friend or family member, listening to music, doing something fun for yourself, etc.).  Reading this article helped me.

*focus on the people who do support you and are currently surrounding you.  As I type these words, my daughter is drawing on her Kindle in the chair next to me and my adult son Matt braved the dangerous roads and surprised my daughter and I with a visit (My husband escaped this winter wonderland and is visiting his sister in the south).  Matt does this regularly and today I am not taking it for granted.

*Remember you have your tribe.  If you are reading this blog, it’s likely you are part of an adoptee tribe.  Reach out to your support group, a support friend or if you truly have nobody to talk to, email me and I will be happy to get you plugged into this community.  Listen to an episode of Adoptees On if you want to get plugged in immediately.

*Reach out to somebody else who is “different” or may feel excluded at your workplace, house of worship, school, neighborhood or family.  

There is no better person for the job to help others feel included.

Saturday, January 12, 2019

I am a Living Legacy to the Leader of the Band


Chapter 1 of Sophi's search published in The Adoptee Survival Guide
When you grow up in a closed adoption, there can be some unique psychology.  One common trait of those of us raised without any knowledge of where we came from is we can sometimes fantasize about our birth parents growing up.  One common fantasy is that one or both of our birth parents are famous.  Well, a friend of mine recently discovered she had a famous biological father through second cousin matches in several DNA databases.   Her name is Sophi Richman Fletcher and she has been looking for answers to who her mystery daddy is for many years.  We have commiserated together in our searches and I am so pleased for her that she now has answers.  Her story was posted in my private Facebook search room and I'm sharing it here with permission:  

"Greetings, fellow Who's Lynn's Daddy Searchers and Support Team:  I'm another adoptee who has been searching for the identity of my bio dad for a number of years (after some really false leads/assumptions...enter DNA...) A week ago yesterday, I opened my email to see a notice from FTDNA about a new match.

When my hands stopped shaking long enough to get logged in to the site, there was the result I had been hoping for that would wrap up this whole deal!! On Dec. 30, 2018, I finally knew the name of my father!!


So, at Lynn's request, I will try to boil this down to the pertinent info, in hopes that it may be of use to someone here.

How did we find him, you ask...

I took my first DNA test about 6 years ago now. It told me that I was nearly half Ashkenazi Jew, and none of that came from my birthmother. (I did mtDNA at the time as well, just to help me sort out the parents, if that were needed). Quick note on her, she will be 90 in about 3 weeks, I've never met her, I'm the youngest of (at least) 5 (4 boys older than me that she kept), and she has refused to divulge anything helpful or say a kind word.

However, oddly enough, my adoptive mother worked at the medical clinic where my birthmother was a patient, which is how my "availability" became known. The two never met, as far as we know. My birthmother told the doctor that my father was "not a stranger" and described him as a "tall, blonde-haired, blue-eyed German."

That was what we (my search angels and I) had to work with, along with the new fact that he was not German, but Jewish.

Before I had a clue about DNA and matches and the numbers, not to mention endogamy in the Jewish community (oy vey!) I began to message people who seemed to be in the 2nd-4th cousin range in hopes of a clue. The big issue was, no matter how close we got, my matches were from back east, and I was born in Bakersfield, CA. So where did a Jewish guy with roots in PA and OH come into the picture?
Ace is on the far-right

Here's how the pieces started to fall into place:

I tested at all the sites, plus uploaded to GEDmatch. One day I had a 2nd cousin match on Ancestry by the last name of Hamovitz. He did not respond to my message.
Some time later, I had a 2nd cousin match on 23andMe by the last name of Picker.

This young man sent me a friend request (that was unexpected) and spent several hours of his time while away on a trip (Mexico, maybe?) messaging me, calling his mother, etc, after I mentioned my Hamovitz match over on ancestry-- he said "My grandmother was a Hamovitz"!

This was maybe 2 years ago? It at least gave us a place to start, and figuring out who my great-grandparents were, based on these 2nd cousin matches, wasn't too hard!!

But...they had 6 children that we knew of, and we had to slowly work our way back to *me* by way of each child and their offspring. A major process of elimination ensued.

We looked at Sara, 1st and 2nd marriage, kids; her sister Ethel and her kids, their brother Joseph and his kids, etc etc, and my search angel was able to find 4th cousin matches to me who were 1st cousin matches to each other (on ancestry) just to further support us going in the right direction. (Don't ask me what that means, but it was significant to her, lol)

We had some struggles along the way, as we got down to "the guy" we thought could be the one--after all, his line of the family ended up in Southern CA!

We were unable to make contact with him, his brother was kind of a jerk, said it wasn't his deal, not interested, not going to help...finally we made contact with The Guy's daughter-in-law because she worked for a travel agency so we were able to find her on FB! She couldn't get her husband (my potential 1/2 bro) to test, but she agreed to test their son, and he came back as such a distant match that we knew we had to move on.

As more people tested in the next year or so, it really helped us to eliminate all of the lines, but one. It seemed no one had tested on the younger sister, Lena's line. Since everyone else came back as 2nd cousins to me, we figured, this has to be it.

We looked at Lena and her husband's 3 children. One was born in 1916, and was into swing band music. His name was Milton "Ace" Richman (Ace is in the black suit in video above). He then moved into gospel and western music on the radio with a band he called the Sunshine Boys, and they also appeared in a number of old western movies, shot in Hollywood.

A military draft card revealed that he was 6'3 (I've also seen him described as 6'5!!), with blonde hair and blue eyes. BINGO....
As we looked into the band a bit more, we pondered whether or not they might have toured, all the way to the west coast...

As a matter of fact, they did!! BUT--was it at "the right time" for me to have been conceived??? Finding that all-important date was another series of hurdles, as newspapers are on microfiche in the library, and no one is willing to do look-ups anymore, even for money!! 
:/
When we googled The Sunshine Boys and California, a letter to the editor came up from June of 1960 in the Bakersfield Californian, making reference to the locals having to drive an hour north to Porterville for a show with the Sunshine Boys, because there wasn't a decent venue in Bakersfield at the time! Porterville had recently completed a beautiful, big public auditorium beside the high school.

This letter caused much excitement to us searchers, because we knew we were getting close. I was born in Feb. 1961 and was told I was induced 2 weeks early, so my conception had to be back in May 1960...but how to find the date of that show?!?

As it turns out, when I was a kid, my folks moved us to Porterville from San Francisco, after moving up there from Bakersfield when I was a year old. I have been to events in that auditorium myself. I still have a friend living in Porterville, who I reconnected with a few years ago, again, thanks to FB.
The Smoking Gun
She was willing to be the Boots on the Ground, went to the library, and sent me a screenshot of the ad in the paper for the Sunshine Boys and their 4 hour gospel show (featuring other local groups) on Sat. night, MAY 21st, 1960. BOOM!!!

Woohoo!!! But wait... I still wanted more proof. My birthmother is a stinker, and she would refuse to acknowledge or admit to anything as vague as an old newspaper clipping. The search continued to find a close relative of Ace's willing to test. We discovered he had adopted 2 girls, so no help there. (Adoptee scorn, lol) He had a brother and sister who settled in Georgia as well (where he ended up due to the music biz in the 1940s) so attempts were made to contact one of their offspring.

By this time I was in contact with one of the many Hamovitz 2nd cousin matches, who is kind of the family genealogist; she was very kind and helpful, although she didn't know much, if anything, about this line either. She contacted a niece, I believe, who was quite put out at the very idea of taking a DNA test, when Ace has been gone these many years... (My thought was, "She doth protest too much" and I wonder if her mother/Ace's sister-in-law and Ace had a "thing"...??)

Finally, one of my search angels found a nephew and resorted to sending a certified letter to make contact. I had just ordered a DNA kit on Black Friday "just in case" and within the space of a week, he had called my search angel, said the picture of me that she sent looked like "me with a beard," said their favorite show is Long Lost Family, agreed to test, spoke to me as well, and then 4 days later, emailed my search angel to tell her that "we are very private people and after I test, we'd like no further contact."
Ace Richman
SMH. WhatEVer...At least he did the test, and on Dec. 30, 2018, I got the news all of us daddy-seekers live for-- The nephew who tested came back as my 1st cousin, and that was all the proof we needed that Ace Richman was my father!

It was surreal, but empowering to change how my name appears here on FB. One day I will legally change it, but for now...I'm good.

My birthmother probably doesn't know that I know, at long last...but she will soon enough. After all, she should get flowers for her birthday, right? The card will simply read, "From Ace Richman's daughter" 
:D 
:D :
Never give up! Now back to Lynn . . . ."

What lessons have we learned from Sophi's story? 

       1. Never give up!  Although not highlighted in this blog, Sophi’s search story began years ago.  You can read about it under the essay, “Better than Nothing" in The Adoptee Survival Guide.
2     2. DNA databases are growing and new matches are coming in all the time.  Ancestry is up to 10 million testers.  Finding Your Roots highlighted Andy Samberg, this week, whose 71-year old mother is a New York closed era adoptee.  Through old-fashioned sluething and DNA testing, Andy's grandparents were identified. That episode can be found here.
3    3.  Many times we will find graves in our search, and that was the case for Sophi.  Fortunately for her, her father was well-known and there is much in books and on the internet about him. For those of us without famous biological relatives, information may be in shorter supply, so it's important to develop positive relationships with bio family members if you want to understand your deceased relatives' history.
4    4.  Life is certainly full of surprises.  You just never know what you will find at the other end of your search!

Congratulations to Sophi on a successful conclusion to the mystery of her father!

Sunday, November 25, 2018

Review of the Movie "Instant Family"

Yesterday I went to see "Instant Family" with a friend of mine. This movie was timed to open during National Adoption Awareness Month, and brings much needed awareness to the children in foster care, some of whom are available to adopt.

As a former CASA/G.A.L. for my local juvenile court, I was very interested in seeing how this movie portrayed the system, foster/adopt training and support, the realities of kids biological parents, the courts, and adoption in general.  (I tried to take notes in the pitch dark and wasn't very successful 😍).  My husband and I have gone through foster-to-adopt training three times. We briefly were emergency foster parents in the 90s.  And of course, we are also kinship adoptive parents to a now-teen via a private adoption.

I had read two reviews (one negative and one positive) before viewing it myself.  My rating is 7.5 out of 10 as I believe it will educate the general public about the plight of children in foster care.

**************************Spoilers to follow************************************


Based on a true story of writer/director, Sean Anders' and his wife, a couple, Pete and Ellie, adopt a sibling group of three through foster care. I had heard the movie described as funny-it's actually listed as a "comedy"; however, I found it more of a feel-good movie with  tear-jerker moments (I cried a handful of times).

The parts that were supposed to be funny generally took place at the couple's foster-to-adopt support group.  The two social workers leading the group were opposites -- one was more of a sugar-coater and the other more of a straight shooter.  I really liked the straight shooter -- she seemed to really "get it".  

At times, it felt like the script was trying too hard to get laughs.  For example, often the support group members would laugh at each other's expense, not providing the support one would hope to find. The family dynamics of the parents' extended family also seemed a bit hostile, with jealousy and competition being shown as humorous.  If nothing else, it was realistic. We all have family members who are far from supportive. Unsurprisingly, the family members warm up toward the end.

The movie did a good job of showing the complexity of parenting traumatized children, in addition to the struggles with visitations; however, you are left feeling like everything worked out wonderfully at the end. Hollywood loves happy endings.   The kids get adopted and become a bonded family.  Although all seems well, the birth mom and her relationship with the kids is left open.  There are many unanswered questions.  What does shine through is that these kids now have the stability of two parents and an extended family who love them.  

The saddest reality I got from the movie was the dismal stats on kids who age out of the foster care system. In one scene, Ellie is perusing kids on-line who are available for adoption and she tries to get her husband to have a look but he refuses, because it's so sad to see those faces.

I have mixed feelings about the photos on-line of kids who are available for adoption.  I think it's sad to post their photos; however, it is also likely necessary for families to be able to get to know (albeit briefly) from a bio and to visualize in advance their family.  In the movie, what the couple actually visualized turned out to be different than who they ultimately ended up with, which is kind of cool.  They were charmed by a teen, and when they realized the two younger siblings came with her, they were taken aback at first.  They probably did not picture themselves with a sibling group; however, they eventually embraced the idea.  I will admit the idea of the adoption picnic (one of which my husband and I have attended and is shown in the movie) is uncomfortable. Again, probably necessary, yet sad.

I read some reviews of movie-goers and some of the critiques are as follows:

*too much foul language in the movie and exaggerated corny humor
*not accurately showing the true struggles of foster kids (i.e. pharmaceuticals, therapy, rotating caseworkers)
*not a movie for foster children to watch as it may re-ignite trauma for them

Things where the movie could have done better are as follows:

*not showing a truly supportive support group. I would have liked to see more empathy, listening and validation in the room and less wise-cracks from across the room. I did like the one scene at the support group where they cut string in an exercise to understand what foster children lose when they are moved to a new home.  

* showing the kids at the court hearing with their biological mother.  That doesn't happen in my state -- not sure if it happens in California, but I would doubt it.  Just a bit of extra drama for Hollywood and extra trauma for the kids if it actually happens that way.

* the movie vilified the biological mother. She appeared one-dimensional and undeveloped, which made it hard to empathize with her.  If we knew more about the biological mother's history (other than 'she's on drugs"), it would have helped us to better understand why the children were in care and to understand the struggles of the children better.

Things I felt were positive about the movie:

*it was honest in it's portrayal of shifting motivations of why people adopt and how they see themselves as parents.
* the movie explored the myths involved in parenting "other people's kids" in a scene at dinner where the extended family openly discussed their misgivings about adoption in general. (Later, these same family members are really shocked at how 'normal' the adopted kids are.)
*I enjoyed watching the changing relationships between parents and children and how strong the bond became toward the end of the movie.  It's a process and it doesn't happen overnight.
*I also loved the part when Pete's mom shared her own personal story to help the couple understand their oldest daughter who was afraid of love.

My favorite part about the movie is the awareness and call-to-action it brings to the plight of foster kids.  A quote by a former foster child, Noel Anaya:

"Walking into court for my very last time as a foster youth, I feel like I'm getting a divorce from a system that I've been in a relationship with almost my entire life. It's bittersweet because I'm losing guaranteed stipends for food and housing, as well as access to my social workers and my lawyer. But on the other hand, I'm relieved to finally get away from a system that ultimately failed me on its biggest promise. That one day it would find me a family who would love me."

To me, the movie serves as a call-to-action to prevent kids entering the system in the first place.  There are things you can do in your own family and in your local community to help children.  Adoption is only one piece of the equation, albeit the most celebrated in our society.   Not everyone will be in a position to adopt; however, there are other things you can do:

*Parent a child while your relative/close friend gets back on their feet
*Become a mentor to kids in your community
*Become a CASA/Guardian ad Litem in your community
*Support non-profits like the Adoptee Rights Coalition and Adoption Network Cleveland that do legislative work. 
*Support non-profits that have active support groups like  Adoptees Connect.
*Support your local kinship program or develop one like Ali Caliendo did in Las Vegas, Nevada.  
*Provide respite for foster parents formally or informally
*do a church fundraiser for foster kids so they can have proper luggage or bags to transport their items (instead of black garbage bags)
*Adopt a family at Christmas and provide gifts
*support family preservation groups like FP365 and Saving Our Sisters.

You can also go to the movie website for information on how you can become eligible to foster and/or foster-to-adopt the many children waiting for homes.

Saturday, November 10, 2018

9 BETTER Ways to Celebrate National Adoption Awareness Month


Flipping the Script on a mainstream National Adoption Awareness Month article. It has lots of advice about adoption. I just picked this one at random called "9 Ways to Celebrate National Adoption Month" and re-wrote it.

1. Retell Your Child’s Adoption Story to Them. How about you allow your child to tell his/her own story? Buy them an art pad or journal to draw or write their adoption story as they see it. Provide them lots of photos and information so they can make sense of their Chapter 1. Include their birth story.

2. Spread Awareness Through Social Media. The article advises to share your family’s adoption story. We don’t need more adoption stories via the eyes of adoptive parents. We need more #adoptee stories.

3. Watch Positive Adoption Movies With Your Family. Watch This is Us instead. Or better yet watch, "A Girl Like Her" by Ann Fessler. Or any documentary produced by an adoptee or birth parent. My favorites are by Jean Strauss.

4. Read a Book Together That Promotes the Values of Adoption. Read adoptee memoirs.  Also, how about donating to a non-profit that helps keep kids in their families instead. Locally, I would recommend Brigid’s Path.

5. Donate Time and Money to a Local Organization that Supports Adoption. Donate time and money to non-profits that support kinship families.

6. Write a Thank You Letter (Yes, the article actually advises you write a letter to the judge, social worker or anyone involved in your adoption!). Instead, write a letter to your legislator supporting adoptee access to original birth certificates. The article also advises thanking your child’s birth parents. It is more important to honor your commitments to your child’s birth parents.

7. Celebrate Your Child’s Heritage. The article has some celebratory advice about incorporating your child's ethnic heritage. However, why not go all out and celebrate your child’s heritage by buying them an Ancestry DNA kit? (It's on sale currently for $59.00.) Even minors can take the test under a protected profile. Also encourage genealogy by starting your child's first family tree on Ancestry.

8. Join Local Events That Encourage Community Participation. You can do this as an adoptive parent by going to a conference where you will meet birth parents and adoptees, and hear their stories.

9. Educate Yourself and the People Around You About Adoption. (i.e. “promote adoption”). Educate people around you about your own personal experience of being adopted, ways to keep families together (i.e. #kinship, legal custody, etc.), and supporting families who foster-to-adopt. Educate that adoption should be the last resort after all efforts of keeping families together have been explored.

Friday, November 2, 2018

National Adoption Awareness Month (NAAM) Day 1 (Flip the Script)




November has arrived and with it an Ohio monsoon on the first day of National Adoption Awareness Month (NAAM). I debated whether to write anything. No time for blogging much these days so I will say a few things you may have heard before.
Being adopted does not define me as a human being yet it has limited my choices as a full, equal US citizen. It has limited my knowledge of who I was born to and who my ancestors were because of outdated laws created in an era of secrecy and shame. Being adopted in the US has limited mine and my children’s access to important and potentially life-saving medical history and even limited my entry into organizations like DAR (Daughters of the American Revolution) which require a paper trail of ancestry to join.
I have spent many years writing and asking people to listen to adoptees Instead of adoption professionals who financially benefit from the industry or adoptive parents who host morning shows.
Adopted people should be the focus of NAAM. Professionals in the field of child welfare should be researching us, interviewing us, reading our anthologies/blogs/memoirs and looking closely at the stats of our long term outcomes instead of asking us how our adoptive parents feel about us searching (If I had a nickel...)
Small inroads have been made. Communities have been formed and word has spread:
WE are the experts. #flipthescript #NAAM2018

Sunday, September 30, 2018

Parenting Your Kids' Kids - Considerations and Seeking Support


September is National Kinship Care Month.  
"National Kinship Care Month provides an opportunity to urge people in every State to join in recognizing and celebrating kinship care giving families and the tradition of families in the United States to help raise children…” 

What is Kinship Care?
Kinship care refers to the care of children by relatives or, in some jurisdictions, close family friends (often referred to as fictive kin). Relatives are the preferred resource for children who must be removed from their birth parents because it maintains the children's connections with their families.

If you care about family preservation, then kinship care should be high on your list of causes to support. Most kinship care happens outside of the child welfare system, which leaves families without support and education.  It is of the utmost importance to create new supports for these at-risk families, as the numbers of kinship families are growing (approximately 4% of families are kinship). Studies have shown that licensed and educated kinship families are safer and more stable than licensed, traditional foster parents.  However the reverse is also true: unlicensed and uneducated kinship families are less safe and stable.  Education is key.

Keeping a child in his/her own family is some of the most important work that family members do, mainly under the radar, with little support. Today, I wanted to discuss some of the challenges of being a kinship caregiver and stress the importance of reaching out for support. I have recently been planning a new support group for kinship families in my local area that I hope to get off the ground in the next month or so.  I will update you as that information becomes available.  

PRACTICAL CONSIDERATIONS
One of the biggest differences between kinship caregivers and other non-relative caregivers, is that most of the time, kinship caregivers do not have much time to plan ahead when a child comes into their care.  That is because a child can literally be dropped in your lap without notice.  It is important to get very honest with yourself about whether you and your immediate family members are in a position to parent this child.  Are you in the middle of a divorce or a health crisis?  If yes, is there someone else better equipped within the family to parent the child, even temporarily?  Could you become better equipped through foster-to-adopt training and some family counseling?

When you become instant parents, reach out to local agencies and churches for support in receiving food, furniture, clothing, and to locate a support group in your area.


Ali Caliendo began Foster Kinship in Las Vegas, Nevada because she felt passionate about helping kinship families.  The daughter of a closed-era adoptee and a new foster-to-adopt parent, she understood that the current support available to kinship families is lacking.  She has tried to fill the gap in Las Vegas, Nevada by opening a non-profit that focuses on kinship families.  Her website is helpful in understanding the issues and for directing people to resources.  Her podcast is outstanding! Have a listen! Here is a helpful list of resource available to kinship caregivers in most states. 

LEGAL AND FINANCIAL CONSIDERATIONS
There is funding that is available to kinship families who become foster parents and/or legal guardians to the child in their care.  Many benefits are temporary and will depend on the income of the family, although talk to a caseworker at your Job & Family Services about opening a child-only case.  Many kinship families struggle financially and will need to reach out for as many resources as they can find.  Start with internet research.  Also, calling a child's school, church, or by reaching out to a Kinship Navigator program in your town is a good place to start. Area Agencies on Aging for older adults can also be a good resource. 

When you adopt your relative, you become ineligible for many of the resources available to non-adopted kin.  However, one benefit is that your family is protected legally from a change of custody (adoption severs the rights of the biological parents and makes you and/or your spouse, legally the parents). Adoption will waive any rights to child support.   You may become eligible to receive the adoption subsidy, which is a tax credit that reimburses you for your out-of-pocket adoption fees (attorneys fees and filing fees).  The child may also become available to receive social security if one of the kinship adoptive parents retires while the child is still a minor. 

It is important when making legal decisions, to seek legal counsel from a certified family law specialist and/or ask for referrals from friends and family members who have used an attorney they can recommend.

How ACE's affect a person over a lifetime
TRAUMA CONSIDERATIONS
Not living with either of your biological parents is a trauma.  If we do not support traumatized kids, they are at risk for repeating the trauma in their own families and for early death (see graph at left).  The Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE's) survey can help you understand what kind of trauma are common in at-risk families.To take the ACE test, go here.  The higher your score, the more trauma you have experienced.  Trauma-informed training is very important for kinship families in order to successfully parent children in their care.


Adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) are stressful or traumatic events, including abuse and neglect. They may also include household dysfunction such as witnessing domestic violence or growing up with family members who have substance use disorders. 

EMOTIONAL AND PSYCHOLOGICAL CONSIDERATIONS
It might sound trite, but put on your own oxygen mask first.  Self-care and support are key in being a successful kinship family.  Support groups, family therapy, or receiving respite care for the child(ren) in your care are very important for you to stay balanced and healthy while raising your kin. Reach out and ask for help!





Saturday, September 8, 2018

Back on the Birthfather Rollercoaster Awaiting DNA Results


Benjamin Bratt, actor whose mother
is Peruvian
Peruvians are the
 smallest percentage
 of Latinos in the U.S.
I am trying to keep my mind busy while I await the results of an Ancestry DNA test in order to solve a life-long mystery. An excellent candidate has been found that fits a large part of the description of my biological father, including mine and my son’s DNA results.  However, in many ways this candidate may not fit.  Let me share with you why.

I have a significant amount of outright conflicting information:  from the non-ID the adoption agency kept, to interviews with friends and family, it has felt very similar to crime stories where the investigators profile the murderer and try and create stories from the evidence at the scene of the crime.  

Problem is, similar to criminal cold cases, there are many possible scenarios and memories that have become more convoluted over the years as time has gone by. We are talking about 50 years ago. Many of the people from that time period are dead or can’t remember details.

Here is what I know for sure:

I was conceived around St. Patrick’s Day March of 1965.  I was born December of 1965 and relinquished at birth for adoption to The Cradle of Evanston, IL.  My maternal birth family, located in 2006, had roots in a suburb of Chicago, several generations marrying in this area. Big fish in a little pond, the search team has found all sorts of documentation of my family being the opposite of what you hear today about families who relinquish children for adoption.  1965 was during the middle of the Baby Scoop Era and white, unmarried women who were middle or upper middle class just didn't keep their babies without severe consequences to their reputations and future.

My maternal birth family had money and status, which partly explains why the identity of my biological father has been a closely-guarded secret amongst the inner circle of my birth mother and her friends.
The Cradle Adoption Agency, still in business. This is Nina, a
social worker who located my birth mother
in 2006 standing in the museum section of the agency
Illinois is where my search team has focused their efforts over the last several years.  I was directly told by my birth mother I was conceived in a particular place in Illinois. In 2012, while in Chicago for an adoptee rights event, I got reacquainted with a friend from high school, Denise, who now lives close to my birth family roots.  Denise, my husband, Mark, and I took a walk back in time while visiting cemeteries and the properties owned by my maternal birth families back in the 60’s.  This field trip, along with obituaries and other research at the library, helped me to understand the context of my maternal birth family in the 1960s.

When I was in L.A. last month for the National Conference of State Legislators, my roommate, an experienced DNA search angel, said I needed to take a different approach in this search.  She gave me some specific search ideas that had not been focused on before and specifically told me to look at Ohio.  When I arrived home, one of my search team members had come to a similar conclusion and was hot and heavy on the trail of an international student named Julio who was in college a couple hours away from my birth mother, in Ohio, where I have lived for 50 years.  My birth mother went to college in Ohio and graduated the same month I was conceived.  However, by then, it was believed the family (yes, oddly, the entire family moved to Ohio during my birth mother’s 4 years at university) had already moved back to Illinois. 

Flashback to several years ago:  I had a long-awaited phone call with my uncle, who sadly, passed away before I was able to meet him.  He shared with me the following words . . . .

“Your father’s name was Julio.  I am 95% sure he was from Bogota, Colombia.  When my sister became pregnant, he fled back to Colombia.  My family was very upset.  You are my niece and I love you.”

Thank God for my uncle.  He confirmed a similar story by a friend of the family who was interviewed.   

About a month ago, the search team started digging into Ohio and this new Julio candidate.  I got a membership to Newspapers.com and the search team went to work.  We found an unbelievable amount of information on my maternal family and Julio in Ohio.  Julio (sadly, deceased) was from South America and came into the U.S. at 18 and went to college in Miami, FL.  He then transferred at approximately age 20 to a college in Ohio where he was a part of a fraternity, played and coached soccer and majored in Chemistry.  Newspapers.com and Ancestry.com told the story of his marriage, divorce, return to South America, and his children. They settled not far from where I currently live and if this is our guy, I have 5 known siblings.  It’s a lot to take in!! 
DNA results show that my father was likely Peruvian

Trying to find this needle in a haystack called “father” has been nothing short of a roller coaster.  Something I would have never anticipated being completely naïve to reunion and the adoption community when I met my maternal birth family in 2006.  Silly me! I thought my birth mom would just tell me the truth!  12 years later, I have learned that I am in good company.  Between false naming of fathers on birth records and adoption records, to outright claiming no knowledge of who the father is, this seems to be a common theme in the adoption community. 

During this search, there have been huge ups and huge downs.  One down I can speak about now was a guy named Julio P. that the team researched for a very long time who was from Bogota, Colombia and attending a university where one of my birth mother’s friends attended.  We felt certain he was our guy.  Also deceased, he had three living daughters in the U.S.  One of them tested and we were not a match.  That was the biggest low. After that, I took about a year break from searching at all.  Searching for a birth parent is emotionally draining and when you have a busy life, a family and a career, it’s easy to get sidetracked into the vortex that searching creates.  One nugget of info leads to another one and on and on you can follow these leads until you end up spending 6 hours on your computer and ignoring your family (yes, been there, done that).

As you can see, this search has taken on a life of it’s own and I have been recently jotting down bits (with the hopes of a possible memoir) focusing on the twists and turns of this search over the last 12 years.  There are so many heroes in this story . .  .from Greg who reached out to me at Family Tree DNA and did the initial legwork at the library and interview process in Illinois to Gaye who has finally convinced me based on my DNA results that I am Peruvian, to Regina who is like a dog with a bone – there is literally nothing that girl can’t find.  To Zack, who has been on this rollercoaster with me, digging up leads for me and other adoptees of unknown parents since 2006.  Bridgett, who creates stories in her head about possible scenarios – stuff I don’t come up with even in my dreams.  So much talent and such giving spirits!  

Our first meeting of my Peruvian cousin and her husband  (2017)
Recently, I was blessed in matching with a Peruvian distant cousin at 23 and Me, who lives in the same city as me!  Our families have met and she has become a friend and beloved cousin.  She was ultimately the one who reached out to the current DNA tester (a family member of Julio).  I have been blessed with so much support and love from the adoption community (and beyond).

I’m fortunate I have a very loving and supportive spouse, Mark.  He has listened to these scenarios and provided insight and advice over the years, even before I found my maternal birth family.  He has made difficult phone calls to family and friends that have rubbed people the wrong way, many times.  But, he is my hero! Of all people (and not adopted), he understands through our family journey the deep need to know where you come from, not only for me, but for our kids, and our future descendants.  It matters.  A LOT.

Stay tuned . . . . 




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