Friday, April 19, 2013

Will the "real" parents please stand up?

A few years back, I submitted a story about my two mothers to a book that is still awaiting publication. When I wrote that story, it was filled with humor about how my two mothers are opposite and how it is strange having two "moms" and that you need to call the two women different things-- (the one who raised me should be called "mom"; whereas the one who didn't should be called "mother").

I discussed some rules in my story, like "you should never talk positively about one mother to the other mother" because it leaves the door open for snide commentary.  Thinking back on that story, I wanted to make light of a heavy topic of the concept of who is the "real mother?"  Today I want to discuss this concept in a more direct way.

I have had people tell me in my life and comment on my blog that the people who raised me are my "real parents."  Just having someone outside of adoption or my family telling me who my real parents are is enough to give me a case of indigestion, but when they are insistent that they know best about my real parents, this could lead to a full-blown case of vomiting.

Hint:  never tell an adopted person who their real parents are.  They have already decided in their heart who their real parents are, whether blood, adoptive, step or others outside the family (i.e. friends and mentors).  Many adoptive parents feel the need to tell other adoptees that the real parents are those who raised them.  I say this comes from their own insecurity to believe they are the only "real" parents in their child's eyes, despite what their child might actually feel inside.

A legal document listing your name does not make you any more "real" than the woman who gave birth to your child.  Giving birth does not make you any more "real" than the woman who wiped the tears from your child's eyes.

There are more than one set of REAL parents in adoption. Some adult adoptees will go so far to exclaim their birth parents as the "real" ones when they change their name to the one they would have had at birth.  Some adult adoptees go so far to deny birth parents even a thought or a mention because doing so would be disloyal to the parents who raised them.

Each adoptee is unique and the last thing we need to hear is you telling us who our real parents are.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

What I've learned thus far from my DNA

 After a long two and a half month wait, my 23 and me DNA results are finally in.  When I first log in to the Ancestry Info, the first thing I see is “European/Irish”.  Hmm.   The only place Irish has ever come up in my history  is on my maternal side on my adoption  paperwork which I assumed was in error (probably was an error considering the pathetic record keeping of the time). My family tree on my mother’s side has not shown any Irish as of yet, but these ancestry results are from 500 years back according to 23 and Me.  So I’m newly Irish.

Here are the results:

I’m not surprised my results show more European as I’ve always suspected my father is European but with one line of his tree being Spanish or Mexican or Italian.  

I have never wholeheartedly believed, as my adoption paperwork said, he was a “citizen of Peru”, although as mentioned in other blog posts, I did want to believe his family was Italian (which was also in my adoption paperwork and I've suggested was a lie).  

I was hoping to find evidence of him being Italian, but thus far I have not.  I believe he is an American citizen and was working in advertising in the 60’s in a large Chicago advertising agency (think “Mad Men”) and likely one of his parents were Spanish.  (I should have listened to my mother who always proclaimed I was Spanish my whole life even with zero information on my background).   No irony in the fact that my favorite food is Mexican and I was always drawn to the Spanish language, and almost changed my major in college to Spanish.

In my over 800 genetic cousin matches, I was surprised to see that my genetic cousins live all over the world, including Australia, China, France, Germany, Spain and Mexico.  When you are thinking about cousins on the 5th or 6th level, we are talking great, great, great, great, great grandparent relations.  It blows my mind to think about it how many there are and how spread out we all are. Many of the names I am seeing in a minority of my matches are Hispanic names.

I noticed about 80% European names/places on my cousins’ info (i.e. Germany comes up a lot which has been documented on my tree as well as Scottish).  I was quite confused that Middle Eastern is 0. And no mention of Jewish.  However, after speaking with a cousin through FTDNA, I was informed that one part of the family were Sephardic Jews living in Spain during the Inquisition and many Jews left Spain fearing for their lives and came to Mexico and the Texas area where many of my FTDNA cousin matches list places of birth/residence. 

One other thing that I wanted to mention in this blog because I really believe that we are in certain places in our lives for certain reasons -- while my daughter was a toddler, I went to work part-time in an Italian restaurant where my supervisor was German/Scottish and Mexican.  

From the first week I started working there, employees kept coming up to me thinking I was her.  Then guests starting talking to her like they thought she was me (and vice versa).  This happened the entire 5 and ½ years I worked there.  I believe it was God/universe preparing me for the realization (which I had never consciously considered before working with her) that I was possibly Mexican or Spanish.  My supervisor seemed to identify more with her Mexican roots than her white roots.  I started thinking of myself as potentially non-white, even though I grew up in a completely “white” neighborhood and school and am generally accepted as “white”.  I started thinking of myself as Latino and about how, if others, knew from looking at me I was Latino, I might be perceived and treated differently.  

I saw evidence of the differences all around me at the restaurant where I worked.  The culture of the Latino people versus the white culture.  Who spoke to whom and who didn’t speak to whom.  The undesirable jobs were mostly done by the Latinos in the “back of the house”. Some of the employees barely spoke any English and it made it difficult at times to get food orders correct.  This job was completely outside of my experience from working in offices of mostly white people and attending schools of mostly white people and living in the Midwest in a white neighborhood.  I believe I am a better person for experiencing this microcosm of society and the lesson that being white is not only a privilege in this country, but comes with a set of blinders.

If you aren't adopted and are reading this, you might be surprised at the level of *genealogical bewilderment that adopted people can experience over their lifetime.  I'm even shocked at how much not knowing my family background has affected how I feel and think about myself. 

*"Knowledge of and definite relationship to his genealogy is ... necessary for a child to build up his complete body image and world picture. It is an inalienable and entitled right of every person. There is an urge, a call, in everybody to follow and fulfill the tradition of his family, race, nation, and the religious community into which he was born. The loss of this tradition is a deprivation which may result in the stunting of emotional development.
 E. Wellisch, who wrote in a 1952 letter to the journal Mental Health, titled "Children without genealogy: The problem of adoption"

 “Genealogical bewilderment evokes a nefarious air of uncertainty and befuddles a child’s ability to establish their true self-identity.” —Judith Land

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Adoptive parenting books should be written by Adult Adoptees

 I don’t read adoptive parenting books.  Ever.  When I was raising Matt, I ate up every parenting book I could get my hands on.  The library was my home away from home.  Even though many of the books were very helpful, I knew intuitively how to parent Matt.  

There is something about genetics that helps you along.  I can’t put my finger on what it is, exactly, but I believe it has something to do with seeing yourself reflected back in your child.  Knowing that child is a miniature version of you and his father with a twist.  

I didn’t consciously think about these things when I was raising Matt, but to know him now as an adult, I can see so much of his dad and I in him.  He has his own very different opinions many times and he is his own person, but there is an inherent acceptance of who he is, because we have no fear that we know he came from us, that he will (hopefully) have kids and continue the genes downward and they will continue for generations to come.  This is the natural order of things and as we see in adoption, when we upset the natural order, things can go awry.

One of the things that has gone awry in adoption are the so called experts on adoption who are not adopted.  They believe they are experts because they have some special letters behind their names.  I’ve heard from professionals who counsel for a living admit that they had zero adoption therapy training.  I know it is next to impossible in my area of the country to find a therapist who specializes in adoption. I couldn’t find one.  In fact, the really good therapist I used at one time never even mentioned adoption as one of my core issues.

 I remember speaking with an “adoption social worker” at one of my CASA trainings. I asked her what one has to do to be qualified in adoption and work in social work.  She told me I would need a masters in social work and get licensed.   Really?  That’s it?  Take a few classes and poof! You know what it’s like for all of the adoptees in the world?  I almost laughed in her face. And after all that hard work, I get to go by the social work model of adoption and listen to other people in foster parenting/adoption training tell people how they should parent adopted kids when their only resource is case studies or stories from other adoptive parents in their support group.  

The experts of the 60s told my parents that we would be just like a biological family. All their adoptive parent friends just went with the program like them (and wondered why they had untold numbers of adopted kids dealing with addictions and other acting out behavior in adolescence and adulthood). The experts didn’t prepare them for an outspoken, questioning child who wasn’t satisfied with their tale of adoption.   The experts forgot to mention that teeny, tiny, little thing called trauma that their child likely had endured. 

The experts failed to explain that importance of genetic mirroring and how it would be absent in the adoptive family and how adoption is always the middle of the story – not the beginning.  The beginning has tales of loss:  abandonment, sorrow.  The social workers only wanted to keep the story light and happy.  

I write my own adoptive parenting manual these days.  It started with this:

 "once upon a time there were two people who met."

A journal packed full of pictures and documents sits in the top of my daughter’s closet.  The journal explains the beginnings of my daughter’s existence.  The two people who were responsible for creating her.  Pictures of those people.  Explanations of how we came to be her parents.  Details, details, details.  Maybe more details than she will want (doubtful), but as many as I can provide.  I am fortunate that I was there for the pregnancy, the birth and my husband and son are her birth family.  I am also not naive enough to think just because she is within her birth family, that she will never have adoption issues.

She will have genetic mirroring.  But even if she could not have the genetic mirroring, I would still provide that for her, if it was within my power.  She has a relatively new relationship with her birth father as he has courageously stepped into her life with his fantastic wife.  Our daughter looks exactly like him and I spend a lot of time discussing their similar physical traits and showing her pictures of his mother who also looks just like her.

The story of my daughter’s beginnings, with her prompting, has been told and re-told countless times and will continue to be told until it becomes part of who she is.   Validating her beginnings is being honest.  Her story didn’t begin with. . .

 “and the Judge finalized your adoption when you were six months old” . . . . ..