Thursday, May 23, 2013

Imagine Never Knowing the Day you Were Born

Mayan Indian tribe symbol
I was speaking to my friend Jenny via Facebook last night and she let me into the secret world of adoption in the South American country of her birth:  Colombia 

I first met Jenny when I was trying to decide whether to get my dna tested last year.  She was among many who suggested the idea to me and explained to me her results in being Native American and about the different tribes in Colombia. 

Jenny has shared a lot of information with me about being Latino which has been invaluable to me not growing up in the Latino culture.  I learned this from her:

Hispanic is not a race. It is a word that means anyone of Latin, Central, Mexican, Puerto Rican American descent. Hispanics can be any of the 4 races (European, Sub Saharan African, Native American, Asian). Native Americans in South America, although different tribes, are of the same race as Native Americans, now referred to as First Nation Peoples, in North America. In Colombia the main tribe was Chibcha. Now there are 13 tribes still in existence in Colombia. Most Colombians are a combo of European Spanish and Native American - a result of the conquest back in the 1500's.

Jenny was adopted from Colombia and is a U.S. citizen.  She does not know her birth date.  

Yes, you read that right.  

She does not know the day she was born. 

Imagine not knowing your birth date.

* You would not know how old you are

* You would not know your Astrological sign

* You would not be able to count back to when you were conceived (that clue helps in adoption searches)

* You would be hassled by every government agency you come in contact with

* You would be tired of explaining to people why you don't know your birth date

My birthday feels to me like such a huge piece of my identity.  It is one of the core pieces of information that most in this country cannot imagine ever living without.  I take my birthday for granted.  Sure, it's possible it is false.  My birth mother did not remember my exact birthday.  I have just taken it on trust that the doctors and hospital got it right.  They were there as witnesses and the doctor signed my birth certificate and properly filed it with Vital Statistics of Illinois.

The first question I ask my customers at work is their birth date.  It narrows them down in the database and then I move on to their name.  I can barely imagine somebody telling me that they don't know their own birth date.

Adoptees have a lot of adoption-related baggage associated with birthdays, but if you truly do not know the day you were born, what day do you mourn?  What day do you celebrate with cake and ice cream?  Which birthday do you celebrate when you truly do not know your exact age?

I imagine to have any sense of normalcy, you would just have to pick a day.  I imagine that whoever handled Jenny's birth and adoption, did just that. It is incomprehensible to me to take away somebody else's birthday and identity, but it happens.

Colombia has been known to alter documents in the era my friend Jenny grew up in. This is also true in other countries like China, Korea, Vietnam, India, Ethiopia, and Peru.   Many times, there are no medical records because many were not born in hospitals.  There is no way to safely petition the government like we do in the U.S.  The adoptees who have tried to make change in adoption in their home countries have received death threats.  

Jenny is an educated, lovely lady.  But the circumstances of her birth and adoption has left a huge hole in her past that may never be filled.  I sincerely feel her pain and wish I could do something to help.

Until my conversations with Jenny, I didn't fully appreciate the rights afforded to me simply by being born and adopted in the U.S.:

* knowing my birthday is likely accurate and having a birth certificate to prove it

* knowing accurate medical records were kept on the event of my birth

* speaking with my representative about adoption laws

* being able to freely assemble as a group with adoption signs

* being physically safe while working toward Adoptee Rights
* having a reputable (and mostly ethical) adoption agency to work with in my post-adoption search to    find my birth mother

We adoptees like to focus on the negatives of all the barriers in our searches, and trust me, i don't discount them at all; in fact, there are cases of falsified records in the U.S.  See Georgia Tann's corrupt adoptions in Tennessee.  But the fact that there are even records in existence is a far cry better than having no paper trail of your birth and adoption at all.

 And death threats?

Death threats are the furthest thing from my mind.  Why?

Because if you were born and adopted in the U.S., you have rights.  You have choices.  We may not always like these choices.  We definitely do not like sealed birth certificates and sealed adoption files. But we love Ancestry and public records and search angels.  We love forwarding pictures of ourselves and our non-identifying information on Facebook.  We love blogging and getting the word out via media sources.  Using all of these avenues is a privilege as is the process of changing laws we don't like or believe are unfair.  Having to worry about my safety while working toward change in adoption is not something I have ever personally experienced. 

When thinking about Jenny and the obstacles she faces in her home country, my own challenges in seeking the truth seem small. 

I feel ashamed of not knowing and understanding her struggles before today-- this fellow adoptee who has been so generous with her friendship and information.

My heart goes out to Jenny and I hope and pray that something will change in Colombia.  I'm hoping and praying that the dna technology at some point will lead Jenny to answers.


Friday, May 10, 2013

Dear Grandma Sylvia

My grandmother Sylvia on my birth mom's wedding day

Dear Grandma Sylvia,

As I was pulling a Hershey with Almonds out of my freezer and warming up some of my husband's left-over coffee in the microwave this morning, I said out loud,

"Grandma Sylvia!  Can you hear me up there?  I was a good kid! You would have liked me alot if you would have given me a chance!"

But the truth is I had about a fart's chance in a windstorm to grow up knowing you considering I was born in the middle of the Baby Scoop Era to your unmarried daughter. 

A chance to experience what your daughter describes as a wonderful childhood with her wonderful parents has left me asking "what if?"

I wonder what it would have been like to have a cool grandma.  You see, I will never know what that feels like.  Neither of my grandma's lived near me and we weren't close.  Both of my grandfathers were dead before I could meet them. 

I'm not such a bad grandchild, Sylvia.  For the most part, people like me. Sure, I've made lots of mistakes, but I try to learn from them.  I went to college.  I married the love of my life -- like your daughter.  I look like your daughter.  We have the same eyebrows. 

When I think about you and my mom looking at me through the glass at Evanston Hospital, it makes me sad that you didn't insist on holding me.  That you didn't insist your daughter hold me.  Were you afraid she might get attached and change her mind? 

I know I was an embarrassment to you back then, but I wished you would have thought further down the road how this would affect your daughter, me and my own children.  They will never know their great-grandmother, Sylvia.  Seems a shame.

You and I would have been like peas and carrots.  You loved the piano I understand.  Me too.  I have your painting hanging in my house above my piano.  When I play, I think of you and how it's sad that we will never meet face to face. 

I console myself with the thought that I can at least see part of you in the beautiful beach scene your daughter gave to me.

Are you a chocoholic too?

Your grandaughter,


Thursday, May 9, 2013

Things I'd like to ask 23 and Me

Now that I've had a few weeks to sift through the mounds of DNA information regarding my health, my ancestry and my 900 plus cousins all over the world, the information is starting to settle in. As I was doing dishes today, I started thinking about all the questions I'd like to ask 23 and me, if I had a personal consultant to discuss these results with.

1.  Is there a gene for fat arms?  Because I haven't worn a sleeveless shirt in public for about 15 years.  If there is, where did it come from?  All the women on my mother's side are pretty slim.  I probably have some paternal aunt out there with jiggly Oprah arms.

2.  Is there a fat gene that I'm missing?  Your results state I have a slightly lower than average chance of obesity.  So why am I am fat?  Oh, yeah.  I probably ate too much.

3.  Now that I know that I have 3 markers to increase my odds of high blood pressure, does this mean I have to start exercising? 

4.  How does knowing my 950 fifth cousins help me find my birth father? 

5.  Why do you lump East Asian with Native American?  I'm really confused. 

6.   I know you locked my Alzheimer's results and for good reason.  I won't be unlocking those anytime soon (I'm too scared to open them).

7.  I was brave and opened the BRCA breast cancer/ovarian cancer gene.  I was negative (Phew!  I spent 25 years worrying about those two).  I know this doesn't mean I won't get breast cancer or ovarian cancer, and don't worry -- i will still get my paps and mammograms, but you don't know what a relief these results really are to me.

8.  I was negative for the locked Parkinson's marker.  Another relief.  Thank you.

9.  I have a .6% greater than average risk of bipolar disorder in my lifetime.  Should I call a shrink now just in case?

10.  Do these results come with a money-back guarantee?  I definitely think I got my money's worth, but I really need a first cousin or sibling match, ok?  Can you work on that please?

11. Thank you for telling me I'm Irish.  Family Tree DNA failed to mention that.

12.  Can you please just tell me who the baby-daddy is?

Thank you.

Your satisfied customer,

Lynn Grubb

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

"My friend is adopted, and she . . . . ."

Photo credit: Devon Goldstein
After having a very frustrating conversation this past weekend with a non-adoptee, and after reading Deanna's latest blog over at Adoptee Restoration, I feel the need to discuss a few concepts with (hopefully) the non-adopted.  I hope and pray that some non-adopted people happen upon this blog if they know or love an adoptee in their lives.  Otherwise, I am just preaching to the choir, because for the most part, adoptees understand the concepts I am going to outline below.

Living in the United States (the adoption capital of the world) makes it very possible that each of us has some connection to adoption.  If not in our own family, then a friend's family.  Every person I have ever spoken with about adoption, shares with me the connection to adoption in their own life (I love that part about adoption conversations).  However, sometimes, the sharing of their story is a way to invalidate what I am sharing with them.

invalidate [ɪnˈvælɪˌdeɪt]vb (tr)
to render weak or ineffective, as an argument

  Let me give you some examples:
1.  "My son has never asked any questions about adoption so he is fine with being adopted".

I'm just wondering how one person knows another person is fine with a major life event that happened to them.  Is somebody fine when their spouse dies suddenly?  Is your neighbor fine when her child is bullied at school?  No.  Then, don't assume someone is fine who lost their entire first family and may have been (or is currently being) lied to about their lives.  Don't assume that adoptees are told they are adopted.  Don't assume that people like being adopted.  Don't assume what being adopted means to other people when you are not adopted yourself.  In fact, even if you are one of the adoptees who has "no issues" - don't assume others are in the same camp.

Maybe they really are fine.  Yes, it's possible, but don't assume it because of your own limited views of adoption.  Only adoptees understand what it feels like to be adopted.  Do not project your own beliefs about adoption onto them ("adoption is always a win-win and you should be happy!") and decide they are "fine".  You cannot know another person is fine as we all keep deep pain to ourselves for the most part unless we trust another human to hear about it.  And remember:

Adoption is a lifelong experience -- not a one time event.

2.  "I never knew you had so many issues with being adopted.  My brother's adult children are adopted and they don't have any issues with adoption."  

See No. 1 above and then ask yourself if you had lost your first family, had to mitigate and facilitate family relations between two (or more) different families (similar to divorce), had to manage loyalties, hurt feelings, ultimatums, lies, grief, fear, rejection, sealed records, DNA tests all the while dealing with judgment over something you had no control over as a child, how would you feel?

3.  "my best friend's daughter is adopted and she has never wanted to search"

How do you know she has never wanted to search?  Do you live inside her head?  We all have secret longings that we keep to ourselves for fear of ridicule and judgment.  Adoptees have even more pressure to keep their secret feelings to themselves because of loyalty conflicts, myths that abound in general society about adoption, and knowing that as soon as you open yourself up to another human, you will get commonplace statements like the one above.

This statement is another way to invalidate a person for wanting something that others may not want.  Who cares if she never wanted to search?  I do -- I did -- and I'm standing right here sharing my story with you.  The last thing I need is for you to try to make me feel like I'm doing something wrong because someone (unknown to me) did the opposite.   Listen instead please. You might learn something.

Searching is a normal part of being human.  Genealogy is not just for the non-adopted.  People other than adoptees search for family who they have been separated from.  This is not a difficult concept for people to understand.  We all want or need to know "our people".  If you understand this concept, then there is no need to make an adoptee feel bad for doing the exact same thing the rest of the world does.

4. "Johnny doesn't care about his birth family because (whispering) his birth family members are in prison and on drugs"

By assuming a child does not have strong feelings for a family member because of poor choices by that family member, is being naive at best or insensitive and unloving at worst.  Children love their parents and extended family regardless of choices or what somebody else says or believes.  This love extends to birth family members as well.

I know that you are an upstanding citizen who plays by the rules and goes to church, pays your taxes and does the right thing as often as possible.  We all like to view ourselves in these ways.  And the "birth family" has made choices, many times, to put them in a position of not having their own child with them, right?  For the most part, yes.  But judging birth family members in a negative way, does not change a child's feelings for their family members.  The child does not love family any less because of poor choices.  The child may feel hurt, rejected, confused, sad and angry about these choices and his separation from family, but he/she may not verbalize these feelings to outsiders.  On the contrary, he may state emphatically that "he doesn't care" but as any wise parent knows, this is not true evidence that a child does not care. 

5. "Adoption was for the best because the child went to a home with a married mother and a father".

This thinking is exactly what the social workers touted during the Baby Scoop Era when 20% of newborn, white babies were "scooped" from perfectly good, decent, caring birth mothers.  Their only crime?  Being unmarried. 

This statement is judgmental all by itself because it assumes that a child is better off with two parents who are married, rather than the woman who bore him.  I understand that married parents are the ideal standard for raising families in this country and there are many studies to back this opinion up -- that two intact parents can raise a child better (better outcomes in school, less teen pregnancy, etc.)

However, this statement completely ignores many potential realities. This statement bothers me because of it's assumption that adoptive families are superior to birth families and that adoptive families are not subject to the same kind of life stresses birth families are. 

There is assumption hidden in this statement that since we cleaned up the initial problem (single/ unmarried/teen mom/battered woman/lack of finances/orphan in another country) that everything that follows, will continue to "prove" that this child is better off with the adoptive parents.

I beg to differ.  Adoptive parents are not immune to divorce, financial problems, domestic violence, child abuse and neglect or (surprise!) realizing they are gay.  Birth families recover from many times, temporary issues.  The mother finds a a good job, gets married (many times to the birth father), loses the abusive boyfriend and matures.

Wait a minute!!!  You mean, married, adoptive parents aren't superior to birth mothers who aren't married?

Exactly my point.

A very short time after my mother relinquished me, she met her husband who is a wonderful man.  He would have been my father most likely if she had kept me (or not, but I don't have a crystal ball).  They have had a long, in-tact marriage and family since my relinquishment.  They are an average, decent middle class family.  Fortunately my adoptive parents did not divorce, but statistically, they could have.  Did my adoptive family have issues?  Absolutely.  Did my birth family have issues? Probably (I wasn't there).  My point is:  don't assume the adoptive parents were better than the birth family because the mother was unmarried then.  Don't assume that a problem in 1972 lasted until 2013. Circumstances change.  People grow up.

Monday, May 6, 2013

But you're not my "real" mom!

Stepmothers, adoptive mothers and maybe even some biological mothers have heard at one time or another the "you aren't my REAL mom!" 

It could have been because your child didn't get his way or didn't like a decision you made or something you took away, or maybe like in my daughter's case, she said it matter-of-factly in the middle of a conversation recently about something insignificant enough I can't remember it. 

I do remember we were sitting on her canopy bed and she said "but you aren't my real mom" to me for the first time.

My immediate reply to her was:

(pinching arm) "Well, I think I'm real.  I'm sitting right here.  I must be real!"

My daughter laughed and we moved on to some other important topic like "why won't dad let me use the new computer?"

My first reaction to not being called "real" was not fear, insecurity or upset.  I didn't feel any need to defend myself.  I didn't get worried that my daughter loved her birth mother more than me.  Why?

Because I know who is in her heart:  both of us, actually.

But who is the person taking care of her daily needs?  Me.  Who is tucking her in at night, reading Diary of the Wimpy Kid to her?  Me. Who is scratching her head when my daughter begs to see the dentist before her six month cleaning is due?  Me.

Who took her today to get fitted for her first pair of glasses and explained to her for the umpteenth time the story of how and why we put our dog, Shaggy, down (she wasn't there).  Me.

I am real.  I am here. And I am her mom.

Her birth mother is real.  She is not here, but she too is her mom.

No need to get in a tizzy about these realities.  I take the questions one day at a time.  I don't need to feel insecure that she didn't come from my body.  I love that kid like she came from my own body, but she didn't.  And that's o.k.

I am confident she loves me because I'm her mom.

Mother's Day is coming upon us and two generations of adoptive mothers (my mom and myself) will be going to a church brunch to celebrate.  Do we look alike?  Oddly people tell us we do.

We are both real and we both feel blessed to have our daughter (and granddaughter) in our lives. 

Now that is real.



Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Was it God's will I be adopted?

photo credit:
Many in the Christian community and otherwise, believe that it is God's will and under his direction that children be adopted.  I am not going to get into a Bible study on this blog, but I will mention many Christian concepts as they frame my beliefs about adoption.

Many parents tell their curious adoptees when questioned, statements like these:

"God wanted you to be our child"
 "You were chosen by us"
"Your birth mother gave you to us as a special gift"
"You are God's gift to us" 

I believe for the most part adoptive parents want to soothe and help their child understand their complicated circumstances.  However, I also believe the statements above and statements similar to these, do the opposite.

Being chosen is generally not true

It is true that adoptive parents choose to adopt, however they do not choose a particular child, for the most part. Even if they did choose a particular child, it feels like a form of indebtedness to proclaim "I chose you".  It implies a certain amount of obligation on the part of the child.  It also makes it sound like adoption is superior to biological parenthood. Biological parents cannot "choose" their children.  They get what they get.

Your birth mother gave you to us as a special gift

If your child follows the logic of this statement, she can easily conclude "and God gave me to my birth mother as a special gift first". Apparently, I wasn't that special or she would not have given me away like a piece of furniture.  It sounds harsh, but many adoptees feel like they were tossed to the side like an old shoe.

Adopted children inherently know they weren't wanted by their first family.  Trying to make it sound like a good thing just doesn't help.  It invalidates what a child already knows deep in her heart.  She was abandoned (physically and emotionally) and referring to her as a "special gift" is only trying to sugar coat the obvious.

It is God's Will we are your parents

I don't find it appropriate for me to ever proclaim God's will.  To me, that is all ego and not very much God.  Second, if it were God's will the adoptive parents be my parents, then it also implies that it was God's Will I lost my entire first family, name and history.  Was it truly God's will?  It's not for me to say; however, I have a difficult time believing it was God's plan for me to be born into a fractured family -- to a mother who did not even hold me.

Many adoptive parents want to believe that their children came to them because of God's will. And if that is their belief, o.k., but I think you get into sticky territory by proclaiming this belief to your child and forget what your child actually lost before coming to you.  It also smacks of a little too much pride to exclaim you know God's will for somebody else. We can know and believe with all our heart that we understand God's will, however, we are just tiny little humans who allow our egos to get in the way of God's true plans many times.

I believe God's will was for me to be with the actual parents he gave me (my first mother and father).  But we humans don't always cooperate with God's plan.  He gives us free will to parent our children or not.  My husband's father spent half of his childhood in prison.  I don't believe that was God's will.  My father-in-law made choices -- choices that ultimately hurt his son and the next generation.

God entrusted me to my first mother and it was her choice to entrust me to someone else.  God entrusted my daughter to her first mother and it was her decision to entrust her daughter to myself and my husband. Free will on the part of my first mother was how I entered into the world of adoption. (I won't get into a discussion here about how many first mothers were coerced--a blog for another day).

Now did God intervene in my life post-relinquishment?   I believe so.  

 It is up to the adoptee to discern how God (and if God) played a role in his/her life.   

I don't get to dictate my child's beliefs no matter how much I would like to think I can.  When you proclaim "truths" to your child such as "it was God's will you be our child", 

it minimizes the loss the child endured in order to become part of the adoptive family.  

It also implies that you are all-knowing like God and that the child cannot decide what adoption means to him on his own.  I would even go so far as to say this statement can hurt your child's relationship with God.  ("Why would God take my family from me?  He must be a mean God").

Could it have been God's plan all along that the adoptive parents raise this child?  Maybe, but I strongly suspect not.  I believe that adoption falls under God's ability and desire to help remedy a sad situation for a child whom He loves.  I believe adoption falls into the category of what Paul discusses about a thorn in his flesh.  Adoption is a band-aid for a failure of a family.  

Can God use adoption for good?  Absolutely.  I see him doing just that in the life of my pastor/friend Deanna Schrodes at Adoptee Restoration.  

Can adoption be used for evil?  Absolutely.  We see that every day in America where profits are more important than truth in adoption.  Adoption is a machine in America and I wholeheartedly believe God looks down on much of it with sadness.  

"But are you saying, adoption is all bad and not good?"

No.  If I believed that, I would not be encouraging adoptive parents to really think (and pray) before they speak about adoption to their children.  Really think (and pray) about how you can help heal your child's wound -- not make it worse.

I also believe this:

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.  Romans 8:28

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