Sunday, December 28, 2014

The Ever-Present Void of The Unknown Father

I took part in a discussion last night among my fellow adoptees who are in the same boat as me: unknown father.  Friends of ours who know their fathers were chiming in about their outrage and anger that our birth mother's won't just tell us our fathers' names.  One of them suggested I write about this topic from the adoptee viewpoint.

Lots of stories have flown around about how to handle this delicate situation.  These are just a couple samples of stories I am personally aware:

1.  Adoptee A's birth mother refused to tell her her father's name.  Adoptee A sent her a letter advising that if she didn't reveal the name of the father within 30 days, she would go to the media and take her story public.  She received the father's name by mail within two weeks. Adoptee A met her birth father just in time as he was dying of cancer.

2.  Adoptee B had a pretty good relationship with her birth mother until her birth mother refused to tell her her father's name. Adoptee B threatened to end the relationship unless she revealed the name. Adoptee B's birth mother revealed the name reluctantly.

I have heard all the arguments as to why birth mother's do not reveal the father's names.  I could recite them in my sleep, but that is not the purpose of this blog.  The purpose of this blog is to reveal the other side of this reality.

The two stories  of Adoptee A and B make it seem like many adoptees with unknown fathers are just spoiled brats and we want what we want regardless of who we hurt in the process.  But let's take a closer look at the predicaments that many adoptees are in.

I am a member of a closed Facebook genealogy group and I was reading one of the documents about why people will not respond to questions and emails when you are either a paper-relative (but don't know each other in real life) or a DNA-match (and are making initial contact for information).  It was well-written from the perspective of the person being asked to provide information.  It was a good reminder that we should not be a cyber-bully or push people past their "No" and to respect each other since we do not know the other person's viewpoint or story.

One thing I did not hear addressed in this document, and it was no surprise, considering it was written by a non-adoptee, was the adoptee viewpoint (or it could be the donor-conceived viewpoint, or the now-adult child of a father who walked out of his/her life in childhood viewpoint, or the biological offspring of a family who lied to them viewpoint, or the stepchild of a believed-to-be-bio-dad-but- really-stepdad-viewpoint).

Sure, we are all adults and we should calmly, respectfully understand when somebody does not want to reveal information, whether that means our emails are ignored, we personally are ignored or our needs are ignored.  As grown-ups, we are responsible for our own feelings and actions, and we also have to accept that we have no control over anyone other than ourselves.  

On the other hand, if you are adopted or have any number of the family situations I mentioned above, you are put in a position of powerlessness.  Somebody else did the leaving, the lying, the avoiding, the ignoring and you were the recipient of it without choice.  There is an unequal amount of power in relationships where one party holds the "key" or "answers" and the other party is the one the information is about. 

You see this power differential when you compare the stereotypical adoptive parents with the stereotypical relinquishing birth mother.  A relinquishing mother may be poor, uneducated or at a minimum, not in a position to parent and the adoptive parents are usually in a better educational and financial position to adopt. 

The power differential is also true in laws governing adoption, whereas the powerful lobby groups are adoptive parents, attorneys, and agencies who have the deep pockets and tip the laws in their favor. As adoptees, we experience a crap-shoot of sorts of living in the "right state or country" in order to see our own birth certificates.  

This power differential puts adoptees with unknown fathers into a win/lose scenario.  If we push our mothers for the information, we could lose them.  If we leave it alone, we may lose the opportunity to know our fathers.  In other words, it is similar to being a child of divorce --- always in the middle, always having to tiptoe around somebody else's feelings.  

The viewpoint of the adult adoptee with an unknown father is rarely discussed or explored in other blogs that I have read.  The right to have copies of our original birth documents is a an issue talked about often; however if you are an adoptee, chances are high that your father's name was NOT listed on your birth certificate.  So having a copy of your original birth certificate rarely helps unless your biological father was married to your mother.

In other words, most of the power of "knowing and revealing" an adoptee's father's name is left with the mother.  An adult with an unknown father is in a win/lose scenario that most of us never imagined we would be in.

You have all heard the stories from the people "who don't want to know" -- you know the ones who say this:

"The dad who raised me is my REAL DAD and I don't care about that man who donated sperm.  He is a bum, walked out of my life and I hope I never see him again."

or this:

"I love my adoptive parents and my adopted dad is the only father I need."

But have you ever heard statements like these?

"I walk around every day with a VOID in my heart and soul."  

"Lacking a good relationship with the primary male in my life, I was desperate for male attention and validation."

"To be missing the love only a Dad can give, has left a hole in me."

"I can't wait to look into the face of the man who I share DNA with, to finally be able to say I Love You."

"I am looking forward to the day when I can fill all the empty branches of my family tree. . . 
for myself and future generations . . .before I die."

"The desperation and lack of positive self-image led me to settle for much less than I deserved."

"When I find you, it will bring a completion to my journey. I want you to meet your grandkids."

"It hurts to be lied to by the woman who brought me into the world -- to know that she does not consider my need to know my father as important as my need to know her."

"To think that my dad would have protected me from the things that my adoptive parents did not."

"To have a man say . . .'this is my daughter' and see him smile."

Mara Parker found her father through genetic genealogy and said all the things that tug at a Daddy's heart (get the tissues ready).  Mara's mother did disclose her father's name; however, due to closed records, Mara did not know either of her biological parents growing up and her search for her father was difficult due to him having a common name.  

My daughter, who many of you know is adopted, spent a lot of time this Christmas holiday with her biological father's side.  When I look at her, I see him.  When I look at him, I see her.  How can I not embrace and love this person in her life?  I had the opportunity to ask him about family genetic traits, such as who is musical and artistic in his family, what their religious background was, etc.  I learned some fascinating things about him and many of them explain the way my daughter thinks and behaves.

Many believe that those of us with unknown fathers should just accept our plight, the hand we were dealt and "move on".  Many feel that it's not a big deal -- we should just be thankful to be alive (I am, by the way) and "forget about the whole thing".

We all know that genetics are hugely important to people's lives -- their personalities, looks, tastes, diseases, etc.  The average person can look in the mirror and see their Father staring back at them. Not true for those of us with this ever-present void.  We too would like to see our Father, his people, and the people before them.  Even if they are deceased.  Even if they want nothing to do with us. Even though it might "hurt" a few people who may have been actively keeping the secret.  We have been hurt too and we are expected to accept that as our fate.

Everyone has a right to know who their father is.  

"Between stimulus and response there is a space. 
In that space is our power to choose our response. 
In our response lies our growth and our freedom." -- Viktor E. Frankl

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

12 Reasons We Need to #Flip the Script for National Adoption Awareness Month

As part of the Lost Daughters bloggers, I wanted to take the opportunity to shine a light on our Flip the Script campaign.

As Amanda Woolsten states in the video below:

"We are missing a bigger part of the picture -- that bigger part is adoptees who can tell everyone what living adoption is actually like.

We need to flip the script because right now adoption agencies, professionals, and adoptive parents are doing most of the talking. ..... Flip the Script says:

What if it was me?

What if it was us that got to do the talking?

and everyone just listened.  

What would we stand to gain if we did that?  I argue, we would gain alot."

1.  We are not children anymore, Rosita points out.

When you are in your 40's, it gets old when people keep referring to you as "an adopted child".  I am an adult and I can handle my affairs like adults do.  I deserve to have the same birth documents that everyone else has and to be able to contact birth family members like everybody else does.

Nobody cares if my non-adopted next door neighbor shows up on his mother's doorstep, so why does the government care about who I contact?  Why are my birth and adoption documents withheld from me for something I had no control over?  Why, as a full grown adult, am I still being micro-managed?

2.  We can speak for ourselves.  There is not a "single story" states Amira.  Single stories are told by certain people, and adoptees are missing from the dialogue.

We all have our own personal adoption stories, and they should be allowed to be told from our viewpoint when we are old enough to speak for ourselves-- not our adoptive parents' viewpoint, not society's viewpoint, not adoption professionals' viewpoint -- OUR VIEWPOINT.

These stories may include words of gratitude or they may includes stories of abuse or anything in between.  Everybody has a right to speak to their own story, the good, the bad, the beautiful and the ugly.  I do not want somebody else, most of all, people who are not adopted themselves, speaking for me.

I cringe when an adoptive parent tells me that they have asked their adopted child to speak in front of a group about adoption (many times at church).  I worry that the child being asked this is feeling pressured to say only positive things about adoption and to disclose personal details that they are not really comfortable sharing with a group.  Especially in Christian circles, I have noticed a denial of the more complicated feelings and aspects of being adopted, the glorification of "saving orphans" and using the Bible as a way to promote adoption.

I see it as an indoctrination, one I did not grow up hearing at my church, and one of the largest barriers to Christians listening to adoptees who want to #flipthescript.  One example I can share is when I briefly attended an adoption support group at a church.  There was literally no place at the table for an adoptee who was a also a  relative adoptive parent.  When I walked into the room, and saw the table tents, I felt immediately invisible.

This experience is similar to my experience in the larger society when my voice feels drowned out  by the louder "professionals" and "experts" in the media or when I am being prompted to admit how lucky and fortunate I am because I was "chosen".

Angela Tucker, adoptee and the face behind the documentary, Closure, wrote an article titled The Missing Voice in the Adoption Conversation for Christianity Today.  I would like to see more articles like Angela's receiving exposure in the media.

3.  We are tired of hearing "feel grateful" about being adopted.  Please don't tell us we are "lucky" or should be grateful that we weren't put in the dumpster, an orphanage or languishing in foster care points out Amanda.

My daughter says that the first question people ask her about being adopted is, "How was the orphanage?".  Times have definitely changed.  The number one question people asked me when I was growing up was, "How does it feel to be adopted?"

I get it -- people are curious (and sometimes downright nosy).  However, please do not tell me how I am supposed to feel, or that I should or should not feel something just because you deem it "correct" or "incorrect".  I am thankful for my blessings, like anyone, but don't ask me to be grateful for something I did not choose for myself.  Stop asking me to be grateful for food, clothing, shelter and love, when all children deserve this, adopted or not.

Aselefech states in the video, she changed her name to her birth name and was labeled "ungrateful".

Our names are our names, just like yours are.  If we want to change our names to identify with our original families, it is no different than anyone else who identifies with their families or ancestors. Genealogy is a very popular past-time and hobby and is important for everyone, even adoptees. Names are highly personal and are important when tracing genealogy lines.  Each person, adopted or not, has a right to the name of their people. There is a process to legally change your name and adults (and even some kids) do it for many varied reasons.  No one should have to justify or explain their decisions regarding their own names.

4.  It's o.k. to have feelings states Rosita. "it's not about making everybody else who is not an adoptee, feel better".

As adoptees, we have feelings about adoption, both good and bad, and we are tired of being invalidated for having feelings that are not considered "acceptable" to the larger adoption community and/or the general public.

One of the reasons, I started this blog was to validate other adoptees' feelings and viewpoints (and is also the reason for the upcoming anthology I am editing, titled Adoptee Survival Guide) as I suspected many adoptees were feeling invalidated in the wider public as I know I was.   I probably get more than my fair share of adoption-ignorant comments, as I have always been pretty open in speaking about adoption if somebody asks me a question.  (and being an adoption blogger does come with more questions and expectations that I will speak for adoptees as a group).  Sometimes I am taken aback at how much ignorance and confusion that is being circulated about adoption.  Even when taken off guard, I do my best to calmly educate, rather than react. (some days, it is hard, I admit).

5.  Soojung states, "I don't need to have a Ph.D to be an expert in the story of my life.  My experience is a true and valid.   I want to be "one true voice' that only wants to help other people understand."

6.  "When we only celebrate adoption as happy, we don't allow for any space for trauma and pain.  It's important to allow people to have spaces to let their voices be heard," states Amira.

7.  Angela states that most Adoptive Parents do a great job of raising their kids, but when the kids reach a certain age and develop complex opinions, their voices are no longer considered relevant.

8.  Kassaye states, "what we have to say is being put on the margin."

9.  Soojung points out an unpopular opinion that there is a difference between biological children and adopted children. "It feels different from the parent's perspective and even more importantly, it is different from the child's perspective.  That's an important difference to be acknowledged while the child is being parented."

I agree with Soojung as I am also a parent of both a biological child and an adopted one.  Being cognizant of the differences makes you a much better parent as you can meet the needs of both biological and adopted children.

10.  Amanda reminds people that we should not "parentify" a child by making them feel responsible to be adoptive parents' emotional caretakers.

The term "parentify" comes up alot in child abuse literature.  This happens frequently in dysfunctional homes where the parents want the children to be the care-takers to the parents.  An example could be asking your 7 year old to be in charge of all family meals in addition to bathing his 3 year old sibling because you don't want to do it or it can be expecting an adopted child to replace a biological child and the dreams that you yourself did not fulfill in your own life.

11.  Gotcha Day makes us feel objectified, disrespected, and is not funny.

There needs to be awareness that celebrating a day where there was tremendous loss to the adoptee may trigger difficult feelings and the child or adult may not want to celebrate.  (this includes our birthdays).

12.  "Why should we leave our pasts behind?  My past is my future" says Asefelech.

Amen, Asefelech --- when you have a blank space for your past, it does not serve you well for your future. . . . . .

In closing, I want to state that what we as adoptees have experienced being adopted has value and my hope is that others both inside and outside the adoption community, will take notice, listen and learn.

#flipthescript  #NAAM

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Flip the Script @National Adoption Month

Some of my fellow Lost Daughters got together and talked about what we hope for the future of National Adoption Month.

It's time adoptees were listened to.

#Flip the Script

Friday, October 24, 2014

On Penning My Letter for Dear Wonderful You: Letters to Adopted and Fostered Youth

I am excited to announce that Dear Wonderful You: Letters to Adopted and Fostered Youth (edited by Diane Rene Christian and Mei-Mei Akwai Ellerman, Ph.D) is available for sale on Kindle beginning today!

Taking part in this anthology was not only an honor, but an emotional journey in itself.  Penning my letter was difficult. I had to get outside of myself as an adult, with all my opinions and ideas about the world and really take myself back to who I was then - the young, inexperienced and vulnerable pre-teen who was teased for having hair that didn't move (I was accused of using lots of hair spray because of how thick my hair was and is).  

I also experienced being made fun of in middle school for being adopted.  Later in high school I was teased when I got my hair cut into the Dorothy Hammel style that was popular at the time.  I somehow inherited the nickname Duck and in 9th grade, people would actually quack at me when I walked by (I know, it's kind of funny now!)

In school and amongst friends, I did not hide the fact that I was adopted because I actually felt proud of being adopted growing up.  However, other kids, many who called me friend, would sometimes try to pop holes in my bubble by reminding me that I was "weird" for being adopted.   So for this project, I had to take myself back to that place of vulnerability but also look at myself in a new way:  as an adult adoptee mentor -- something I had not really considered myself before taking part in this project, except in the eyes of my daughter.

I wrote one version of my letter and decided I just didn't like it. Then for my second try, I envisioned my 9-year old daughter (also adopted) reading the letter.  I really had to stretch myself to get this down on paper (or computer screen). It was a somewhat painful process which was new for me as usually I just bleed all over the page when writing about adoption from an adult viewpoint. I decided I just didn't want to focus on adoption at all.  I wanted to inspire young people to pay attention to their dreams -- to move toward those things that whisper to them and draw them close.  

My tweens and teen years were a time when I was trying on new and different creative outlets. In middle school, I took part in an acting contest and my group, randomly assigned, won.  I was (by luck) the lead role and it just wetted my appetite for more which led to signing up for acting classes. I also tried gymnastics, choir, and leather making.  I played on community and select soccer teams, sang in the school and church choirs and played in the school orchestra.

Later as a teenager, I was a member of a church youth group, traveled on several mission trips and was a member of the Dayton Philharmonic Youth Orchestra. Being part of the DPYO allowed me the opportunity to mingle with other teen musicians all over Ohio.  During our weekly practices at Wright State University, we were fortunate enough to be led by a very talented and gifted conductor. I continued my love of soccer past my teen years and into my 20's, playing coed indoor soccer.  

When I look back now, I realize how fortunate I was to be able to try all those different early loves in my life, and how they have shaped my life now.  When my daughter was 5, I signed her up for Suzuki Violin. The two of us worked together as she went through her weekly lessons.  It was so meaningful for me to be able to share that love in my life with her.  She decided to stop playing after a couple of years and now she loves singing in her church choir and playing the Recorder.

One of the loves I was never able to try as a child, I decided to go for as an adult in my 40's.  I asked my husband for a keyboard for Christmas quite a few years ago.  It sat collecting dust for a couple of years and then one Sunday I was watching PBS and saw Scott the Piano Guy.  I ordered his book and taught myself the keyboard.  That was 3 years ago and I am happily playing pop music for the first time in my life and having so much fun! (playing the violin, one had to stick to the orchestra music).

Of course, one of the newer loves I found in my adult life is  writing, thanks to Amanda Woolsten, the founder of Lost Daughters, who invited me to submit my first blog post.  This door which swung wide open, enabled me to find an amazing adoptee community, as several of the Lost Daughters have contributed to Dear Wonderful You.  Somehow growing up, I never saw myself as a writer, even though I regularly got in trouble for passing notes (didn't everybody?). Thinking about how adults hold tight to the dreams of their childhood and also find new dreams, inspired me to write:

"Grownups are really  just oversized kids.  We still have our own dreams inside of us.  Writing this letter to you was one of my dreams realized." 

Most of the writers who took part in this project spoke of how their lives may have been changed dramatically being able to access others like them who "got it" and feeling "less alone" had they been able to pick up a book like this at the library or received it as a gift.  During the documentary made for this book, I am quoted as saying,

"I keep having this vision of me going to my favorite library finding this book without anyone in my family knowing and taking it home and reading it in my room all by myself.  It would have been very meaningful to me and may have allowed me to love myself sooner in my life journey, feeling like I'm part of some bigger, greater support network."

My plan is to take a copy to my childhood library, that is just 10 minutes from where I live now, and my hope is that many fostered and adopted tweens and teens will stumble upon it and experience a sense of community and "not aloneness" when they read the pages in this book.

I also hope that anyone who reads this anthology of letters, will feel as inspired reading it as I did in taking part in this amazing project.

For more information about this project or to purchase your copy now, go here

Saturday, September 27, 2014

The Three Traumas of Adoption (based on the writings of Betty Jean Lifton)

Photo credit:
I have been re-reading Journey of the Adopted Self by Betty Jean Lifton (psychologist, author, adoptee).  I read it in 2006 at the beginning of my adoption reunion journey.

The dedication at the beginning of the book reads like this:

"To the memory of my adoptive mother Hilda and my birth Mother Rae who might have known and even liked each other in another life and another adoption system."

I love this book.  I experienced so many revelations when reading this book the first time.  It was complete validation for everything I felt growing up and a realization that I am not crazy when I feel wounded, damaged or misplaced for growing up in closed adoption.

As I've stated before, my opinion is that closed adoption is a form of emotional abuse.  After re-reading Journey of the Adopted self 8 years later post-reunion, I found that Betty Jean Lifton agrees with me.  She states that telling a child he or she is adopted without "really telling the facts/truth", is disrupting the child's psychic reality.

Admitting a child has been traumatized is not the same as putting a label on them like PTSD or RAD.  There is much disagreement in the adoption community about diagnoses and labels on adopted children.  Of course there will be trauma.  That is NORMAL in adoption.  What do you expect when you remove a child from the only source of comfort and safety he has ever known in the womb?

That is common sense for those in the know about infant bonding and communication. It's also common sense for the average  Joe who thinks about how he might have felt if somebody ripped him away at birth (or later).  When I was going through child abuse and neglect training when I was a CASA/Guardian ad Litem, we were asked to do a "guided imagery" exercise.  We had to close our eyes, and pretend that we were the child who was being asked to leave everything familiar to her without any family member to accompany him, without any of this belongings and be driven to a stranger's house.  Let me tell you -- the exercise was eye opening.

Acknowledging trauma in adoption is not something the average adoption-loving person does who views adoption only in terms of "saving an orphan" or "rescuing them from an uncertain fate".  Trauma is completely unacknowledged in the adoption-loving media!  I always find it suspect that the media and others who only see adoption as positive, that they NEED to do so on overkill.  Words like forever family, adoption is the new pregnant, and GOTCHA DAY need to be banned from adoption language.

My main job as a CASA/GAL was to acknowledge a child's trauma and be his voice!  As I took case after case, I wondered silently where my GAL was when I was growing up.  Why was nobody speaking for me?


"In the closed adoption system, if you rear someone else's child, you tell him about how he entered your clan and very little about the clan from which he came. His identity is supposed to start from the moment he became part of your family, and he is expected to live as a child without a past."  (Journey of the Adopted Self, p. 38).

The first trauma is the moment the child is taken away from his original family.  If the child was an infant, they were forced to process their reality without language.  I imagine being ripped from the only source of comfort and safety you have ever known would show itself in crying, poor eating and sleeping. (I don't remember when I was an infant, but I have seen signs of trauma in my daughter who came to our household right from the hospital).

Some adoptees can process this trauma growing up and others cannot process it well.  Having an unacknowledged wound does nothing to help one heal from it.  Somebody has to acknowledge it -- whether that be the adoptive family or the adoptee himself.

This seems like common sense, but the false ideas of adoption in the past (including social workers and other professional of the time) believed that interchanging one mother for another did no damage. These professionals actually told adoptive parents this and reassured them there would be no worries for the future.

Sadly, many unaware adoptive parents found out the hard way when their children were acting out in adolescence by running away, becoming an addict, stealing, or becoming promiscuous (and in some, suicide).  In my own family, my brother was the one acting out (I was safe in my cocoon of denial)   My parents responded by taking him to a shrink, which he admits to this day, he messed with by not cooperating with treatment.  My parents -- the ones who really needed the shrink -- kept waiting around for the shrink to "fix" my brother, instead of getting to the root of what the problem was.


"One definition of psychological trauma is an experience that is sudden, unexpected, abnormal.  It exceeds the individual's ability to meet its demands.  It disrupts one's sense of self and identity; it threatens one's psychological core.  This is what happens when a child learns he is adopted" (Journey of the Adopted Self, p. 48).

Trauma No. 2 is the moment the child is told he/she is adopted.  This information comes as a shock, especially if the child witnesses one of the adoptive parents as pregnant.  Imagine how a child must feel if he is told that he didn't come out of mommy's tummy, but his brother Johnny did.  It is only natural for the child to wonder where the woman went that carried him in his tummy.

Even in families where all the kids are adopted, as in my own, there is trauma.  The child has a sudden realization that he didn't come into the world in the "normal" way.  If he or she knows where his original family is, knows what they look like, and sees that his parents are not hostile or insecure about the original family, he can integrate the original family into his identity.  As we know from years of closed adoption, the lack of information and acceptance of an original family, causes further trauma for adoptees as does not acknowledging a child's original heritage (race, ethnicity, religion, etc.)

Parents can help the child process the telling of adoption and make it better or worse.  Helping the child would be by discussing his adoption (and birth) in a truthful, age-appropriate way.  There is no magic age for telling but my personal feeling is that it needs to happen early.  Waiting until adolescence or adulthood is a very bad idea and would be an example of NOT helping the child process this second trauma.

Telling everyone in the family EXCEPT the adoptee would be an example of increasing the trauma for your child. Feelings of rage and betrayal on top of trauma will result.


While some secrets can bring people together by giving them a sense of intimacy and sharing, secrets can be destructive if they cause shame and guilt, prevent change, render one powerless, and hamper one's sense of reality. When there are secrets in a family system, there is a conspiracy of silence.  The conspiracy does not have to be agreed upon verbally, but can be unconsciously communicated to members of a clan." (Journey of the Adopted Self, p. 22)

Growing up with secrets.  Secrets are the basis of all dysfunctional families -- that and an inability to give voice to what is "really going on".  Adoptees that grow up with secrets (and honestly, I haven't met one yet who did not), are living the third trauma-- not unlike the family secret of incest, alcoholism, criminality, etc. in the family.  It's just another flavor of dysfunction.

In my family, it was discouraged to ask questions about my original people because "we just don't know".  The excuse of "not knowing" was a chosen state by my parents and many others in the closed era.  Their logic was, if I don't really know (which means they didn't ask, nor did they want to know), then I can't share anything.  I believe many adoptive parents of my era did this for several reasons:

1.  they did not want to acknowledge that there were other people out there who were biologically related to their child;

2.  They were actively discouraging the child's curiosity in an attempt to prevent searching and/or perceived loss to the adoptive family; and

3.  they had not dealt with their own issues such as infertility, mental illness, alcoholism and so therefore were not able to help their child deal with his issues.

Besides the secrets going on in the family, the secrets continued to reach into the adult adoptee's life in the form of secrets being held by adoption agencies and the government-sanctioned "legal fiction" of the amended birth certificate, in addition to the original birth certificate still being held in most states under lock and key.

Everyone in adoption seems threatened by blood ties, while still embracing the mentality in society that "blood is thicker than water." (Apparently, only the blood of biological families counts -- but not those of the adoptees).

I would venture to say there is a fourth trauma that Betty Jean Lifton does not classify in her book; however I experienced it personally and know many others who have.


When you finally garner the psychic strength to seek out your roots, you are bombarded by new secrets in your biological family.  New information that assaults you at your core -- that you were the only child in the biological family to be given up, that your uncle molested all of your bio siblings, that your mother says she was raped and will not reveal your father (my own personal trauma).  The list is endless.

What do you do with these kinds of "revelations?" How could this type of information NOT be traumatic to an adoptee raised in secrets to also have to discover new ones in their families of origins?


The first two traumas are not preventable -- they are inherent in adoption.  However, the third and fourth can be prevented and/or reduced.  My own experience in healing from the four traumas may look different than your own; however I find that the following list goes a long way in the healing of the 4 traumas:

1.  Honesty and transparency in the family
2.  Open communication about fears, dreams, expectations, etc. and REAL ANSWERS to questions
3.  Support and acknowledgement when the adopted person may need help outside the family and being an adoptee's voice when he cannot do so for himself.
4.  Embracing your own truth, history, trauma, abilities and heritage and be willing to embrace the adoptee in your life's truth, history, trauma, abilities and heritage.
5.  Find a support group of others who "get it" and will validate what you know to be true


Betty Jean Lifton gives a strong warning to adoptive parents in a plea to help adoptees everywhere.  I wish this information had been provided to my own parents and I wish a flyer would be delivered to every adoptive parent in the U.S. with these words:

"American parents feel helpless and angry that no one warned them of the pain their adolescents would feel at being abandoned.  No one told these parents that when the plane landed with its precious unidentified bundles that their love would not be enough, that they should go to Korea before too many years passed and find people who knew their child's story, or even a fragment of it.

I tell adoptive parents to stop letting the agencies, lawyers or independent facilitators infantalize or intimidate them and to research their children's heritage on their own before the trail becomes cold. This often means returning to the country of origin while the child is still young."

Betty Jean Lifton (1926-2010)

Monday, September 1, 2014

Dear Abby re: your column dated 8-31-14 from "Keeper of the Secret in Illinois"

Abby received a letter from an adoptive mother:

"Many years ago, we adopted three children through our state's child welfare system.  At the time, we knew they had full and half-siblings somewhere "in the system"  We have not yet told our children they have biological siblings, although they do know their birth parents are no longer living due to drug abuse. 

I was recently able to locate two of the full siblings through Internet research, and I have been following their lives on their social networking pages.  Both are adults now -- one is a college student; the other is a young mother.  I am torn. My children are teenagers now and old enough to be told they have other siblings.  But should I uproot these young women's lives to learn about us and meet our children?  I'm also not sure whether they know the circumstances of their biological parents' deaths or would want that information.

It doesn't seem fair to dump all this on a college student and a young mom, but my children have a right to know, too.  I almost wish I had never started searching.  Please advise."  -- KEEPER OF THE SECRET IN ILLINOIS

Abby's reply to Keeper of the Secret:

You are obviously a caring and sensitive woman.  I agree that your children have a right to know they have other blood relatives.  I'd be very surprised if the young women your children are related to were shocked by your contacting them.  They are older and may have some recollection of their siblings.  

However, before discussing this with your teenagers, I recommend that you make the initial contact to be absolutely sure the two adult siblings would like to meet your children.

Lynn's thought on Abby's advice:

1.  The adopted teenagers have a right to know they have older siblings

The teenage adoptees have a right to know they have full siblings who are adults.  In fact, it would have made more sense to advise them of this knowledge when they were younger as part of their adoption narrative, including that their parents had drug abuse issues, which later resulted in their deaths.  Which is more difficult information---that you have two older siblings or your parents died from drug abuse?  Why tell part of the truth?

This information about older siblings may have been comforting to the two younger siblings knowing that one day they could reunite with their older siblings since their parents were deceased.  Many siblings know about each other when they are placed in separate homes for adoption through a state agency as there may have been mandated visits between siblings and parents before the children became available for adoption.   Maybe there is no secret at all.  Maybe these 4 siblings know all about each other but the 2 younger ones have never mentioned it since their mom believes it to be a secret.

2.  I disagree with Abby's advice that Adoptive Mother play confidential intermediary to a reunion

It is not the adoptive mother's responsibility to protect the older adult siblings from the truth.  It is not the adoptive mother's responsibility to facilitate a reunion as if she is a paid confidential intermediary.  The adoptive mother chose to seek out information about the two older siblings and she rightfully acknowledges her younger children's right to know them.  Yes, tell them about their older siblings and if they are interested in knowing all about them, show them the information and let them process it emotionally and decide for themselves if they want to contact their siblings now or in the future.

The thing that bothers me about Abby's advice is that she is making truth conditional on what the older children want as far as reunion goes, and that is not really the issue here.  The issue is that this information should NOT BE A SECRET in the first place.

Friday, August 8, 2014

The Reluctant Latina – How a DNA test can change who you used to think you were

The Grubbs

As I logged into Family Tree DNA, one early spring evening to obtain my long-awaited results to an Autosomal DNA test, I immediately clicked into Population Finder to finally answer the question that had plagued me my whole life:  what is my ethnicity?

I fully expected to confirm my Italian roots – an ethnicity I could identify with for many reasons.  One, my adoption paperwork stated that although my father was of Peruvian descent (something that never clicked in my brain the first time I read the paperwork) —his family was noted to be Italian-born.  That bit of info confirmed the opinion of what hundreds of strangers and friends over my lifetime already knew:  “you must be Italian.”   

I had already confirmed my European heritage years prior through a paper trail and a reunion with my maternal birth family. Looking in the mirror my whole life, all I saw was a WASP.

Population Finder disagreed.  As I sat staring at the computer screen which revealed my 30% Native American results, I was confused.  My skin is white – I look Anglo (at least I thought I did).  I do not have one relative on my adoptive side nor my maternal birth family with names like “Torres, Guerrera, or Martinez”.   But I do now---lots and lots of them!  I can see some of my DNA cousins’ faces when I log in late at night as is the routine–many with dark skin, some with light like me.  These faces make me want to cry some days and jump for joy on others.

Population Finder (now known as My Origins) cannot identify exactly what country your ancestors originated from; however after taking a second DNA test at 23 and Me and a third at Ancestry, and speaking with many DNA cousins, there leaves little doubt that my paternal family has roots in Mexico and Peru.  But what does this mean in the bigger picture? What does a discovery like this mean to one’s identity in middle age?
Gloria Estefan and the Miami Sound Machine

As the shock began to sink in, I flashed back to all those moments in time that were pushed out of my awareness.  The time when the creepy attorney I used to work for called me a “hot Latin woman” in the middle of a staff meeting.  The time my boyfriend said whenever he went to see Gloria Estefan and the Miami Sound Machine in concert, he thought of me.   

I remembered  how I have always been drawn to the Spanish language, taking classes in middle school, high school and college. My favorite class at my university was a history of Peru--my favorite part being when we saw the slides from our professor’s trip to Machu Picchu. I told myself then I would go to Peru and see that amazing place for myself one day. 

For someone who never was into geography and couldn’t tell you today all the European countries if my life depended on it, I gladly memorized every Central and South American country on the map. I had a crush on one of my college Spanish professors and I dabbled with the idea of changing my major to Spanish.  When I was a kid, I had a huge crush on Desi Arnaz, Jr. (but who didn’t?).   
Desi Arnaz Jr.(the son of Lucille Ball)

Once I got my license, I lost count of how many trips I made to Taco Bell for my beloved Enchirito.  It was always preferred over hamburgers at McDonald’s.  In the 90’s, I secretly liked Ricky Martin (My husband always referred to him as a “flash in the pan”). 

What do all these little pieces of memory really mean, anyway?  Apparently, a lot now.  Even crazier, friends who formerly had never told me this before are telling me now that they always thought I looked Latina but of course, never said anything.

I work at a Court in the criminal/traffic division in a WASP community.  I directly communicate face to face with the public every day.  There is one Latina attorney  who comes to my window who is a force to be reckoned with. She is flamboyant, dresses loudly and speaks loudly. She draws attention to herself and she treats everybody like they are her personal best friend.  When I see her now, I think, “Am I like her?”  I have noticed more and more customers at my place of employment of obvious Hispanic descent who can barely communicate with me in English.  They sometimes bring a friend or family member to translate what I am saying.  I wonder, “Am I like them?”. 

The truth is, I can’t identify with any of the Latino people I come in contact with because that is a part of me that has been severed or cut off from my awareness, like a limb of a tree, for more than half of my life. The limb was buried although it is being slowly resurrected over the last year and a half as I try to find meaning in my new-found ethnicity and identity.

Ricky Martin
I Google, “Latina women” because I’m certain there must be something I need to know about them.   I learn that there are many stereotypes about Latina women – most surrounding our hot, spicy, “JLO” image.  

I learn that my medical history has abruptly changed to include a much higher likelihood that I will become diabetic or die of diabetes.  I am also more likely to have HPV and cervical cancer or get pregnant out of wedlock.  My education and job prospects pale in comparison to my Anglo counterparts, according to one article.  I realize how fortunate I was to grow up in a white suburb and go to college.  However, at the same time, I mourn the loss of my cultural identity -- having my Latina family cook authentic dishes and teach me what it means to be a Latina woman.  I only know how to be a white woman although there are times when I know I don’t truly belong to the WASPs. 

Should I re-think my wardrobe?  Should I add more color – maybe some bright lipstick? (tried that in the 80’s—don’t really think it’s me).  Does this explain my short, full figure and refusal to give up my favorite foods while surrounded by the thin white women in my family who are always on a diet?

I’m not sure what it means to be instantly Latina. Should I join a support group for the formerly all-European and newly Hispanic?  Should I begin to learn to cook authentic dishes and plan a trip to Mexico?  I have been wanting to help people who come to this country and who have the monumental task of learning the peccadillos of the English language (I feel there/their pain in trying to figure out what in the Sam Hill the English rules really are and why people like Sam Hill are referred to).
Elsa's fried ice cream with honey

The truth is I haven’t figured it out yet. 

One of these days, you may hear about me singing fluent Spanish  in a Latin American band from a little cantina in Mexico – being embraced by my Latino family and finally learning what it is I am supposed to know about being a Latin-American.  

But until then, I will have to be satisfied with listening to Enrique Iglesias on You Tube or taking a trip to my favorite local Mexican Restaurant – Elsa’s-for their amazing fried ice cream.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

The Well-Adjusted Adoptee (and tips on how to raise one)

Me as a baby
I listened to my neighbor describe her two adopted relatives this week, describing the female cousin as "never acknowledging adoption is an issue and never caring at all about searching"  She described the sibling of this cousin as the one "who has a more difficult time of accepting his adoptedness"  Hearing this made me think to myself,

"I bet she thinks the one who never wanted to search or considers adoption a non- issue is the better adjusted one than the one who had difficulties accepting his adoptedness." 

 The non-adopted have an idea that a well-adjusted adoptee will mold right into the adoptive family without any problems at all; where in fact I would venture to say the opposite can also be true.  The adoptee who  proclaims adoption means nothing or never questions how being adopted affects her identity and relationships  or never wonders how she became part of this particular family may be really showing signs of denial or may be displaying people pleasing and not genuine attachment.

A questioning, less compliant adoptee -- one who is more in tune with his own needs and feelings and isn't spending an inordinate amount of energy trying to blend in -- is the healthier adoptee.  A child who feels safe in bringing their sadness over losses/questions/needs to the parent is the healthier adoptee than the child who never says a word about adoption.

Curiosity about roots and identity is normal, even in adoptees. Rebellion is normal, even in adoptees. Let's not pathologize normal child development just because it has the word "adoptee" attached to it.

Adoption status itself affects both the adoptee and other people's perception of the adoptee which in turn can affect how well an adoptee adjusts to the adoptive family.  I have noticed that whenever adoption is brought up, it is usually in the form of one person speaking about an adoptee they know in their family, church or neighborhood.   You never hear discussions that start with, "I have this cousin who is biological". 

So there is a burden of expectation that comes along with everybody in the family and those outside of the family knowing one is adopted. Outsiders may view the adoptee as "lucky, " "chosen" or just "interesting" but there is no true escape from the label of being adopted, even if one does not choose to identify with being adopted at all (this is a choice that many adoptees make and it too can be considered a healthy acceptance of adoption status).

I have yet to hear even one person say to me, "I was brought into the world the usual way -- through birth into my family".  But how many times have you heard, "My uncle and aunt adopted their two kids."  When I hear this, I think to myself,

"I bet the two kids appreciate you always describing them as 'adopted' to everyone you talk to." 

This is not to say adoption should be shameful or a secret; however, it also does not need to be clarified from biological when speaking to people about adopted cousins, neighbors or church members  (Yes, and even in obituaries).  Yes, adoption is a fact, but it's also a fact that you were born to the parents who raised you and we don't discuss that in public.
Me as a happy preschooler

In addition, I wonder this:

"How does this relative/friend/neighbor really know the adoptee's stance on search and his feelings about being adopted?  Through other family or friends or through one comment made by the adoptee to another person?"

These conversations about the adoptee outside of his presence are usually not meant with malice by any means, but it is just assumed that it is o.k. to discuss an adoptee's status and personal feelings about adoption with family/neighbors/strangers as if it is the business of the world that one is adopted and how one feels about adoption.

It is assumed by non-adoptees that proclaiming an adoptee has no adoption issues and never wants to search for biological family is either a compliment or a neutral statement.  However to an adoptee (child or adult), it can be a violation of their privacy and a completely misguided assumption.  I could tell you stories of adoptees who are secretly searching without so much as a peep to their adoptive families. I rarely tell or announce to anyone my personal feelings about adoption (unless I am blogging about a particular topic). I will share those feelings with other adoptees who are part of my support system.  I never shared my feelings about adoption with my family growing up and I still don't.

When one looks different from one's family, strangers do ask questions and stare  (sometimes I wonder why people feel so free to ask nosy questions, but that is the general public for you!).  These questions can highlight differences within the family.  Even family members can point out differences.  When I was a kid, my grandmother said to me (outside of my parents' presence), "it was a big disappointment to the family when you and your brother were adopted."  A friend of mine was told by everyone he knew (except his parents) that he was a "foster child".  You cannot control how others talk to your kids.  Preparing your child for other people's "open mouth and insert foot" moments will build resilience in him.

Although the best-case scenario is for the adoptee to feel completely accepted in his adoptive family, there will usually be at least a couple areas where the adoptee may feel they do not fit in.  (and adoptive parents' denying this reality only makes it more pronounced).  Maybe dad was an athlete in high school and his son dislikes sports.  Maybe mom was a beauty queen and her daughter is average looking. Maybe the siblings have nothing in common.   These differences happen in biological families as well; however, without the genetic connection, it is more likely to happen in adoptive families. Similar genetic traits run in families as do physical resemblances, which many adoptive families lack.  Its best to help and prepare your kids for accepting differences early on -- rather than denying them.

Differences between adoptee and parents/siblings do not indicate a problem with the adoptee-- it just indicates that the adoptee's genetics/personality/way of being in the world may not mesh with the adoptive parents' or siblings' genetics/personality/way of being in the world.

My mom and I
For example, there could not be two more opposite people in the world than my mother and myself.  She walks and moves fast.  I move at my own pace.  She always looks like she is going to a party.  I dress comfortably. My mother is Martha Stewart.  I am Roseanne (minus the spitting and scratching herself).  My mother used to refuse to watch the show Roseanne when it was in it's heyday in the 80's because, she announced, "I wasn't raised that way!".  My mom is black and white. I live in the grey.  My mom is a traditional, conservative,  Republican. (She was active in Republic Women when I was growing up and as a life-long Protestant almost had a coronary when I converted to Catholicism).  I am a liberal Democrat, in favor of gay marriage and a woman's right to choose what to do with her own body.  My mom always listens to authority and would never air any dirty laundry in public and I trust no one in authority and blog about my life, allowing strangers into my inner world. You get the picture. These differences were not discussed in my adoptive family and therefore left me feeling not good enough for a large portion of my life and did not bode well for my relationship with my mother most of the time as a result.

Pointing out differences in no way implies that adoptees cannot mesh well with their adoptive families   It can and does happen and that's a good thing.  However, it is not the responsibility of the child to change or bend into being a carbon copy of the parents.  It's not the child's responsibility to stifle their natural curiosity about where they came from in order to placate the parents.  The adoptive parents have the greater responsibility to meet the child where he or she is.  If there are obvious differences between the child's looks, interests, beliefs, etc. the parents need to adjust -- instead of asking the chlld to be the one to adapt. If a child is asking questions about his background, the parents should provide any and all information available and then go above and beyond that, and seek out the information and answer all questions honestly and age-appropriately.

Accepting differences in adoptive families is healthy.  Denying the differences and asking your child to morph into somebody he is not to adapt to the adoptive family is unhealthy and will backfire in the end.  A well-adjusted adoptee is usually the result of loving, accepting and realistic adoptive parents who put their child's needs and feelings above their own.

Some guidelines when you think you "know" what an adoptee really feels about their own adoption:

1.  Assume nothing when it comes to adoption (example:  some adoptees "feel" abandoned by their birth families; many do not).

2.  Avoid repeating stories to other people about what your assumptions are, because many times you are wrong.

3.  If you are the parent or family member, listen to the adoptee, especially for information leading you to believe the opposite of your assumption may actually be true.  (Example:  "I don't really care about my birth mother.  She didn't want me anyway.")

4.  Parents:  Be open and initiate conversations about adoption status, your child's birth family, genealogy and identity questions.  Discuss similar and different traits, interests or beliefs in a positive way.

5.  No comparisons with siblings, cousins or friends.  Just don't do it.

6.  Show a non-threatened front (regardless of how you really feel)  regarding birth family members and discussions. (and show the proper empathy if your child says she wishes she could see them when she cannot).

7.  Do not discuss the adoptee's adoption with other people, unless there is a good reason to do so (doctors, therapists, support system, etc).  Let your child be the one to own his or her adoption story.

8.  Ditto for your child's birth story.

9.  No platitudes or "chosen child" stuff.  Be honest and be real.

10.  Love your child for who they are, not who you want them to be.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Ohio's New Adoption Records Law and Adoption Network Cleveland expanding support group to Miami Valley/Dayton area

We have 9 months before adopted adults born between 1-1-64 and 9-17-96 can begin to order their adoption files from the state of Ohio.  Even though I am not an Ohio adoptee, Ohio has been my home for four and a half decades and I am ecstatic that my adopted friends will be able to access their adoption files next year.   This is a right that has been a long-time coming.

You can begin to order your adoption files by mail only on March 20, 2015.  Do not mail your requests before this date as they will not be considered prior to opening day.

I want to personally thank my Representative Jim Butler, Chair, House Judiciary Committee for supporting Senate Bill 23 and for speaking with me and two other adult adoptees about our concerns and opinions at the beginning of this journey. He was supportive and informative and has renewed my faith in our legislative process.

I am also excited to announce a new Adoption-Related Support Meeting being held in my hometown, Dayton, Ohio.  Becky Drinnen and myself are co-facilitators of this General Support and Discussion Meeting which had it's kick-off last Thursday.  Future meetings will be held on the third Thursday of the month.

Upcoming dates:  

July 17, 2014
August 21, 2014

Go here to find out more about the purpose of the general support and discussion meetings and what other support services Adoption Network Cleveland membership can provide.

Hope to see you there!

Despite Reports, A Child Dies

Takoda Collins The morning of Tuesday, January 7, 2020, was my first day back from a trip to Orlando, Florida.   I was happy to be sle...