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!

Sunday, June 8, 2014

What To Do When Your Birth Mother Refuses Contact or Vital Information

This topic has become dear to my heart because as many of you know who read my blog, I have been in a position to be refused information.  Actually that is the story of my whole life as an adoptee -- being refused information, so you would think I would be used to it by now!

However, God blessed me with a tenacity of steel and many smart friends who are also tenacious, information seekers.  One of my friends and I found a birth mother yesterday in less than a few hours, and located her Facebook profile, complete with pictures of all family members.  You can literally go from zero to 100 when it comes to adoption reunion.  (I use the term "reunion" loosely as the term covers any finding of information, just not a meeting of people).

So today I want to write about what to do when you hit a road block.  One of the biggest road blocks of all is spending most of your life fantasizing about your birth mother and then being smacked in the face with the realization that she has refused to meet you.  Another common situation is when your birth mother refuses to tell you who your birth father is.  Believe it or not, I am not alone in this reality.  I have talked to umpteen adoptees in the same boat, so let's chat about these situations.

When a birth parent refuses contact

This is devastating to many adoptees when this occurs and it will feel like rejection, even though the parent is not rejecting you, per se (they don't know you!) -- they are rejecting what you represent to them.  If you represent trauma, fear and pain -- they will act those emotions out on you.  Sadly, many birth mothers are unhealed from the original relinquishment and when you (adoptee) show up, it will re-trigger pain and fear in your birth parents.  It's quite possible that the pain and fear will calm down with time (once the shock wears off); however for many adoptees, being shut out of their families of origin is a long-term reality.

Remember it is not YOU they are rejecting, but what YOU represent to them.  This may not feel like much of a difference but having a strong support system of people who love you and really know you, helps immensely.


Strict Orders to Stay Away

Many adoptees are told in no uncertain terms that they are unwelcome in the birth family and are "barred" from all contact with other family members.  However, you and I both know this is just one person trying to dictate the choices of everybody else they are related to and is not in the least, realistic.  Every person in your birth family has a right to decide for him or herself whether they will want to know you.  You as an adoptee have every right to get in touch with your own siblings, cousins, aunts, uncles, grandparents, etc. without being expected to answer to an angry and hostile birth parent.  On the other hand, there are situations when reaching out to siblings or close family members may not be the best decision if you are a secret to them.  Each person will have to decide what is the best course of action for their family situation.  And remember, a relationship is a two-way street.  Nobody is entitled to a relationship and nobody is bound to stay in an unhealthy relationship -- that includes reunion.

If your birth parent is kind to you and asks you to give her/him some time to process her emotions and be the one to tell other family members, then by all means, give her time and space. Being "found" is stressful and a huge life adjustment, regardless of which party is on the receiving end.

However, I have heard stories of many hostile rejecting birth parents who are nothing close to reasonable -- they are the ones who basically give you the message that you have no right to exist -- and some will tell you they wish they had aborted you <--------who would even think to say this to somebody?  

If this happens to you, reach out for support.  Do not try to deal with the emotional fallout alone.  Try to remind yourself that this type of reaction is an expression of your birth mother's pain and is not a reflection on you,  Pray.  Journal.  Talk to your support group.

A Blessing in Disguise

Here is another thought that only occurred to me about a year after I originally posted this blog.  I am a woman of faith and I have come far enough post-reunion to believe that many times certain relationships do not come to pass or last as a way of protection for us.  Just because you have done your homework and know a person does not have a criminal background before appoaching them, does not mean that a person is psychologically and emotionally healthy enough to be in a relationship.  Sometimes rejection protects us from further hurt that a potential relationship could cause us.  Be open to this idea even though rejection hurts.

You have met your birth mother but her story doesn't add up

I hate to use the word "lies", but if we are going to cut to the chase -- many unhealed birth parents lie to their relinquished children in order to save face and not have to own up to their own choices at the time of relinquishment.  Being the kind and caring, people pleasing adoptees many of us have been trained to become, we are usually empathetic to our birth parents' plight.  We understand that they were young, naive, single, without support, shunned by society, etc.   I'm not talking about those types of situations.  I'm talking about situations like these:

  • Your birth mother may be reluctant  to admit she got pregnant during a one-night stand.
  • Your birth father walked away without any support but doesn't want to admit it
  • Your birth mother knows who the father is but is lying to protect herself (or the father's current family) because she may never have told him 
  • Your birth mother may not want to admit your father is from another race/ethnicity/socioeconomic level ("the wrong side of the tracks") or may have been married or engaged at the time of your conception.
  • Your birth mother has been traumatized, raped or it is possible there was incest going on in the family (this creates understandably deep shame in most women)

Any of those situations could be true and in addition, there could be many other reasons why you -- the adoptee-- are told a "fairy tale version" or "harsh and cruel" version of your existence in this world.  Again, this is not about YOU personally -- this is about what you represent to your birth mother.  If all birth mothers were loving and sacrificial like the adoption industry has brainwashed people into believing, then adoption reunion would be wonderful and beautiful for all involved.  Unfortunately, reality is not so kind.  (This is not to imply that ALL birth mothers are bad, or to even imply that MOST birth mothers are mean or cruel).  Some are not in a place to process the overwhelming emotions that reunion brings on.  Some are not able to face the pain and reveal the secrets they long ago buried.  The closed adoption era is full of shame and secrets and the consequences of shame and secrets stretch far and wide and sometimes are taken to the grave.

So what to do?

Have patience and try again at another time

Some birth mothers will need time to process sudden contact by an adult child.  Some birth mothers may still be in the closet and will need help and support to feel safe enough to acknowledge you. Give your mother time and then you can always try again at some future date.  I know many adoptees who were rejected the first time they contacted their mothers and were successful at a later time.  Be very patient and never give up if you believe that your mother just needs time and space to process this major event.

Remember that a majority of mothers want to know their adult children; however, there are a minority that are not in a place to revisit a traumatic time in their life.

Like in all life's dissappointments, we have to grieve the loss and move forward.  We have to admit that we had certain hopes and expectations about finding our mothers and them being happy about that and for many, this did not come to pass.

Many adoptees who have found rejecting birth mothers, have gone on to establish relationships with other members of their birth family. Many I know have met cousins through DNA and Ancestry family trees.  Many of us find that cousins who are not close to the original birth family are far enough removed to not be swayed by the birth parent's feelings.  Other adoptees have active relationships with close relatives who are willing to "defy" the orders of the birth parent because they are loving people and want to know their sibling/niece/cousin.  However, many times other relatives will follow the lead of the birth mothers as they know her and not you.

You have met your birth mother but something is off

If the version of your conception and birth and relinquishment does not ring true for you, do some investigating on your own.  Call your adoption agency or ask the Court for your non-identifying information.  Although some agencies have reported inaccuracies, many others were spot-on in their information gathering.  Many adoptees have used just their Non-ID to find their families of origin.

There are many resources at the genealogical library, on the internet, amongst private adoptee search and support groups, and through DNA that bring answers.  DNA tests are now down to $99.00 each and they bring to light many answers just not available to us before.  You can learn your ethnicity and if your parents are related to each other through DNA testing (go here to my DNA testing page).

I had a recent breakthrough in my own search using Polk City Directories in the town where my birth family was from.  Polk City Directories in the 60s (and other decades) tell you addresses and places of employment of the family who lived in that community.

Obituaries are invaluable.  When examining my family tree, I had the sudden realization that my great grandfather died when I was in utero. Studying my great grandfather's obituary helped me to understand my family better and retrace my family's steps at the time I was conceived.  Using the Polk Directories, I was able to pin down where everybody was living and working at the time of my birth.

My message to you is to never allow an individual you may or may not call "mother" or "father" to stop you in your quest for information about yourself.  And if you get flack from others for seeking out information that people want to hide from you, you can always ask them this,

"Do you know who your mother and father are?" (my husband has actually said this to people!)
"Can you open your photo album and see the faces of your ancestors staring back at you?"
"Do you have an accurate copy of your place and date/time of birth with the names of those who conceived you?"

I am fortunate to have a huge support system of other adoptees who "get it" in addition to a supportive spouse, and really my best advice to anyone who has been roadblocked in their search -- get support from others who understand.  If you need a therapist, find one who understands adoption issues (they are few and far between).  If you just need a friend, join an adoptee support group.  Other adoptees are invaluable in your search because we understand all too well because we have been there.

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