Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Why Secrets Hurt by Margaret Therialt

I love surprises.  I love when a friend comes to visit me with flowers or with a plant and surprises me.

I hate secrets of any kind. I especially hate secrets when the secret is about me. A secret is never a secret long because it goes from one person to another person and this was what happened to me. 

 Secrets have impacted my life from the time I was a little girl, when my  mom  was telling me that my parents could not look after me and asked them if they would care for me. I heard from my mom that, "We are glad you are in our family." I asked who my parents were and the response that  I got  was "hush it is our secret."

A wall came up between my parents and I because mom had told me that my adoption was a secret. I could talk to mom and dad about general life experiences but when it came to emotions and expressing myself, I was told that I needed to not be angry or I needed to stop crying. So I stuffed down my emotions until they erupted and I could not contain my sadness any longer. 

Despite this I had good times with mom and dad going swimming and biking and picnics and visiting with friends and family. 

I was curious and I wanted to know about my birth family. I thought I was being sneaky and I would whisper to people that I was adopted.I did not think that I belong in my family. I shared with one girl that I was adopted and did not belong and  one girl told me that I looked like one of my cousins.  The only part of my adoption that I heard was, "your parents could not look after you."  I  found it hard when mom would say, "we are so glad we have you."  I wondered if mom was pleased she had me when she would not talk about my beginnings. 

I mentioned to a friend  that I did not belong in my family. She tried to console me that I did belong in my family. 

I knew that asking mom and dad would close the line of communication and I was afraid to ask them in case they got angry with me or would decide they did not want me any more. 

When I was in my late 20s,  I overheard mom and dad talk about the possibility of opening adoption records in Ontario, Canada.  My dad expressed concern that this was not a good move as they had been promised privacy. So I knew the lines of communication would be closed on the details of my adoption. So I did not interact on this topic about adoption with mom and dad's conversation and my views on adoption. 

The wall between me and my parents continued to thicken and closed up  healthy communication. My emotional state suffered as I could not talk about what was bothering me and what I was thinking about. I could not concentrate on my school work. 
I would talk to everyone about my problems about not being loved or belong  but not my mom and dad. I never talked to a professional about my adoption. It was a secret. My parents  considered me a part of the family. I knew they loved me and I tried to fit in but I know that I thought differently than they did. I did not like myself very well. I became depressed at times and a couple of times I wanted to kill myself. 

Shorty after hearing this conversation of opening adoption records in Ontario, Canada, my dad suddenly passed away. My world inside crashed and there was a scramble of emotions so deep that I held inside my grief. I could only cry.  I jumped at the slightest noise. My mom asked if my uncle would take me back to Toronto. So my dad's brother, Uncle Harold, and cousin drove me back to Toronto from Port Hope. 

I found I could not manage looking after active 3 year old and a 14 month old family that I was employed with as a nanny. The family I was caring for at the time were both adopted through the Catholic Children's Aid Society. I shared with their mom that I was adopted and that was a first time for me to share that I was adopted. 

Another friend gave her baby up for adoption and I was impressed how she had written a letter telling her child about the circumstances of her giving her baby up for adoption. I wished my mom and dad had talked to me and had told me the truth. 

A month after my dad's passing I began to date my future husband Maurice,who lived in Kitchener. I was living in Toronto at the time. Our first date was at a Christmas banquet in Kitchener. 

A year later, Maurice suggested that we live closer. I think he was trying to pop the question and I interjected by saying that if I was to move to Kitchener that I would need a commitment. With this statement Maurice replied, "like get engaged?" I nodded my head and said that will do. In December, 1988, we announced our wedding date: December 23,1989, the next year. 

In November, a month before we were married, I traveled by bus from Kitchener to Port Hope to work on some arrangement for our wedding day.

One Friday afternoon. Mom and I went to the bank to retrieve my Canada Savings Bond from mom's safety deposit box. Mom gave me her key and I opened up the box and inside there was my Canada Savings Bond and a white envelope with my adoption certificate. I opened up the white envelope  and on it was the record of my adoption with a different person's name on it. I was expecting to see my name, Margaret Diane, on it and instead I was taken a back by the name of Linda Marie. 

I asked mom who Linda Marie was. Mom answered my question by saying, "this was the name that  your mother named you."  Before I was able to ask any further questions, mom mentioned that she did not feel free to tell me the name of my birth mother. 

I was 30 and my mom could not tell me the name of my birth mother or about my beginnings. I was getting married the next month and mom was treating me as a little girl. I also wanted to keep the peace with mom (pick my battles) and I dropped the subject. 

In January, I went to give some wedding pictures to my friend, who was also a counselor and mentioned about how mom had dropped the subject about my adoption.  My friend suggested that I contact the Ontario government office in Toronto for forms requesting an application for non-identifying information about my birth mother. 

I decided to not advise my mom about my decision on pursuing my questions about adoption, as mom had not opened up to me in   talking about my adoption. It put a wedge in our relationship and communication was stifled about this topic of my beginnings. 

It hurt that mom could talk life and about everything else except about what was close and dear to my heart my beginnings. I also contacted by mail the Children s Aids Society in Cobourg. I requested information about my adoption from the Children s Aid in Cobourg, the town next to Port Hope where I grew up. 

I waited for a reply from the Ontario government office and Children s Aid Society in Cobourg. Two years later, just before Christmas, a registered  yellow envelope came from the Children 's Aid Society. 

Inside the envelope the documents stated my adoption was a private adoption. I telephoned the Cobourg office and the lady explained that if my adoption was private, that it was likely it could be  someone I knew. I thought back and the only name I could think of was dad's brother Harold and his wife, Joyce. I pushed the thought out of my mind not wanting to believe they were my parents. 

Another suggestion the worker put out there to me was that I could find out who my parents were if I would ask my mom as she would know my parents' identity.

This was a new thought about asking my mom again and being persistent and insistent in finding out about my adoption. I was now 34 and still did not know about my birth parents and why they could not look after me. 

I prayed about asking mom about my adoption and I asked my friends to pray that mom would be open to telling me about my adoption. A week or so later, my husband and I traveled down to Port Hope to celebrate Christmas with my mom and Aunt Joyce and Uncle Harold, who usually celebrated at noon with our family. 

We were celebrating our third wedding anniversary on the 23rd with mom. Maurice and I had already celebrated our anniversary. Mom had broken her ankle and we came down to help mom adjust to being at home.

After dinner, mom and I sat down with the family albums and once more, I opened up the topic about  my adoption. I asked how did I come to be at their home and asked if she would tell me the details about my beginnings. Once more mom clammed up about the topic. I persisted gently and after the tension of the subject about my adoption got too much for mom announced that she was going to bed but first she was going to soak her broken foot that was beginning to heal. 

The topic was closed. I persisted even when mom was soaking her foot in the bucket of water while sitting on the toilet. I continued on to ask questions and mom would not budge.  Mom let  it slip out that after my dad died that she had told my sister about my birth parents and she could give me the rest of the information. The inner churning of being pushed aside on the topic on my adoption resulted in me blowing up and loudly declaring that it was not fair that she could be open and honest with my sister and not me!

There was a deep cloud that lingered in our house and It hurt that mom would not talk to me. I was put out with my mom that she considered my sister capable of telling me the truth about my beginnings. Why couldn't mom tell me instead of my sister, after all, it was about my beginnings?

After mom was quiet for a while, she came to the doorway from the bathroom to the hallway and said from the hallway, "you might think differently of your parents if you know who they are." I said, "No, I will not."  Mom blurted out  to me from the hallway without any emotion that it was Uncle Harold and Aunt Joyce.  I was in shock and I could not believe what I was hearing. My birth parents were my aunt and uncle -- my dad's brother and his wife. 

On Christmas day, unknown to my aunt and uncle, I was eating dinner with my birth parents and my mom and husband. It was hard for me not to stare at them as I could see the resemblance. 

The truth came out that day and I was able to put together why my birth parents acted nervous and formal when they interacted with me. I could see that I did look like both my dad and his brother and wife. My roots were the same as my adoptive family as well as my birth parents -- my aunt and uncle.  

Now i was awkward around my aunt and uncle as I knew their true identity of being my mother and father. 

Unfortunately the secret about my adoption continued. My mother did not want my sister to know about me and that my brother knew. I went to other family members about my adoption and everyone knew about my adoption but were sworn to secrecy. My dad's sister and my grandparents did not even know  the truth about my birth. My dad's sister found out and told my grandparents.  

My birth mother kept my brother who was 23 months older than I was. It hurt that they kept my brother and not me. I wondered what was wrong with me that they could not keep me. Ten years after I was born, my aunt gave birth to another girl. 

I joke that I am the family secret but it hurts that my family is more concerned about their reputation, than acknowledging how I was raised by my aunt and uncle and how my mother would prefer to keep my identity under wraps. 

I was conceived out of wedlock and there was a lot of shame in the 1950s and 1960s. It has put a shadow over the events concerning my birth about life. 

I know that God made me by his hands and the adults messed up what he created and my beginnings about how I got here is not my fault. 

I am soon to be 57 and I am still dealing with the secret of my adoption. I still am at times looking over my shoulder. 

My mother ripped up a copy of my memoir and threatened me if I spoke about my beginnings . She had buried my birth and I had dug up the truth about my adoption. 

I have come out to share the truth of my adoption as I know I will be set free from secrecy and shame. 

My identity will not be held in secrecy any longer and I will tell anyone who will listen to my story. Please be honest and please answer questions as honestly as you can. 

I have health issues because I had to keep a secret that really was not my secret to keep.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Secrets: The Reason I Still Don't Know Who My Father is at Age 50

We like to associate secrets with the bygone era of closed adoption; however, closed adoption still exists today and secrets have always been with us and will continue to be in the future so long as records can be legally hidden from adopted people.

I want to talk about how and why secrets are harmful to adoptees and give you specific examples from my own life.  Then I will turn this blog over to others who have been affected by secrets in their own journeys.  If you have a story you want to share at this blog, please email it to me.

2016 is the year I decided that I would solve the mystery of who my father is. I knew I could not do this by myself.  One of my greatest challenges during the search has been that I do not live close enough to the area of my conception to do research at the library.  There are many resources at the library that you cannot get on-line.

I do; however, have an active search team of friends who care and other adopted people who have experience searching who have all volunteered to help me put together a profile of my father. I have a TON of information, much of it conflicting.  The adoption agency has provided me with one story, friends and family another, almost completely different version, and then we have what the DNA says.

I dream about this stuff quite a bit.  Combing through my DNA matches, trying to understand the motivations of people who lie and/or hide things (a stretch for me, I must admit), and all at the same time getting so emotionally overwhelmed at times, all I can do is just cry.

On top of trying to sort through all of this conflicting information is the thought that keeps popping in my head .. . .why keep a 50 year old secret?

Secrets are harmful to our health and those around us.  Lying to people close to you and asking others to lie on your behalf is damaging to relationships, but it is a common thing when we are dealing with closed adoption.  We all know that secrets are harmful to the secret keeper, but sometimes we forget that secrets are most harmful to those that the secret is about:  the adopted person

This week, my hero of a husband, contacted  a person (let's call her Fran) to ask her some details about my father.  Fran met my father and knows all the details of how my parents met.  Fran even has an adoptee in her close family circle. Yet, Fran refuses to reveal the secret out of loyalty to the one who created the secret.  

Fran was not the least bit interested in how this secret has affected my life at all.  She didn't ask, but she made lots of assumptions about me.  She assumed (didn't ask) I had a great family growing up and that I should be grateful.  She told my husband how much my mother loved me (guilt?).  She told my husband that it's better to leave things in the past.  She denied the information she had already provided in a previous conversation.  In sum, Fran felt compelled to enable the secret keeper and have no concern for how this secret affected me and my family.  And this is typical treatment toward people whom others keep secrets about.

Fran never asked, but I would like to share with you how these secrets are harmful to me and to other adoptees who are searching for truth.  People (and family members) often wonder why I question everything and rarely take anything at face value.  Could it be that my very beginnings are such a deep, dark cover-up, that I was set up for never being able to take information at face value? To trust that people will tell me the truth?  Talk about a shaky trust foundation! It's a good thing that I have the type of personality where I want and choose to believe others except when their are red flags waving everywhere I turn (like in my search).  

My efforts to determine who my father is/was has brought me to a whole other level of understanding human nature and our need to protect ourselves at all costs -- even when the threat may no longer be real.  I believe that, in my own case, the threat is this:  my father was never told about me.

I see this as a failure on the part of the adoption agency for not a) getting my father's name and b) notifying him of my existence.  Had the agency done its job in an ethical way back in 1966, the secret would not have ever been viable.  It would have died an early death and shame may have had a chance to dissolve and healing may have taken its place.

I did not create this situation; however, I experience the consequences of it daily.

The secret being kept about my father effects my very identity about who I am, which in turn effects everyone around me.  That is not to say that I am not a fully functional, happy adult because I am; however, I am a person with a hole inside of me who is forced to walk around begging complete strangers for any scrap of information they might throw my way.  It's a very difficult position to be in the line of fire, when you had no involvement in the secret whatsoever.  Some people get really angry when you start digging up a past they want to keep buried, not ever giving a thought to how it effects you, in the process. It's no wonder some adoptees throw up their hands and give up.  

This secret effects my father and his entire family.  Imagine being a 76 year old man just being told you have a 50 year old daughter?  Imagine the betrayal you would feel learning that the mother of your child kept this from you for 50 years.  All those lost years with a member of the family that you knew nothing about.  

Another effect of this 50-year-old secret is my future health care. I cannot look out for conditions I know nothing about; so withholding the secret of my father affects my future health decisions and those of my son and his future children.  One of my husband's family members has been struggling with the effects of diabetes. I have often wondered if diabetes is in my future.  Most people can look around them at their relatives and decide pretty quickly if they are likely to become diabetic.  I don't have that luxury. 

Withholding the secret about my father affects the genealogy of my family and the secret is then passed down after my death to my son, who will then need to spend a lot of time, money and energy (as I have) trying to track down the truth -- a much harder proposition after everybody is dead. Trust me, the last thing I want is for my son to inherit this burden.  He did not create this mess and doesn't deserve it.

To date, I have spent several thousand dollars in search fees, DNA testing and transportation costs. I'm sure the time my friends and family have spent searching in terms of hours cannot even begin to be estimated -- but it would be in the hundreds of thousands of dollars if not for the generosity of the people who understand how secrets effect lives and choose to put their energy into helping others, once their own mystery is solved (and in some cases, their mystery can never be solved when it is an international adoption). 

The people I am referring to are called search angels in the adoption community.  I could write an entire blog about my gratitude and awe for the search angels around me who know how this feels, who understand, and feel compelled to act.  

Having a secret kept about you is deeply painful.  Until you have lived it, it is hard to grasp. I can tell you this, though, the fact that my parentage is still a secret after half a century, fuels me forward to never, ever give up. 

I am thoroughly convinced that if my searchers cannot solve this mystery, that DNA will eventually. 

I just hope I am still alive to see that day.