My Brother’s story

by JoAnne on July 13, 2014

After my husband left early for work Saturday morning, I got up for a few minutes to read my e-mail.

One message was from my long-time friend asking if I had seen the video she sent to me privately on FB last week. For some reason, I had not watched it yet, so I sat down and clicked the play button.

It was a video about Ryland’s story. When I got to the part where I heard the parents say, “She may have only been 5 years old, but we needed to start truly listening,” my tears from years of confusion and frustration as being my adopted brother’s sister started flowing freely. My brother and I were both adopted at birth; we are only two months apart in age.

My heart ached for my own brother who was so misunderstood. Part of me wanted to believe his life would have been easier if our parents had been more supportive and had loved him unconditionally like Ryland’s family has admirably done in the video below. Would my brother’s story still have played out so tragically if he had been part of today’s more accepting generation like Ryland was born into?

After watching Ryland’s transformation, I couldn’t help but wonder if this child had experienced as many losses as my brother and I did at such a young age (losses from adoption, divorce of our parents, instability, alcoholism, mental health issues, and verbal and emotional abuse) if the ending to Ryland’s video would have had the same outcome as my brother’s did; as I know now, he didn’t have a chance in hell.

I recall my mother’s righteous sister saying once in a conversation with me, “Your brother always had such feminine, delicate-looking features. It doesn’t surprise me that he thinks he might be transgender.”

In such a disturbing contrast, after the death of my mother, this same aunt lashed out at me with the cold, heartless words, something to the effect, “Can you imagine how difficult it would have been for my sister to have raised your brother, such a bad seed.” And I got lumped into her awful thoughts as well, as somehow we as her adopted children made her a broken woman. I know for a fact that my mother was not nice to many of her relatives over the years, but sadly, all but a few have made it clear by their silence that blood is thicker than water.

No matter if I had wanted her to, my aunt could not have taken back her harsh words. The damage had already been done. I felt violated all over again by some of the personal things she had spoken of only as hearsay regarding our “black-sheep” family. Disappointingly, my sister-in-law is the only one who could have shared such private matters with my aunt, but she wasn’t even a part of our life during that time.

My mother was always worried about maintaining her image, especially with her mother and sisters. Her family meant more than life itself to her. Beyond a shadow of a doubt, my mother, out of pure embarrassment, would have never wanted her relatives to know such ugly intimate details about my brother that might make her look bad. And until now, I honored her unspoken request, even after she passed away.

What I did next even surprised me. Because of my first adoptive father’s alcoholism, I spent a lot of time as a little girl being shuffled around from state to state, and home to home to stay with mother’s large extended family. Up until this point, my aunt had meant a great deal to me. I thought she understood me and could read between the lines that my upbringing couldn’t have possibly been easy. I told my husband and best friend that I needed to write my aunt and speak my peace. Both said, “What good is it going to do; she is just going to hurt you more!”

“If she does write me back,” I said firmly, “I am not reading it!” and at that point I sent the e-mail. When she quickly responded, I kept my word to myself and deleted her reply before I ever saw the first sentence.

In this letter to my aunt, I had asked her, “How could any of mom’s relatives know first-hand what went terribly wrong in our family if none of you were there? What hurts me deeply is that I was there and obviously very personal matters that involved me have been scrutinized by others with such insensitivity and unkindness.”

As I watched Ryland’s video, I knew my brother had been screaming out for help for many years because he was really transgender. If the relatives were apparently maliciously gossiping early on about how different and delicate-looking my brother appeared, it seems so odd that my parents would be wearing blinders. It made me sad for him.

Isn’t it interesting how sometimes as children we can sense what our sibling might have been struggling with better than our parents ever did? It was clear to me that he had difficulty bonding and fitting in with family or friends. I believe that the two of us got as close at one time as he ever did to anyone. Looking back, it was when my brother and I stopped sharing a room at the age of 11 that he started to drastically change. I shouldn’t have been expected to know how to help him, but part of me feels like I let my brother down. All we had was each other and I didn’t know what to do or say.

After learning of his death last year, I wanted to find out how to remove my brother’s online journals. His writings made me feel uncomfortable as if I was the reason he didn’t like who he was as a human being. As his sister, I was hurting as well.

Quite honestly, I don’t know how to stop these feelings that make me think that I am partly to blame, “My sister and I were inseparable and I wanted to be her!”

Was it just ramblings from a lost soul who couldn’t distinguish fantasy from the real world? The truth is — my brother didn’t get the help he needed with gender identity issues combined with serious mental illness. I do understand that not all transgender individuals are mentally ill and do live happy and healthy productive lives. I have debated with myself whether my brother would have had more of a fighting chance if my mother would have not been so worried about what others think – that somehow it would have made her look like she had failed as a parent if she didn’t have all the answers.

Excerpt from my brother’s journal (age 40 something):

“Kids get the funniest things in their heads. My sister and I were raised as equals, even though she is two months and six days younger. We bathed together, played together, slept in the same crib and shared the same clothes. We got fed at the same time and were put to bed at the same time. My sister and I were inseparable.

Was there a difference between my sister and myself? Turned out there was. What, I really didn’t know at that time.

About age 4, I was laying in bed wishing upon a star. Mom came in and I asked her if I could be like my sister. Guess she didn’t understand the question. Her reply gave me another tailspin, “No, Scotty, you can’t. She’s a girl. You’re a boy.” Right then and there I changed my wish. I wished Tinkerbell would make me more like my sister. Tinkerbell was my invisible friend.

That night Tinkerbell visited me, but she wouldn’t turn me into a girl. Tinkerbell told me I would take it for granted. That I must work hard and some day my dreams will come true. Then I would appreciate what I have. Yes, I was a female cognitively; I still had some lessons in life to learn that I wouldn’t learn as a female. Haven’t figured out yet what those lessons could have been.”

As his sister, I never want any other sibling to grow up like I did feeling so alone and vulnerable, while trying to make sense out of the tough issues in life.

When we plant a seed, one never calls it a “bad seed” if it doesn’t get plenty of sunshine and water to help it bloom into God’s beautiful creation. How can we expect it to be any different with our children, if we as parents and society aren’t truly listening to those unheard voices who are crying on the inside for love, respect and above all, understanding.

My only regret is that I did not know how to stand up for my brother in a world that can be so cruel and judgmental.
JoAnne, scott collage 3 copy

{ 5 comments }

He loved me … he loved me not?

by JoAnne on June 27, 2014

Tonyfishing

Above are the only two pictures that I can call my very own of my first adoptive father. I wish I could say it was when life was simpler, but that would not be the truth.

Not too many months ago, I learned that my adoptive father was married before. I contacted his first wife’s grandson. He was cordial and said his late grandmother was not married before. It wasn’t important to me to push the issue. I knew I had the right person. Maybe down the road when a relative is doing their genealogy, they will say, hey, that woman was right :).

Sounds awkward; both my adoptive father’s wives worked together at the same small hospital for many years as RN’s. His first wife and my adoptive father divorced one week before marrying my adoptive mother.

The only reason I contacted the grandson in the first place was to see if he knew the answer to my question, “Do you by chance know why your grandmother divorced my adoptive father?” If everyone else knew my adoptive father had a serious drinking problem, which resulted in his premature death from alcoholism, “Why would anybody in their right mind help my adoptive parents adopt under false pretenses not one newborn, but two newborns a few months apart in age?” His first wife must have known her ex-husband was adopting children; one was born at the same hospital where she and my adoptive mother worked.

When I look at my first adoptive father’s picture I don’t see a bad man, I see a broken man, a human being who didn’t for whatever reason get the help he needed to conquer his disease. I truly don’t ever remember him loving me. Actually, what I recall is a man who didn’t like his little girl all that much. Do I blame him? Obviously, he didn’t need the added stresses of helping raise and support two more children, along with one older biological son from his marriage with my adoptive mother. If I would have had the opportunity to talk with him as a grown-up, these are the questions I would have asked him:

  • Why did mom forge your name on my incomplete adoption records in the courts?
  • Why all the deception if there was nothing to hide?
  • At that time, would your alcohol problem have been the reason for you not even telling your relatives back East about me, until long after the fact?
  • Was adopting children one last attempt to try and save yours and mom’s failing marriage?
  • Who in heaven’s name wanted me?

No one could possibly understand what I had been searching for all these years. I needed one person to say out loud, “I knew what the doctor who delivered you, the prominent judge, your adoptive mother, and all the other mysterious players involved in putting a child in harm’s way was wrong. I tried to voice my objections to someone who could have possibly made a difference in the outcome. I want you to know I cared about you, the innocent child.”

Instead, I have felt like so many adults let me down as a child.

{ 3 comments }

Where we find forgiveness

by JoAnne on April 9, 2014

http://www.dreamstime.com/stock-images-girl-fishing-image11926774I was thinking about my late birth father tonight … he was a very intelligent man. As a geologist doing both on-loan and contract work, he had something like 45-plus newspaper articles written about him. There were no pictures of my father. A lot of the clippings announced where he would be heading for his next out of town/state project. Back then they sure liked to have newspaper-worthy parties when he returned back to his family.

It was interesting to me how you could almost see the handwriting on the wall that his marriage with his wife wasn’t going to last. He was seldom home. That is how I was conceived.

But I have to give him some credit for being able to turn his life around. Apparently, his first marriage to his childhood sweetheart was annulled by both sets of parents. Well, towards the end of his life he was given an ultimatum—if he stopped drinking, womanizing, and started going to church, the love of his life from when he was a young man would agree to marry him again. And impressively, that is just what he did until the end of their lives.

As his daughter, we never met, :) but I think I’ve figured him out. My birth father always loved his childhood sweetheart and after he lost her the first time he didn’t care who he ultimately hurt by his poor choices in life.

I have been able to find forgiveness in my own way.

What I would have asked him if he was still alive:

• If you had your life to do over again, what would you have done differently?

• I heard you always wanted a daughter, “How could I have made you proud?”

• If you could have written a letter to my adoptive mother, my first adoptive father, and my stepfather, what would you have said after hearing my life story?

• Do you have words of wisdom from your own life experiences that might have helped me to finally let go of the sadness and disappointments?

• Is there something I could have said to you as your daughter that would have made you want to be a better husband, father, and human being?

• And last, but most importantly, “Would you take me fishing?” ♥

{ 1 comment }

A Glimmer of Light

by JoAnne on March 30, 2014

ReMoved from HESCHLE on Vimeo.

I am always asked why I have such a heart for children, especially sharing such a deep connection with the little girl or boy who has no voice.

After I watched this poignant video, I kept thinking to myself, “Mom, you never came running for us when my two brothers and I were hiding in the backyard on that very dark night. Would you have given my close-in-age adopted brother and me back if there had been any hope of saving your marriage with our adoptive father, the love of your life?”

In my particular family dynamics, I believe what was missing from any conversation I ever had with my adoptive mother was how she felt about me after never seeing my adoptive father again. Children feel they are to blame. Mom didn’t act as if she wanted or needed us anymore.

Frustratingly, I can’t find anyone to tell me how she felt long before then … if we were always just a heavy burden.

I am for the underdog—the precious child who knows what it feels like to be truly abandoned and discarded as unworthy of being loved. I may have lost out on the love of two mothers and several fathers. I can’t change that fact. However, what makes it not hurt as much now is if I can continue to make a difference in the lives of our future generation of children who feel as I did.

Long before the police took my alcoholic adoptive father away on that very dark night, the system had failed me as a once helpless, vulnerable child. By sharing my past, my story, my history, I want to be a glimmer of light that makes a difference.

Please, I ask that adults not watch this video with the mind-set that you must go out immediately and try to save the world. My heart-felt desire is to see that every child placed in foster care indefinitely is able to experience that wonderful sense of belonging to a “forever family.” The goal is reunification for every child placed in foster care or finding a permanent home if they can’t be returned. I believe parents must be in it for the long haul with the understanding that raising a left-behind child by no means is going to be easy, but is well worth it.

I pray many lonely and confused children can one day say with confidence, “I am lovable. I am worthy of care,” as Zoe reflects in the video, “ReMoved.”

{ 2 comments }

The two of us

by JoAnne on March 12, 2014

the two us

I just realized something last night … not only do I look more like our mother than any of my four other siblings, but there are some more amazing similarities between the two of us. My birth mother gave birth to her first child (daughter) at the age of 22 on November 15th. I gave birth to my first child (daughter) Tracy at the age of 22 on November 12th. And I never noticed this either, our birthdays are less than two weeks apart. She was born on May 26th and I was born on June 4th. My four siblings were born in January, February and November.

My birth mother passed away less than 15 months to the exact day that my adoptive mother remarried and moved us to CA from NV with her new husband (my stepfather). I always wondered if I could have possibly felt something from afar when the woman who gave me life passed away. I remember that time period in my life specifically being one of great sadness. I didn’t often cry as a little girl, nothing like the flood of tears I do sometimes now :). But my close-in-age adopted brother and I had already attended three different elementary schools since kindergarten; one of those three schools we attended two separate times.

Yes, at only 8 years old, around the same time my birth mother passed away, I sobbed. My parents informed me and my adopted brother that we were moving again … this time from Santa Rosa to Sacramento, CA. I couldn’t put my feelings into words back then. I know now—my tears were for all the losses, including for my birth mother who I had shared so much in common. Not only did I look just like her, but we had the same laugh, we cocked our head the same way, and our mannerisms mirrored one another according to her relatives.

Nobody can tell me that, although I only spent the first nine months growing inside of her, our hearts and spirits weren’t always somehow deeply intertwined. ♥

{ 3 comments }

Be that one person…

by JoAnne on February 21, 2014

CCF02202014_00000

You couldn’t pay me a half-million dollars to want to be the rich daughter again. It comes at such a high price. My stepfather had told my husband that he couldn’t get me to ever talk about what he had planned to leave me as his inheritance. That I would just cry and say, “Oh, dad, I don’t want to lose you!”

Such an upsetting disappointment to learn that my stepfather had equated his money with love. Supposedly, he was going to leave me a half-million dollars, but with conditions. As long as I didn’t ask for answers, like for example, “Dad, why did you say you adopted me when I was a little girl, and as it turns out you never did?” Or, what most of us would consider the simplest of questions, “Who named me?”

The truth is, in the end it didn’t matter what my stepfather had planned to leave me or not. All along, my controlling adoptive mother had been calling the shots before and after he passed away.

Interestingly, in the beginning, my adoptive family wasn’t much different than my birth family in terms of economics. My adoptive mother and her first husband, my alcoholic adoptive father, were not rich by any stretch of the imagination. I never even ate at a restaurant until I was the age of seven. Money was tight, but I don’t remember feeling like we went without when I was a little girl.

I learned the hard way—no money in this world can buy love or happiness. For me, having a wealthy stepfather only represents feeling alone and emptiness. I was a girl who could have easily settled for less.

After having met my birth siblings, I believe my birth family was close to dysfunctional as my adoptive family. When you can look at it from a distance, it appears I jumped from the frying pan into the fire as a newborn. I understand that we all have issues in our upbringings; no family is perfect, but I feel let down by the courts that should have been there to protect my best interests as a child. There was never any accountability for a judge, doctors, a lawyer, and my adoptive mother after pulling a fast one. The hush-hush disturbing deception has continued to be swept under the rug, as if all of the wrongs were my imagination.

I thought in finding my birth mother that she could rescue me from all the utter nonsense. I still believe she would have kept it more real and told me the truth. My birth family had their problems, but the difference is that they didn’t hide behind pretense. It was “what you see is what you get,” no matter if their candidness hurt.

If I hadn’t been placed for adoption, would my life have been easier? I highly doubt it. In my particular circumstances, I can’t blame adoption. The same limited options my birth mother had when she was pregnant with me would have still been present at her premature death less than 8 years later. My birth brother and sisters were much older and could take care of themselves for the most part, but none of my relatives were in any position to raise a young child.

There is no way I can change the past. I am not a person who wallows in self-pity. What I desire more from this egregious error is for my once-innocent child’s voice to matter now. I want to see it happen in my life-time that we as a society put more safeguards in place that prevent dishonest professionals from feeling they are above the law. None of us should be wearing blinders; what happened on the day I was placed for adoption in 1954 is still happening today.

“Never forget that you are one of a kind. Never forget that if there weren’t any need for you in all your uniqueness to be on this earth, you wouldn’t be here in the first place. And never forget, no matter how overwhelming life’s challenges and problems seem to be, that one person can make a difference in the world. In fact, it is always because of one person that all the changes that matter in the world come about. So be that one person.”
― Richard Buckminster Fuller

#Day1 http://storiesbyjb.com/?p=1553
#Day2 http://storiesbyjb.com/?p=1580
#Day3 http://storiesbyjb.com/?p=1586

{ 3 comments }

Soul-Searching

February 19, 2014

I didn’t know much about the 1950s and abortion when I revealed my personal feelings on my pink poster. At that time, I did know my mother wasn’t all that young and had been raising other children. One of several articles I read stated, “In the 1950s, about a million illegal abortions a year were […]

Read the full article →

Our Similarities

February 18, 2014

When I cut the picture out of the magazine, I had no clue what she looked like. Some time later, I remember staring in awe at the first photo of my mother. Her reflection was looking back at me in my mirror—I could see a carbon copy of myself. I placed her photo now next […]

Read the full article →

My Journey…

February 17, 2014

Over 22 years ago, I took a class at a counseling center titled, “The Search for Significance: Seeing Your True Worth Through God’s Eyes,” by Richard S. McGee. Quite honestly back then I was floundering, I couldn’t make any sense for all the lies and secrets if my adoptive parents were supposed to love me […]

Read the full article →

Validation

January 28, 2014

Often I have wondered, “Who are the other authors in the anthology books where my stories have been published?” I feel honored to have my story in Laura Dennis’ newest book, Adoption Reunion in the Social Media Age: An Anthology. This time I was given a unique opportunity. Laura Dennis paired those of us authors […]

Read the full article →