And all this nonsense started because my parents would only say my birth certificate was “missing.”
For over 30 years, I begged someone to please tell me the truth to the many lies and secrets involving my so-called adoption. From having spoken to so many people: the doctor who delivered me and to whom I was discharged to late in the evening; my pediatrician whose name is on my birth records and was my doctor until the age of 6; the Courts (including judges and supervisors); Child Welfare Services; Vital Statistics; lawyers; Saint Mary’s Hospital; Catholic Charities who refuted the doctor’s claim that he took babies home for their agency (they had an incomplete adoption application for my parents still on file); and the Roman Catholic Diocese; I deserved honest explanations. But for the most part, it seemed like everybody I spoke with was more worried that they might let the cat out of the bag, so to speak, if they were to help me. Instead they continued to keep giving me sketchy court documents that made no sense at all, or they would tell me that their agency files for me as a helpless newborn were alarmingly empty.
When I read these disturbing public records after all these years, what makes me the angriest I believe is how many people had to know that some adoptions that took place during the time I was born were done fraudulently. Sadly, they had little regard for the best interests of the child or even that of the mother placing the child for adoption.
For me personally, it raises an ethical issue. As a child who was once supposed to have been placed for adoption at birth, and where obviously, something went terribly wrong, didn’t I deserve the courts to explain all the discrepancies in my adoption records without it costing me so much emotionally and financially? How could the facts be confidential, when the deception had nothing to do with revealing the names of ones’ birth parents? When my affluent parents refused to tell me the truth, where could I have turned for help?
In my search for my birth father, regardless of all the time that had gone by, I found the majority of my inquiry phone calls and letters were well received. Many of the old-timers, who may have known my birth parent’s story had not strayed far from where my beginnings were written.
One of the most memorable responses was from a 95-year-old blind man. The gentleman said that his wife had read him my letter and he had asked her to dial my phone number. Although, he did not have any answers for me, I could feel the gentleness in his voice when he spoke with such compassion and understanding. He had just called to say that he and his wife wanted me to know that they cared and were praying for me.
During those times when I still grieve for the many losses and wonder how ones’ life story could have ever got so convoluted, I remember with a smile all the wonderful people I have met along the way in my search for truth/answers.
I would love to put a rose on the 95-year-old blind’s man grave with the words, “Thank you for touching my life with your gentle heart!”
I still shake my head in disbelief. When I was searching for my birth father, a woman called me collect in regards to an inquiry I sent out. She described herself as having been so-called friends with my late birth mother. Supposedly, my birth mother was a very private woman. She was able to somehow keep her pregnancy a secret from almost everyone in a small mining town. When I met my half-siblings, the two oldest said they didn’t even know back when they were teenagers that our average-built mother was expecting me. No, she didn’t go away for nine months either, but rather continued to raise her three children alongside her husband.
Going on with our brief phone conversation, the lady said that my birth mother had borrowed money from her. She followed it by saying half-laughingly, “Now, I know what it was used for!” These days $75 doesn’t seem like a lot, but I learned that it was a substantial amount during that time period. A person would have to work full-time for approximately four weeks in the 1950s to come up with that amount according to an article I read on CNN. Coincidently, the CNN author who was born close to the same year as me, quoted around the same amount for his hospital and delivery charges.
I don’t believe most people could misread this woman’s insinuation that the debt was somehow related to my birth. Part of me wondered if my birth mother had ever paid her back the money and why she felt it was necessary to bring it up in the first place.
No matter how hard I have tried, I can’t seem to make all the confusing puzzle pieces fit together about my beginnings. Even if it was a private adoption, why would my birth mother pay for the hospital charges, or pay the doctor who delivered me? The same doctor who I was then discharged to late in the evening five days after my birth.
What I do know about my not-above-board adoption is there was no adoption agency or involvement with any public service agency, such as child services. However, a prominent judge, an overzealous doctor, an elusive lawyer who had no license to practice law in the state where I was born, had obviously pulled off some kind of fraudulent scheme to hand me off to my new parents without raising any red flags. Why would anyone put their reputation and high-profile positions on the line if there was not some kind of personal gain/profit from what one was doing?
Since I’ve had to pay dearly for others’ wrongs, I would ask that if you are trying to help a friend or even a stranger to do something that has to be done secretly or under the table, even with a good heart or the best of intentions, please don’t try to play God.
My adoptive mother was excellent at her career as an RN for premature infants (at a different hospital than where I was born). Yet there were valid reasons that couldn’t be disputed as to why my parents should never have been able to adopt children. Sadly, they were also as much to blame for their poor choices in keeping me under false pretenses.
It’s just a matter of time until we hear the word “sue” if someone feels they have been wronged. For much of my childhood, I grew up in a medical doctor’s family. The numerous lawsuits my stepfather and my adoptive mother were involved in over the years, as either the plaintiff or the defendant, seemed to be one way to handle life’s problems by always feeling the need to be right.
Can anyone possibly imagine how intimidated and powerless I then felt as an adult when my parents wouldn’t tell me the truth to why my birth certificate was mysteriously “lost”? Searching on my own for the answers had snowballed into an insurmountable mountain of more lies and secrets. Feeling alone, I had no one to turn to ask for help when they refused to answer any of my baffling questions in such a cruel game with a number of players. Legally, I didn’t know if I had any rights as an adoptee and besides I knew it was important to my adoptive mother and my stepfather to win at any cost.
I did lose out on the love and respect from my parents. But if I am honest with myself, can you lose something you never really had? No one should have to beg for the truth concerning their own life story. What I have learned from the painful, unfortunate experience is to never settle for less and that my being is/was worth so much more than any of the nonsense and deception.
I took the doll off the shelf tonight and held her for the first time in many years. It’s amazing how healing it has been for that once little girl in me to finally have a voice and be able to share it through my writing.
excerpt from my story in the book:
“A number of years ago, I received a Christmas present from my adoptive mother — a brand-new, expensive, 125-year anniversary doll, a look-alike to the one she had discarded. Through my tears, I tried to pretend that it was the most thoughtful gift. I knew she meant well, but neither of us had truly understood what the other one desired. I felt a deep, agonizing loss; I had needed her to give me something of herself.”
If you are an adoptee or know of anyone who might benefit and be encouraged from reading others’ adoption journeys, I bought a few extra books to share. I know for me personally with having grown up in a family where I wasn’t supposed to even tell anyone I was adopted, this book would have helped me to not feel so alone in my thoughts and feelings.
Thank you for always believing in me; I feel your love!
Lynn Grubb, editor of The Adoptee Survival Guide: Adoptees Share Their Wisdom and Tools, and I became friends back when we were paired together to do blog interviews for another anthology for which we had both contributed essays. We had fun doing our interviews the first time; so decided we would go for it again. I would love to see her answers to my interview questions reach as many adoptees as possible that would not necessarily hear otherwise about this wonderful book being a helpful resource. Thank you for sharing!
1. Picture yourself standing on a busy street corner holding a poster as the “The Book Lady.” (We know how much you love reading) Tell us what you would write on a poster you were holding to encourage perfect strangers to want to read the book you had just published?
“Do you know or love someone who is adopted?”
2. Your young daughter has asked you to come for Career Day at her school. What’s the most valuable insight you have learned about yourself from putting together this book that would be helpful to children?
Don’t be afraid to have a vision for your future and follow it to its completion. Ask for help when things get too hard. Always believe in yourself.
3. Late one night, you are volunteering on the Crisis Hotline when an adoptee calls in feeling so lost and broken. What three quotes come to mind from reading each of the author’s stories in your anthology that could help make a difference in this hurting person’s life?
“Minimizing our adoption experience only maximizes our pain.” -Stephani Harris
“We need each other’s stories to be able to understand our own.” – Cathy Heslin
“We can be whoever we want to be!” – Von Coates
4. As you said recently, “I’ve been reading all these posts on the FB Search Squad. I am floored by the number of people who are searching for their birth parents. I think the floodgates have opened.” With over 11, 000 members in the Search Squad and the miraculous outreach of Search Angels helping for free, I truly believe The Adoptee Survival Guide, could be equally as beneficial for adoptees who travel down such unfamiliar paths. Can you share your thoughts and feelings that you would love to write as a post for the Search Squad as well as the FB page, Ancestry-Gedmatch-FTDNA-23&me-Genealogy and DNA (over 7,000 members), on the impact this realistic book could have made for you personally in your search? Example, during those painful times in your adoption journey when you feel like giving up because your birth mother refused to just tell you the name of your “elusive” birth father.
One of the benefits of my involvement in the adoption community is having the privilege of knowing many other adoptees whose birth mothers either refused to name or couldn’t recall who their fathers were. Having this book would have certainly made me feel less alone. I took part in my reunion without the benefit of a true support system, aside from my husband. He wasn’t actually with me during my reunion, but he was the soft place to fall later and has been my protector and supporter without fail. However, my husband is not adopted and I firmly believe nobody can understand an adoptee better than another adoptee. Now that I have a full community of support of other adoptees, it makes such a huge difference for me. I’m excited to see so many people helping each other, both during searches and in the aftermath of finding family members. It’s like the perfect storm of opening records, DNA databases, genealogy and social media. It’s quite a ride and I’m happy to be part of it all.
5. How do you plan to keep staying humble when you have authored a number of stories and now have impressively published a book on your own? All of us as contributors and your friends I know would say that one of your attributes is not drawing attention to yourself or aspiring to be put on a pedestal. You have given such a great opportunity for first-time writers to have their voices heard, which is especially important as adoptees. As obviously a leader, do you have any ideas on how we can hear more from the silent voices in the adoption community?
I could have never completed this dream of mine without the help of so many people in the adoption community. Like Cathy Heslin says in her essay, “It was the first time that being an adoptee meant that I was on the inside of something.”
As a lifelong outsider, it’s not difficult to stay humble. Am I now part of the in-crowd of adoptees? Maybe, but I’m still working that out.
And like Jeff Hancock mentions in his essay, falling into the ranks of the adoptee rights movement is where he finally found his place.That is true for me as well. The adoptee community is my family now and it’s hard to imagine my life without that daily validation.
I do think it is important than anyone who is compiling an anthology of adoptee voices reach out to those who are new to the community. We all have a story to tell, but many of us are so afraid to put our stories out there. We fear reactions of our family members, friends and coworkers, understandably so. But once you put your story out there the first time, each time after that becomes a little bit easier – kind of like riding a bike. I would encourage any adoptee who has an interest in writing, to write about their journey living adoption. You just never know who it might resonate with. I find writing to be very cathartic. Perfect strangers from all over the country or world will tell you how much your essay or your book means to them and that is just the icing on the cake. Writers make a difference in the lives of others.
I also feel that as more adoptees get their adoption files and original birth certificates, more and more adoptee voices will be heard. After just arriving home from the Columbus, Ohio celebration opening of the 1964-1996 birth certificates on Friday, I was shocked to learn this made national news! Our cause is finally hitting the mainstream which is truly validating.
It’s been a pleasure working with you, JoAnne, and the other contributors to The Adoptee Survival Guide.
My interview on Lynn’s blog can be found here.