Mothers day is as good as time as any to bring up the adoption story, as it relates to our family. In our family, there are two adopted persons, the Girl and myself. One of the “rules” of adoption is that your story, i.e. the way that you came into the world and the way that were brought into the family that you were, is just that, “your story”. It’s yours to tell, to blog about what ever you care to do with it. For that reason, dear readers you won’t hear the Girls story on this site, you are going to have to wait until she’s old enough to tell it herself, and even then, until she wants to write about it, or talk about it or what ever.
I can share with you some of the more obvious details because a) the are that, obvious and b) they will illustrate the points that I want to make regarding adoption. I will also share my story because I believe that it will also add perspective.
First, my own story. I was adopted, brought home as we would term it today, in 1963, 3 days after I was born. Back in those days there was a lot of stigma around unwed mothers, and that was exactly my situation. My Birthmom was unwed. The story I was told as a child was that she was in love with a guy, found out she was pregnant, and then subsequently found out that he was married. My parents, unable to have children of their own, and, it being 1963 had not a lot of options either the fertility arena or the social worker area talked with their family physician about wanting to adopt a baby. At some point their doctor contacted them about a patient he had, who was going to have a baby and was going to be putting it up for adoption.
This started the paperwork for what today would be called a “grey” or private adoption. Today this is pretty uncommon as most birthmothers, no longer hiding from family, would contact an agency and work out a plan. In the United States today, most adoptions are “open” adoptions meaning the birth mothers are involved in their children’s lives in someway, shape or form. Back in 1963, this was unheard of. The adoptions were finalized in family court, and all records were sealed, from everyone involved including the person most impacted, the adoptee.
So we come to my first social issue with adoption, sealed records. Records were sealed on the premise of providing the birthmother with privacy protection. A legitimate concern, especially at the time, however I strongly believe that at some age of majority, 18 or 21, how about 20, (Read one of my first postings on being 20) the adoptee should have access to their personal court records and their original birth certificate. We are the only people I can think of who are BARRED from our personal information. Today, with open adoptions, now as big an issue. Back to the story…..
So at the ripe old age of 3 days home from hospital I came. I laugh about it now because in 1963 before there were car seats and infant seats and all, there are 8mm films of infant Sank in the car on Mommies lap without even a seatbelt. Those were the days. Once I arrived home, there was a 6 month period where my birthmother could have changed her mind and rescinded her decision. This was only an issue because I heard another story about by early days, that my birthmom sort of took off after I was born and they had a difficult time finding here to complete the process. Can you blame her? You’ve just had a baby, you maybe saw it in the delivery room, maybe not, and now you’re leaving the hospital. I’d be hard to find as well.
Issue number two, #2- Protections for adoptive parents. This is still an issue in 2006. In Minnesota there is a period of time where the birthparents can come back and claim they were just kidding about this and take their baby back. Note my sarcasm. Reality- this cooling off period is, in my opinion, really insulting to adoptive parents. This issue really came to head for me years ago with that case, I think it was Iowa, with baby Jessica(?). An example on the far end of the spectrum to be sure, but illustrates my point. In that case the birthmother lied about the father. The Birthfather came forward and sued the adoptive parents for custody and won. AFTER 3 YEARS! Clearly an example of a court with no interest in a child’s well being. To have a strange guy come and take you from your home and family when your 4 years old because he was a sperm donor. In my opinion once the adoption is done it’s done. A family has bonded and moved on. If you birth parents have regrets, it’s too late. You did a wonderful thing, don’t screw it up.
Speaking of birthfathers- Issue #3 “Fathers rights”. I’m a father, of both adopted and biological, I have “rights” as a parent because I was there, for the pregnancy, for the adoption classes, for the home visits, for the Lamaze class, (Ok I was at Lamaze, but I’m not claiming that I paid attention. I didn’t cut any cords or do any delivery work, in spite of the encouragement of our Birkenstock wearing Lamaze “Coach”. There are professionals for that and frankly the miracle of birth is, sorry to be un-PC here, something I would prefer to observe for the “head” end, where I can provide support to the birth’er; The highly paid doctors can deal with the birth’ee. I’m also rather glad we’re “done” with this for the same reason.)
One night stand guys, you’re out of luck on these rights. You didn’t earn them just cause you were there for the initial 30 minutes. You don’t get a choice in matters regarding the child you made if you weren’t there all along. Even if you didn’t know about the pregnancy, I’m sorry biology being what it is, you made the decision to get laid and move on, if you didn’t care back then what might have been the outcome of your encounter, you don’t a choice in the matter now. If you were involved, if you made an attempt to be involved, you have recourse in the courts, you can claim paternity and the adoption can’t go forward without you.
From that fateful day when I came home to today, I’ve been a part of my parents family, for good or for bad. I am their son, there’s no changing that. There are some nuances along the way that I would point out to new adoptive parents that resonate true. Things you learn in classes that are absolutely 100% real in the mind of an adopted person that people need to think about. Most importantly, your child is adopted. They are what they are, its how they came to be and you, as parents need to acknowledge it, even if it’s difficult. My parents did pretty good in this respect, they made to serious blunders, but ya know, if that’s all I make I’m going to be doing well.
At no time in my life to I remember being “told” I was adopted. I’ve always known. They’ve always been 100% upfront about that which is critically important. With my daughter were the same way, we talk about her adoption, about her “coming home” etc. If course in her case it’s obvious, but it’s still important to acknowledge. I laugh a bit because a good friend of mine talks about the time, for her 21st birthday, when her parents took her out to “tell” her that she was conceived “out of wedlock”. This was huge deal for them, so imagine their shock when she burst into laughter and replied, “duh, you’re anniversary is 5 months before my birthday, figured that one out a few weeks ago…”
Where my parents sort muffed this was in talking about my ethnicity. They are Lebanese. They look like what you expect Lebanese folks to look like. They have dark complexions and are Mediterranean looking people; also the whole extended family is under 6’ except for my Father for some reason. He’s a giant at 6’0” Me? I’m about as lily-white as you can get. Freckles, brown hair, which was red at one time, pale as can be. Early on I knew something was up. Every time I’d ask about my heritage, I’d get the same response, you’re Lebanese. This extremely frustrating, I’m curious OK, at least tell me that you don’t know.
With my daughter this won’t be much of an issue, as we’ve embraced some Korean culture, have helped to explore as she’s wanted too, her native county. One mistake I believe some adoptive parents make is to go the other way on this issue and force the child into a culture that they aren’t really a part of. Take pride in being Korean, learn what you want to learn about it, we’re there to help and guide. I believe that culture, as a defining aspect of your personality, can be equated to Maslow’s hierarchy of human needs. The bottom of the pyramid is family. You have to feel a part of your family before you can be a part of a community, and on up the pyramid.
I think many of the adopted kids that feel maladjusted to “American” society because they are from another country, in fact had issue in adjusting to their own families. Forcing a kid who’s not all that interested into a culture camp will only foster feelings that they don’t belong anywhere. For that matter I pass enough mal-adjusted nail-headed, dread-locked, tattoo’d kids on Nicollet Mall to know you adoption is not the cause of mal-adjustment. I’m a bit alone on this line of thinking I’m afraid.
The other rather large mistake that my parents made was withholding information. From about the time I was 25 to 36 I tried to search for my birthparents. I was really curious, a pretty typical response for adopted kids. I had nothing to go on. My parents reaction to my looking was as a personal insult. A big mistake adoptive parents. There’s very little you can do to alienate your kids faster than to take a negative attitude to their inquiries should they make the decision to look for their birthparents. The message you’re sending is “you don’t even own your own history, I do”, hence the reciprocal of this is my not telling my daughters story, it’s hers not mine to tell. 7 years ago, when my daughter came home, a friend of ours in Korea provided us with information that she can use in the future to find her parents if she wants to. When I mentioned that to my folks, they made the comment that I had similar information. I did not.
Turns out they had the names and home towns of my birthparents. I think to this day they still claim that they told me long ago, no way in hell, you don’t just “forget” that sort of thing. With in 2 weeks of receiving this information I had contacted my birth mother in an amazing set of circumstances.
Circumstances for another posting…