Morning folks.. I’m reposting a set of entries from 2006 I originally entitled Adoption Stories.. I mentioned it in the Minnesota Moments article and that generated a request from a new reader I like a lot so.. with tons of new readers over the last couple months for a lot of you, it’s new, and I need a night off tonight to get some stuff done.
Pardon the typos please.. no time to edit properly.
My Dad’s birthday 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.
Why do adopted people look for the birth families? No one reason really. Some, like me, find themselves consumed with curiosity. For others, the claim connection to their birth families in some way. I’m going hold judgment on those folks, it’s just not something I understand. There are others, that finding themselves in a family situation they don’t like may feel like they can find something better if they look for their “real” families.
Whatever the reason, the decision to look, and it’s not one that everyone makes, needs to be respected and supported by the persons family. It’s not a threat or an attack, its legitimate curiosity. It’s the same curiosity that leads millions of people to get involved in genealogy. Except, we’re starting with less information.
So here’s the story of my own personal search. As I mentioned in part 1 of this posting, I’ve been curious about my genetic origins since I was, probably in high school. It was in high school that I started to realized that in spite of what my parents were telling me, I wasn’t Lebanese. My extended family would tell me all the time how much I looked like an “all American kid”, freckles, etc. As I mentioned before, until m parents provided me with my mothers real name, I really had nothing to go on. My records were sealed by the state and there was no way I could get a look at them without a court order. There are several adoption “reunion” sites were birth parents and kids can post and connect, I tried most of those over the years, all to no avail.
With a name and a home town, I finally had something to go on. This would have been 1999. My mother, as it tuns out, came from a small town in the Midwest. Knowing a little about those towns from my wives family, I knew that most of these towns had town or county history books where you get information about the families in the town, mostly for genealogists. I figured this place must have had one, so mustering up my courage I called the local library and made some inquiries. I was correct. There as a book and as it turns out the family name I was looking for was in the book. I have to tell you, this was a pretty exciting day, the culmination of 30 years of wondering.
The librarian agreed to copy the pages I was interested in and sent me copies of her findings. She also suggested that I contact the head of the local genealogy society, apparently she might be able to find more information for me. So, I made the call. At this point I was completely driven by that gnawing curiosity to know something about my origins. I was filling in the colors on a blank canvas to coin a phrase. What I wasn’t interested in at the time was talking too or meeting my birth family. That would change.
I called the local genealogist, the conversation was a life changing event, here’s how it went.
ME: Hi there I’m looking for genealogy on a family that traces it’s roots to your county.
HER: Great, whats the family name?
HER: XYZ? Why that’s my maiden name… Who are you looking for?
ME: (At this point my heart was absolutely pounding. I was breaking a sweat on the other end. For some reason a guardian angel or intuition told me not to identify myself. I made up a name.) Yes I’m looking for a Rachel XYZ.
HER: Rachel huh? I don’t have any records of a Rachel. I have everyone else though.
At this point she started talking about her family, a history she had researched back to the 1600’s. Wow. What we hadn’t done yet was established my relationship to this family, but somewhere I felt like there had to be a connection.
ME: Wow, that’s a lot of history. Have you shared that information with your family.
HER: Well, I have a brother and sister, that haven’t been all that interested. My sister, Name, lives out in California. She….
When she mentioned her Sisters name, I realized that I was in fact, talking to my Aunt. Her sister was my mother. Whew, that was a moment to remember. Still, I wasn’t going to reveal myself, in case she didn’t know about me. I tried a different tactic. I may have missed my calling as a detective, I was a little underhanded but still.
ME: Your nieces and nephews, your kids? Have you passed along all this information to them?
HER: Not really, my sister never had any kids and my brother…. (another chill went through me. My suspicions, were correct. This was her secret, I was not going to blow her cover, it’s had been 35 years at that point)
My next thought was I need my mother’s last name and place of residence if I’m going to ever going to contact her. Clearly I was this close, now I wasn’t turning back. Back to questions.
ME: Your Sister lives in California, I’ve never met any XYZ’s when I lived there.
HER: Well she’s married, her name is ABC, she lives with her husband in Simi… Who are you again?
ME: I’m looking for XYZ< thank you for your time, and that was that.
Now I had a decision to make. Would I contact my birth mother or not. Whew. Tool me about a month to work up the decision and finally make the call. I easily found her in the phone book, and one afternoon I pulled the trigger and made the call. Another chill-filled day.
Here’s how that phone call went…
ME: Hi, I’m not a solicitor, but I’d like for you write down this number. (I gave her my phone number)
Mom: OK Who is this?
ME: Does the date July x 1963 mean anything to you?
Mom: ( in a very quiet voice…) It does.
ME: You have my number, I wanted to contact you, but I don’t want anything from you. I’m just curious and interested in you. I’m going to let you go, and if you want, sometime, I would love to hear from you, give me a call. If you don’t, I’m not going to think anything less of you, you did a great thing years ago, and I don’t want to push something on you.
Her: How did you find me?
I told her my story, her concern “did you tell my Sister who you were?” I reassured her I did not. We hung up. About two or three weeks later she called, as we had a great talk. I learned more about my history, I learned that the “legends” I had been told were, for the most part, true. It was an amazing day. Since that time my Birth Mom and have exchanged emails, she sent me her Christmas letters, now I know were the sense of humor comes from. Turns out she lives pretty close to my parents, but we still haven’t crossed to the next level and actually met. She said long ago she wasn’ ready for that and I’m not going to push it, still, for me this was a huge event in my humble adoption story, and I hold out hope that one day we’ll meet. Until then emails are fine. I don’t hold any fantasy that this is my “real” family, or that I’m going to be embraced like some prodigal son. I did get a wonderful family tree, in addition to my families, and I know who I am and where I came from. It’s rekindled my interest in genealogy, something I was able to explore in Illinois.
Still, I’ll never confuse my birth family with my real family. Even when things have degenerated to where they are today with my real Mother.
I’m constantly amazed at the ignorance that people demonstrate when presented with the obvious, that our family was, at least in part, created via adoption. When I was growing up if anyone had any question about my being adopted or not, they never really asked, I was after all, the same race as my parents, I just looked different. For Laura it’s going to be quite different. She’s going to straddle two worlds, an American one, where she’s going to attempt to fit in with the all that it means to be a girl growing in suburban hell, MN vs. being Asian, and dealing with the differences that might be pointed out to her in the future.
My hope for her is that she always finds solace within the bonds of our family, that together we are a bastion for all of us against the rest of the world. Unfortunately that’s not a situation I enjoy today with my own parents, as we are estranged these past 10 years or so. Still, to would never consider myself to be anything except their son, for better or for worse. The reasons for our estrangement really have nothing to do with adoption but are things that we would have had to deal with if I was a biological kid or not. It has more to with manipulation, insanity and control, and that’s where I’m going to leave it.
Back to the adoption editorial… Here’s come of the more random observations that I’ve made over the years regarding adoption and my one experience with both as an adoptive parent and as an adopted person.
Infertility- Mrs S and I were very very fortunate that we were able to conceive children, pretty much at will. As a matter of fact it was so easy it sort of gave me the chills to think about the couple times early in our relationship where we might not have been as careful as we should have been, and just how loaded that gun actually was!
Having attended the mandatory adoption classes I have no doubt that dealing with infertility involved dealing with loss, inadequacy, self esteem issues. It was, as we were sitting in one of our early classes, listening to couple after couple describe the efforts that they had gone through to have a baby, the treatments, the expense, and yet at the same the time the overwhelming desire to have a family that caused to them to overcome these feelings and pursue adoption, that we decided that for us, we would not adopt an infant, but instead would adopt an older, harder to place child. Our daughter was 13 months od when she came home. The LC mentioned that she felt bad because “we can go home and make a baby right now if wanted too.” I’m in a serious mode here so I’ll leave out my comments where I digressed. Just be sure, all you who know me I didn’t miss the chance back then.
Desperation- It was sometime after these classes that I met one of my cousins in New York. Here was couple really struggling with infertility. They had spent thousands and thousands of dollars on different treatments and techniques in their efforts to get pregnant. They had been working on this for well, about 8 years. They were at the point where they were looking for a surrogate mother to carry their child, the husband being viable, the infertility issue was diagnosed in the wife. Yet, here were people who could on the one hand congratulate me on my “beautiful” family, and on the other rule out adoption because “it’ not ‘our’ child”. On the one hand I wanted to feel bad for them educate them on the reality of adoption, and on the other hand I wanted to slap the shit of them. How arrogant to imply that some of my kids were more ‘my’ kids than others…. Awful situation and in the end I sort of lost contact and respect for them.
Generalization- I’m constantly amazed at how even well meaning people can harbor ignorant and, frankly, racist views, and express them openly when faced with our family. Here’s comments I’ve heard over the years that, while perhaps not ment to be hurtful, in fact are exactly that.
“Oh Is she adopted? Where is she from? Oh those Korean children are so smart.” “Do so well in school” “ are so polite” “are so ….. “ Lets generalize the entire race there Grandma’
“She’s beautiful, her real parents must be very beautiful as well”
“does she speak Korean?”
“Look, she knows how to use chopsticks, they’re so clever” That one was heard at a Chinese restaurant. Fact- the entire family uses chopsticks when we eat Asian cuisine, (Except the LC for some reason)
“Look how beautiful her black hair is against my daughters white hair, and her skin is dark and yours is so lovely white Claire…” Dumbshit
AND, the my favorite- “She’s beautiful, (which does not suddenly give you license to say any stupid thing you want. This ain’t Kentucky where if you say ‘Bless her heart’ you can then accuse someone of being an axe murderer) My cousins daughter is Chinese too.” “Chinese kids are so smart….” Double whammy. Message here is if you don’t know don’t assume. No walks up to you and says, Oh I love you Frenchmen….
Adoption Misunderstandings- Sank, have you ever met your real Mom? Why yes I grew in her house my parents are still married. No your REAL mom.. I have one real Mom.
The reason you don’t get along with you Mother is because of adoption you know, you just don’t see it. Oh, and here I thought all those years of calling me crazy and telling me I needed psychiatric help because I married an “evil bitch” or that my wife was ruining my life, or a poor mother, poor wife what ever the F you want to say, that might have had a little bit to do with it. Little bit…
A favorite from last year- What’s your real last name? Nice.
Another one, no kidding- “That guys a bastard…. Oh my I’m sorry Sank I didn’t mean to offend you.” “No more than when you were proud to tell me how you ‘Jew’d down the dealer when you bought your car asshole” That person worked for me. For a while.
How did you ever adopt three kids? I didn’t, only one. How and why would you adopt when you can have your own. Because I wouldn’t have had my daughter, the girl who completed our family, which in the end is all that really matters. Thanks for asking.