One of the hardest things in doing research is the reality vs. perceptions that a lot of people have about research into their family tree.
For some reason, we like to think that all women in our family are prim and proper and sweet little virgins when they met the men in our family.
Let me assure you. Not true. Not true today, and not true back in the day of our ancestors.
My mother was never married to my biological father. I have never laid eyes on him, although I know believe that I know who he is. (It is either him or one of his brothers, but his brothers were never in the part of the world I was born in.)
Do I believe that my mother was a sweet, virtuous angel before I got here? Of course not.
She had desires. She had attractions, crushes, encounters. All of the things that normal people have. Sex drive is not something that is limited to men. Women have urges, too. The only difference is not what they do with those urges, but instead, how they are treated for having those urges and acting upon them.
My mother, when it was obvious that I was looking for my biological family threw me on a trail of bad information and lies. To protect me? Perhaps. To protect herself from rejection and judgement? Of course.
I belong to a lot of different groups on social media. Repeatedly, adoptees who are looking for their biological families will have so much more luck with their paternal family than they have with their maternal family. It is so contradictory of everything that we see in movies, etcetera. But it is the truth. Of course, there are exceptions to every rule, that goes without saying.
In one of the groups that I belong to on Facebook, the ratio of paternal family being open to meeting and knowing is about 3 to 1 compared to maternal family.
I know that when I had my son and placed him for adoption, it was deeply instilled in me to make sure that I did not interfere with the adoptive family or the child that I placed for adoption, after all, they were doing me a huge favor.
Wasn't I doing them a huge favor as well? Isn't having a baby and giving it to the adoptive parent to raise a big favor as well? I would think so, but the adoption agencies of the time did not really address that angle. Another reflection of women being punished/held accountable for her sexuality.
That leads me to DNA testing and reunions being made outside the parameters of the adoption agency.
Adoption agencies made the promise to people that they need not worry about being contacted. That their little secret was safe within the walls of the agency and the sealed birth certificate. With the event of at home DNA testing (Ancestry, Heritage, 23AndMe, Family Tree DNA, etcetera) becoming so affordable, more and more people are turning away from the agencies and the archaic laws of sealed adoption records. They are instead choosing to take tests that cost less than 100.00 per test. In less than 2 months typically, an adoptee can find their birth family on both sides. With social media being free and open, with a few clicks of the mouse, an adoptee can look at the faces of biological family.
The problem about this is for any member of the adoption triangle that does not want to be found. For the birth mother who wanted the secret of her pregnancy and childbirth hidden, her privacy is no longer assured or guaranteed. For the birth father who may not even know that a child was conceived, his life can be thrown into hell if he has never told his family of the existence of a child.
An adoptee that has never been told that they were adopted, or does not want to know their biological family and finds themself facing issues they were not prepared to handle can be a disaster.
Am I against DNA testing? No, not at all. I support open records. I support the right of people to know where they came from as an adoptee. I support the right of birthparents to know their biological child is well and cared for. Open adoption removes all of the mystery from adoption and allows for open communication. In medical emergencies, if the biological family is available for contact, information can be exchanged that is literally lifesaving.
As long as we continue to have a one sided stigma of women having sexuality, of women expressing their sexuality and of women having sexual relations, we will continue to have shame for an event that needs to have no shame.
As I continue to know my paternal family, I am greatly saddened by all of the years that I was denied these relationships. I have aunties and cousins and grand cousins. I had grandparents while I was alive on my father's side. From all that I have heard, they would have been very loving and kind. I have pictures of people who I look like. Who I share the same body type. Who I have common interests. I would still be searching for these wonderful family members if I had not taken a DNA test.
Want to know an interesting piece of information?
If you are a birth mother who voluntarily placed her child for adoption, you may be ineligible for adoption.
Sound like something from times gone by? Allow me to let you know how recent this information is: today. When I was married in the past, my ex-husband and I were looking into adoption. One of the questions that was asked by each of the adoption agencies that we spoke to was if we had ever had a child that was placed for adoption. It also asked about children that were removed from custody, but that is not the focus of this article.
I honestly answered the question. "Yes" I wrote in. When the social worker looked at our form, each and every time, their face would go from relaxed and easy to tense. One woman asked "Did you mean to check off that you were looking to adopt?" I shook my head. "We are here to adopt, but I also placed a child for adoption when I was a teenager. I was very young and I knew that I could not provide a good environment for a baby while I was still a child." She started tapping her pen on the desk from tip to end. "I don't know how to say this. I really don't. You can't adopt a child if you have placed a child for adoption." We sat there, dumbfounded. She continued. "You can't decline to share it, either. It is linked to the records through your date of birth and your social security number. " She smiled a very forced smile.
"The only option for you is to go surrogate. No agency in the United States will allow you to adopt a child if you have placed a child up for adoption. Not even a state agency." She thanked us for our time, shook our hands and ushered out of the building, lest the taint of my "sin" contaminate her.
My ex and I were not deterred. We tried several more agencies, some in person and some on the telephone. We were blunt when we spoke on the phone. "Can we adopt if one of us has placed a child for adoption?" Each time, we were told "No. You cannot." Sometimes, the next sound that we heard was dial tone. It was one of the most disheartening times of my life. I had been told by the agency that I placed my child with that we would "both be starting with a clean slate." I had been told that "No one need know about this part of your life." I always responded with "I am not ashamed of my child. I did not go out to try and get pregnant. I never wanted that. I was molested."
The incident with my ex-husband is something that I have not thought about in over a decade until a friend of mine called me today to tell me that she and her husband had been declined by an adoption agency because she had placed a child for adoption while she was still in college. All of those raw emotions came forward for me. It hurt to basically be told that you are not eligible to raise a life because you placed a life up for adoption when you could not raise them.
There has to be a better way to treat birthmothers. Not to marginalize them or punish them for a decision that they were encouraged to make when their child was born. For some of these women, the choice was not even a choice. They were told that they would not be able to return home if they chose to parent their child. They were made to end the relationship with the birth father. There are as many stories as there are birthparents. The decision to place a child for adoption is not one that is made lightly.
When I was pregnant with my son, I promised all of my family members that I would place my child for adoption. I promised them that I would "do the right thing". That did not stop me from having hopes and dreams for myself and the child that I was carrying. That did not stop me later in life wanting to have a little family to raise.
I am not a secret and this needs to stop.
Book Review: The Other Mother: A Woman's Love for the Child She Gave Up for Adoption by Carol Schaefer
I am a member of all 3 parts of the official adoption triangle, and involved in other parts as well.
The adoption triangle is Birth Parents, Adoptive Parents and Adoptive Child. I am also a sister to a sibling that was placed for adoption. So if there is an adoption angle, I might have a little bit of insight about it.
Because of these issues, I follow books dealing with adoption. Birth parent stories always grab my heart. A while ago, I was gifted with The Other Mother by a friend of mine who is also a member of the adoption triad. I read the book over 2 afternoons in Paris, sitting on my small balcony of my tiny apartment.
I placed my child for adoption in the mid 80's, around the time that the author, Carol Schaefer was beginning her search for the child that she placed at birth.
Although there were a lot of things that had changed, many things remained the same. The marginalized feeling that she speaks about; the looks, the feelings of holding a secret, of the world continuing on as normal while this life changing event is happening to you are all things that must be a universal sentiment of the unwed mother who is placing her child up for adoption.
Although my conception story was different, I did not have a loving relationship with the person that got me pregnant, I did have the same relations with my family when I was pregnant. My aunt and uncle made sure that I was away when my grandfather decided to come into town unannounced.
Carol's book brought a lot of healing for me. I read it during a time where people did not as freely an openly discuss or admit that they were a birthmother. To be acknowledged as a person of value, not just as an unwed mother created a lot of healing in my heart. I sent a copy to my birth child's adoptive mother, and she sent it back, unread with a note that read "I cannot read this. It is not my side of the story." I thought that it would bond us, but she was not ready for that in her life at that moment. Years later, she would confess to me that she didn't read it because she was scared.
If you are a part of the adoption triangle, I highly recommend this book. The story of her strong feelings for her unborn baby, her struggle to search and her reunion story are compelling and touching. For birth parents, there is a lot of healing in those pages. For adoptive parents, there is a lot of explanations of circumstances and understanding. For birth children, here is the emotional map to what your birth mother may have been going through before you were born.
I have kept a copy of this book on my shelf at all times, and I have purchased copies as gifts for friends that were adopting or foster to adopting children in order to help them know what the struggle was in many of our hearts.
I hope that you will get a copy of this book, it is well written and very compassionate.
This article is going to be a long one, but it is going to be full of a lot of information (primarily for adoptees, but can be modified for birth families as well.)
If you are adopted and are looking for your birth family, there is a lot of information that you should gather before you even search in order to make your search a lot more easy. I will list a lot of those tips, hints and helps here. If you know of any that I have not mentioned, please share by emailing me at PirateDixie@gmail.com or in the comments section below.
Best of luck to all of you on your search!
1. Where were you adopted from? Private Agency/state/foster/in-family adoption or something else? Make sure that you know the source of where you were adopted from.
2. How old were the people involved in the adoption? This includes you, your adoptive parents, the birth parents and any other parties.
3. Where were you born? Do you know the city, the state and the county that you were born in? Make sure that you are completely sure.
4. Do you have your original birth certificate? If not, have you sent off for your original birth certificate?
5. Have you created a narrative of your birth story?
6. Have you contacted the attorneys or government agencies that were responsible for facilitating your placement?
7. Have you had a DNA test done? If not, get one done. If money is an issue, you can get a free test done at Genes For Good. If you want to have access to the largest database, Ancestry.com is the one to go with.
8. Do you have any medical issues that have been in place since birth?
9. If you have had DNA testing done, where are all of the places that you have uploaded it to, such as GEDMatch, DNA.Land, etc.
10. Contact everyone that could have information about you and your files-the hospital, your birth state may have a birth index, the ob/gyn, etc. Check everywhere and leave no stone unturned.
11. Ask everyone in your adoptive family for details about your placement and adoption. They may have clues or information that no one else does. Ask publicly, ask privately. Don't be ashamed. It is your right to pursue this.
12. Make detailed notes at the time that you speak to anyone. Trust and believe when I tell you that you won't remember everything. Ask for spellings, dates, locations and anything else that they are willing and able to share with you.
13. Ask for information that was given to either side by the agency, attorney, etc. There may be valuable clues right there as well.
14. Make sure to ask facilitator if other side ever has written, sent updates, want to write or be in contact or any other information.
15. Write down your test kit numbers and keep them with you. Carry business cards to hand out wherever you go.
16. Prepare a medical history for other side as well as a way for them to contact you.
17. If privacy is a concern, create an email only for this search. Make sure that you check it regularly. You can even set up a notice to let you know when you have an email in that account.
18. Have an honest dialogue with yourself. What is the best case scenario of what you would like to happen? What is the worst case? What are your goals for the short, medium and long term? Are you prepared for the outcomes of death, rejection, mental or physical issues? How about if the person that you are searching for does not want to associate with you, but other relatives do-are you ready for that? What if family members or the family that you are looking for contend that you are creating fake documents or similar? Have you considered counseling to delve into these issues if you don't have ready answers to these issues?
19. Have you set aside money to aid in your search? Except for Genes for Good, DNA tests cost money, requesting documents cost money for copies, and writing to places costs time.
20. Are you willing to create notes and notebooks with all of your search information so that you do not backtrack or lose clues?
21. Are you able to provide verifying information to those family members who may doubt you or the veracity of your search? Are you willing to explain that you are not looking for any claim of money or property?
22. Make sure that all of your contact information at all of the sites you are on is current and correct. It would be a shame to invest all of the time and effort only to not have your matches be able to reach you.
23. Be prepared to ask people who say that they match you for proof as well. Some people are not noble, kind or honest. Be willing to ask for (and pay for) a DNA test if you have any doubts. Also, just because someone shares some physical characteristics does not mean that they are related, and the reverse is true as well.
24. You can set up a free web page or blog for people who are looking for you. Don't share every single detail about you, but for people looking, it may be the place they find without going through agencies, etcetera.
25. Prepare yourself now for the "honeymoon" and possibly "backlash". Some who search have never moved past the place in time of when the adoption event occurred. They may still be dealing with some issues. Some may romanticize or "saint" others. Some may "demonize" others. Be patient. Be kind. Make good notes, take loads of photos and create memories. Be patient. Be patient. Be patient. This is an emotional time.
26. Protect your privacy and safety. Although these people are family, until you know one another better, use caution and be safe.
27. Keep originals, make copies to share. I was SO glad I did this one. This includes photos.
28. Reach out for help through social media, adoption support and search groups, DNA search groups and more. Keep track of where you have signed up and check your places regularly.
29. If at all possible, create a family tree.
30. Never EVER give up. Take a break if it gets overwhelming, but don't give up!