Interview with Adoptee Survival Guide Contributor Wendy Barkett

Apr 3, 2015 by

March, 2015 was an eventful month in Ohio for anyone with a connection to adoption.   On March 20, Ohio became the ninth state to re-open previously closed adoption files to all adult adoptees. (Two states, Alaska and Kansas, never closed adoption records.)

Ohio contributors to "The Adoptee Survival Guide:  l-r, Paige Strickland, Becky Drinnen, Lynn Grubb & Wendy Barkett

Ohio contributors to “The Adoptee Survival Guide: l-r, Paige Strickland, Becky Drinnen, Lynn Grubb & Wendy Barkett

Also in March, a new anthology written exclusively by adoptees, The Adoptee Survival Guide: Adoptees Share Their Wisdom and Tools, was published. I’m honored to be a contributor to this insightful book. I’m also proud to be one of several adoptees with an Ohio connection to contribute to this book. Editor Lynn Grubb is an Illinois adoptee who was raised in and lives in Ohio. Contributor Paige Strickland is also an Ohio adoptee.  We all happened to be at the “Opening Day” ceremonies for Ohio’s new law, hosted by Adoption Network Cleveland.

Today I interview contributor Wendy Barkett. Wendy is an Ohio adoptee and was one of four Ohio adoptees to receive their original birth certificate at a ceremony hosted by the Ohio Department of Health to celebrate the end of closed adoption records in Ohio. You can read her essay “Birth Day” in The Adoptee Survival Guide.

Becky:  Wendy, thank you for joining me to talk about Ohio’s open records, your search, and about The Adoptee Survival Guide.  March was quite a month for you! Can you start by telling us about your journey as an adoptee?

Wendy:  My journey as an adoptee has been interesting. Really, my search journey has offered me so many paths in meeting a diverse group of people. I know some people think that all adoptees are alike and the more I searched and became public about my search online, the more I’ve seen that just because I share the trait of being adopted doesn’t mean I am like all adoptees. Being adopted for so many years has defined me, the definition has changed however as time has gone on. As a child I felt lost, alone and damaged. I wanted to be liked so that I wouldn’t be given away. I became tired of that routine and started to push back at anyone who allowed me to. I wanted to prove that anyone who claimed to love me would walk away in time. Often the game worked, but I’ve mended most of those relationships.

It was when the internet came out (ya, I was alive before the internet!) that I really began to speak out loud and begin to get a better grasp of who I am. I also learned that what I type might be read differently then I intended. For the first few years of my online outspokenness people who gravitated to me were, shall we say “negative” . The read my posts as anti adoption and flocked to me. It took me some time to realize this and understand why I was feeling such anger, and I then began to try and be more specific about my feelings. I filter myself a little bit now as I don’t care for being stuck in a category.

I’m not anti adoption, I’m pro truth. Or there is my simple answer which is I believe we are all here to learn lessons in love. To learn to love others even when they are mean, to love ourselves even when we feel unlovable, and to love without regard. Doesn’t mean we have to like everyone, but we should to show some sort of empathy. For some reason my journey here as a human included being adopted. For the people I have met and spoken to, I’m actually very blessed to be on my adoptee journey! I mean really, who gets to do DNA with a Country Legends brother?? I did!!

Becky:  In The Adoptee Survival Guide, you talk about your birthday. Can you explain what birthdays mean to you as an adoptee?

Wendy:  Birthdays. Birth Date. Sigh. I feel fairly alone in the lack of love for birthday’s boat but I am so ok with that! I’ve not found any other adoptees who dread it as much as I seem to. It’s been a life long distaste for me. I don’t have the words for why I was always so sad on my birthday as a child, I can feel it, I just can’t find the words that would have been used as a five year old. As an adult I’ve been able to look deeper into it and what I have come up with is a couple of things. I know that the day of my birth must have been so painful for my first mother. I’m an empath in many ways and I presume I took on the feelings that were my first mother’s.

There’s also the idea that my friends were told about their actual birth day. When their mom went into labor, what it felt like, how they got to the hospital. Some were fun stories, some were about being in labor all night long. I never had a story for that day. I could never look at my mm and ask her: What did it feel like when you were in labor? What were you doing when your water broke? Where was Dad and did he drive safely? So while my birthday is a celebration of my actual being, it just always felt like some sort of a mystery and without the knowledge of what seems like simple questions answered, I’ve just never really been able to fully celebrate my own birth.

Becky:  Your search led to a grave. What would you like to say to other adoptees who will never have the opportunity to meet a birthparent?

Wendy: You know, finding a grave at the end of my search was , well, a really special kind of pain and confusion. My heart hurts for other adoptees and first parents who find the same answers. Rather then looking at the pain of it though, I’d like to offer a thought to others who either find a grave or a relative who refuses contact. There are other ways! You can get some answers it will just take more work.

To be honest, I feel like I may possibly have gotten to know Dottye better because I’ve had to do so much digging. Who knows if she would have told me about all of the things I have found? If I could turn back time I’d find her alive. My hope is that because my search took so long and I had to try so many different things to get answers, well my hope is that it will help others in the future.

Also, I did find my sister, Dottye’s kept child. So my sister was a huge part of my long healing process. She was able to share with me things that her old classmates or DNA testing would not have known. For example, when I was a year old I had a corrective cast on one of my feet because I walked with my toes in. My sister also walks with her feet in and said that Dottye’s father used to tell her “Toes out” !! My sister and I still walk with our toes in, I know I do it with a little pride now.

Becky:  On March 20, 2015, you were one of four Ohio-born adoptees to receive your original birth certificate at an official ceremony. Can you talk a little bit about what that day meant to you?

Wendy:  We all waited a long time for March 20th. It’s still a bit difficult to put words to the feelings. I already had a copy of my OBC, I had received it about 10 years ago. This however was an honor in that it was being handed to me before a group of my peers, it was being handed to me without a fight. Though I did still wonder if I should grab it and run! (Come on, that would have been funny!)

I had my husband there, he’s been my number one supporter in life for nearly 20 years. I had my sister there, she has been an amazing friend for nearly 11 years. I feel like Dottye was there.

As important to me was the fact that Betsie Norris was there. She’s an amazing woman and has helped me in the process of understanding the legalities of Ohio. I had first reached out to Adoption Network Cleveland in 1990 or 1991, just before I moved out of state. So I had lost contact until a few years ago. When Betsie said if I came to Ohio I could testify on Senate Bill 23 I was like you bet I will be there! I’m a high school drop out and all I could think through this process is life is real.

I also had a couple of high school friends drive in to see me. One is an adoptee who until a few months ago had no idea if she would search or not. She had always known she couldn’t have her OBC so thought it was a moot point. She made it in to Vital Statistics and waits with many others for their yellow envelope to arrive! The day was finished off at my sisters house, with all of my nieces and a cousin I had grown up with but had not seen in 17 years.

It was actually a near perfect day for me. Being my typical self however, for a few days after, I wondered what was going to go wrong. Was I going to die, was someone close to me going to die. I mean surely something bad was coming, no one can have such a good day without some sort of payback. I need to add though in the week that has followed I’ve been a bit of a mess.

I’m watching a new group of Ohio adoptees as they wait for their envelope to arrive. There is a private group of support where they post their feelings and hopes. I was a bit envious and had to step back and remind myself that while I didn’t have the same sort of support, the group doing this together, I can offer it now.

With that step back thought I’m now better able to sit and wait until one of them needs help that I may be able to offer in enter just listening, helping in their search, and telling them my own experience in hopes that it will help to make theirs a bit easier.

Becky:  You currently live in Texas, a state where records remain closed to adult adoptees. Texas adoptees are currently working to open their records. What can we adoptees who have access to our records do to help adoptees in closed states?

Wendy:  Ahhh yes. When I first got home from Ohio I was contacted via Facebook by a lot of people! It was a tad overwhelming to say the least. Like I said, I’m a high school drop out. I can’t offer advice in political policy or law. I can however say what feels right, and what feels wrong.

Closed records are just wrong and the myths as to why they are closed need to stop. That being said, folks who want reform need to sow down every now and then and step back to re process what they are seeing. There were many things that played a roll into opening records in Ohio. What many people are not aware of is that Betsie Norris and Adoption Network Cleveland, they don’t just advocate for open records. They offer all sorts of assistance in the adoption community as a whole. Working with the foster care system, support groups, the list goes on.

So while open records is ultra important, others states who are actively trying to make change need to show themselves as strong but loving. As a support system for everyone involved in adoption. Also, posting online is a great tool, but it’s just a tool. Write letters to legislators, find someone who is involved and ask them, what can I do??

My part in Ohio was so small on so many levels, but in Ohio my story mattered. My story was an example of how the system they had did not work. I used that anger and made it work for something positive rather then just being angry. I used it in a way that showed I’m an adult, I see what is wrong with the law and let me tell you what I see in a calm but strong statement. That statement was my story, and while it is only my story it made sense when others heard it.

I think , I hope, we will see records restored in other states now. I keep hearing people say “It’ll never happen here”…..I was told that for years about Ohio. And my answer to those who say that is you’re right. If you don’t get active in even the smallest way, it won’t.

Wendy, thank you for sharing your thoughts with me.  Readers can learn more about Wendy’s journey at her website:  http://www.rememberdottye.com/

Wendy talks about the role of Betsie Norris and Adoption Network Cleveland in her journey and in the fight to open adoption records in Ohio.  You can visit their website at http://www.adoptionnetwork.org/

And, if you would like to read Wendy’s essay as well as all of the adoptee-authored contributions to The Adoptee Survival Guide, Amazon is your friend.  The book is available in both paperback and Kindle versions:

 

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