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The Power of Connection – Ohio Adoptees Continue the Journey

Posted by on Jan 23, 2016 in Adoption | 0 comments

Vital Stats Opening Day

March 20, 2015 was a cool, rainy day in Columbus, Ohio. Umbrellas in hand, hundreds adoptees and supporters gathered together in a downtown hotel lobby to march several blocks to the Bureau of Vital Statistics office to claim their long-awaited right to request their original birth record.

The energy in the crowd during that march to the Vital Statistics office was incredible! Lots of chatter and emotion… everyone in the crowd knew this was a life-changing day. As adoptees waited in line for their turn to hand over a completed request form and $20 in exchange for a piece of paper that had, until today, been sealed —  they bonded. Some continued conversations that had begun the night before at the Opening Day Eve celebration hosted by Adoption Network Cleveland. Others talked with spouses, friends, or birthparents who accompanied them on their journey. Still others carried on conversations with strangers who were next to them in line.

Every adoptee in that line knew the day was special.  Everyone there could feel it in the air. ]

Some had already reunited with their birth family – they still eagerly anticipated seeing their original birth certificate.

Others were waiting to see what they would learn from the document that was Chapter One of their life.

Some simply wanted the facts.

Some were anxious to search and hoped for a connection with birth family.

Others were unsure of their next steps.

Still others were supporters… standing in a cold drizzle to support a loved one, or a fellow adoptee.

The stories of some of the 400,000 adoptees who were finally able to request a copy of their original birth certificates was big news.  All over Ohio, in the national media (Nightline did a feature) and even internationally, when Al Jazeera featured the event!

Enduring connections were made that day.  Former strangers became friends. Bonds were formed because each person in that crowd had some connection to adoption.  And, for those who desired, the opening of records allowed even more connections to be formed with families separated by adoption.

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

I attended “Opening Day” with two adoptee friends and fellow writers, Lynn Grubb and Paige Strickland.   We had bonded through a writing project. We came as adoptee rights advocates, and to support Ohio adoptees, including fellow author Wendy Barkett.  Wendy was one of four adoptees receiving their original birth certificates in a special ceremony later that day. Paige and I are both Ohio adoptees, given the right to our original birth certificates (OBC) simply because of the date our adoptions were finalized (we were both adopted before the records were sealed in 1964). Lynn was born in Illinois and had her OBC because the laws in Illinois allowed it.

 

 

Continuing the Journey….

Adoption Network Cleveland created a Facebook group so the connections could be continued. In the coming weeks and months, as those envelopes began arriving from Columbus, Ohio, the connections became even stronger. And the power of connecting to support each other was so very evident.  We rejoiced with those who found a birthparent eager to reconnect. We celebrated pictures of reunions with newly reuinted families. We grieved with those who found a grave or a birthparent unwilling to connect. We offered ideas and suggestions for how to search and how to make that important first contact. And sometimes we were just there to acknowledge someone’s experience.  Bonds became stronger as we supported each other in a journey of discovery. Over the past year the group has grown as others who were unable to attend have also begun that journey of search and discovery.

 

gatheringconfFB-rgbAlmost one year later, the connection continue and grow. On the anniversary of Opening Day, March 18 – 20, 2016, Adoption Network Cleveland is hosting a gathering for adoptees, birthparents, and adoptive parents:

Annual Adoption Gathering:  Continuing the Journey

This gathering will be an opportunity to connect with others on about our experience as adoptees, birthparents, and family members.

There will be SO much to take in during this weekend event.

Nine breakout sessions

  • Extended Birth Family Relationships
  • DNA as a search tool
  • Significant Others (free for significant others of conference attendees)
  • Divided Loyalties – Navigating Adoptive and Birth Family Relationships
  • Disappointments and Dead Ends in Adoption Search
  • Birthparent Panel
  • Grieving Losses in Adoption:  The Stages of Grief — Getting and Staying Unstuck
  • Paying in Forward – What Ohio can do to help Adoption Reform in other states
  • Living Adoption Reunion

Two award winning theatrical presentations from New York City:

  • Biohazard:  A Relative Comedy – written and performed by Sarah Elizabeth Greer
  • The Good Adoptee – written by Suzanne Bachner, performed by Anna Bridgforth

 

JJean Strauss and Betsie Norris 2015ean Strauss and Betsie Norris

Jean Strauss will be there, with footage from last year’s Opening Day events.  Jean will present a keynote on Saturday morning along with Betsie Norris.

 

There will also be time for sharing at the open micSix-word stories from adoptees and found birth family members will also be presented.

 

 

It’s going to be a powerful weekend for anyone with a connection to adoption.

-1You can get the full description of the events and learn more at these links:

FULL DETAILS – bit.ly/ancAnnualGatheringDetails
REGISTER – bit.ly/ancREGISTERgatheringconf
HOTEL – bit.ly/ancConf2016Hotel

 

The early bird discount on registration is available until February 5th. If you’re not already a member of Adoption Network Cleveland, a one-year membership to ANC is included in the registration fee! This is a great opportunity for connection and support and it will be here soon!  Come to the gathering and continue your #journey2unite16 !

 

 

 

MapOne more story of the power of connection….

I mentioned that I attended Opening Day with fellow adoptee writers Lynn Grubb and Paige Strickland.   We bonded on a book project called The Adoptee Survival Guide, an anthology edited by Lynn. That book was published just before “Opening Day”. In the year since, all thirty-some contributors to that anthology conspired to send a copy of the book around the world for each contributor to sign as a thank you to Lynn for bringing us together on this project. That special edition and the passport that accompanied it, finally made it’s way to Ohio where we presented it to Lynn on January 21st.

Passport

Thirty-plus contributors, strangers before we came together on this writing project, all connected as writers and adoptees, have formed a lasting connection that goes way deeper than a book project. We’ve found new friends. We support each other. And we pulled together to make sure a book made it’s way around the world in 9 months! Together we can accomplish what is impossible by ourselves.

 

It happened in this small group of writers. It has happened in the community of Ohio adoptees and supporters. And it will continue, because of the power of connection.

#OHadopteesSOAR

Celebrate Ohio’s Success with Activism

Posted by on Mar 17, 2015 in Adoption | 0 comments

It's not 1964 anymoreOn a warm summer day in 1982, I took a day off work. Not to enjoy a day in the sun, but to make the drive to the Bureau of Vital Statistics in Columbus, Ohio to get a copy of my birth certificate. My ORIGINAL birth certificate.

Thanks to an article in the local paper, I had learned just days before that I had a right to get a copy of the birth certificate that was issued at the time of my birth. As an adoptee, the only birth certificate I had ever laid eyes on contained the name of my adoptive parents.

Until I read that article, I had no idea that all I had to do was make a request and that important piece of paper was mine. Because of that article, I also learned that if my adoption had been finalized just three weeks later, that simple piece of paper would have been sealed away in that same office. I would NOT have had the right to see that document that was a crucial piece of my identity.

I walked out of that office in Columbus with that simple piece of paper in my hand.   Then I went back to my life. I was frustrated about the law kept that document from many Ohio adoptees who were different from me only because of their birth date. Until 2012, I buried my head in the sand. I wrote no letters, I did not speak up about this important issue.

Betsie Norris was another Ohio adoptee, born in 1960, who only had to make a request to get her original birth certificate. She didn’t just collect her original birth certificate and go back to her life.

Instead, she made it her mission to change the laws that prevented adoptees from seeing that simple piece of paper. She founded Adoption Network Cleveland in 1988 and has worked tirelessly to change Ohio’s laws ever since. And more. The organization she founded offers services for everyone who has a connection to adoption.

Bills were introduced and failed, but the work continued. In 1996, the movement that was so important to Betsie Norris experienced some success when the law changed to allow Ohio adoptees born after September 18, 1996 to access their adoption file when they become adults.   Adoption Network Cleveland’s efforts did not stop because the records of 400,000 Ohio adoptees, born between 1964 and 1996, remained sealed by law.

On December 19, 2013, after 25 years of effort, the work Betsie Norris began after she learned about sealed records laws finally saw success when Ohio Governor John Kasich signed Senate Bill 23 into law, finally giving all Ohio adoptees the right to their original birth record.

This effort couldn’t have happened with the efforts of just one person. It was the efforts of many people. Adoptees, birthparents, adoptive parents and family members testified to change the laws. Ohio General Assembly representatives learned about closed record laws and championed bills to change those laws. Adoption professionals learned about the issues and recommended opening the records. Journalists covered the issue. And many, many volunteers donated time and money to make this change happen.

This Friday, March 20, 2015, Ohio joins Kansas, Alaska, Oregon, Tennessee, Alabama, Delaware, New Hampshire, Maine, Illinois, and Rhode Island by opening adoption records to adoptees.   Other states including Texas, Indiana, Pennsylvania, New York and Missouri have active bills to change their state adoption records laws. Records in other states remain sealed.

I’m ready to celebrate Ohio’s success. It is an important day in Ohio history. And I’m so honored to be a part of this day. This day would have never arrived in Ohio without Betsie Norris and the army of workers and volunteers she has gathered over the past 25 years.   Every single person who spoke up and fought the uphill battle for change has my congratulations and respect.

I’ve learned a great deal in the past few years about how the records came to be closed. And about the forces that oppose transparency and open records for all adoptions. I realize that there is much work yet to be done. Adoptees in every state deserve access to their records. There is no place for secrecy in adoption.

Don’t do what I did 30-some years ago, don’t just request your original birth certificate and go back to your life. Do something to pay it forward. If every Ohio adoptee who has access to their original birth certificate writes a letter, posts to social media and makes calls to General Assembly representatives in states currently considering bills to open adoption records, we can make a difference. #ohadopteesroar

Original Birth Certificate

My Original Birth Certificate

Here are some important links about Ohio’s new adoption records access law:

Adoption Network Cleveland, for a comprehensive overview of the new law and for support services

The Ohio Department of Health, for the official forms and procedures

More about Betsie Norris’ role in changing Ohio’s law

Adoption and Truth — Adoptees #flipthescript for National Adoption Month

Posted by on Nov 9, 2014 in Adoption | 2 comments

You and Your Adopted Child

I was born and placed for adoption in 1962. Right in the midst of what is known as the Baby Scoop Era. More babies per year were placed for adoption during that era (Post WWII through Roe v. Wade) than during any other time in history.

 

The sheer numbers of adoptees means that there are millions of adoptee voices that should be listened to now, in the twenty first century. We want to make sure the realities of adoption are understood when setting policy, by those who work in the adoption industry, by those considering placing a child for adoption, and by those considering adopting a child.

 

I am not anti-adoption. I believe that there will always be a need for adoption, in some circumstances. Not as a first choice. And not without a clear understanding of the current and future implications to all involved. And not promoted by agencies who exist only to profit from adoption.

 

When adoption is necessary, it should be based on truth. I don’t know of a single adoptee who would prefer a nice clean story to the truth. Even if that truth isn’t pretty.

 

As a young child, I thought I WAS being told the truth. My mother couldn’t raise me and she loved me enough to give me up for adoption so I could have a good life. And my adoptive parents chose me. And, as I got older and asked questions, I was told my records were sealed and that there was no way to find out anything about my birth family.

 

Simple enough in theory, but… Not. The. Truth.

 

The older I got, the more questions I had. But I, along with most other adoptees from this era, did not feel comfortable asking those questions.

 

Now, in my fifties, I have enough answers to be able to know the truth.

 

Here’s what I know today to be true:

 

My birthmother was in her twenties when I was born; an adult. She wanted children and was perfectly capable of raising children.   She did, in fact, raise three children. My siblings are functioning, productive members of society.   She was also single when I was born. For that reason alone she was deemed incapable of raising a child by society or by her parents.

 

The chosen baby story that my parents told was also not the truth. Yes, my parents chose to adopt a baby. But they did not start the process to adopt so they could choose me.   I could have been a boy or a girl, up to a year old, and they would have been happy to get that phone call that a baby was available to them.

 

The common thought in the early 1960s was that adoption would not have a lifelong impact on either set of parents or on the child. My birthmother was supposed to forget and move on with her life. My adoptive parents were to raise me as their own. And I wasn’t supposed to care.

 

Well, in fact, I did care. The social workers and the experts were wrong. And, at nineteen I found out that my records were NOT sealed away in a musty locked vault.

 

I want to emphasize that my parents did not know this was possible. I’m fairly certain that the adoption agency and probably the lawyers involved told them the records were sealed and they just never questioned what they had been told. My Ohio adoption was finalized less than a month before original birth certificates of adoptees were indeed sealed.  All I had to do was request my file. Which is the way it SHOULD be. (The records that were sealed in 1964 will be available to Ohio adoptees born between 1964 and 1996 beginning March 19, 2015)

 

In thirty-plus years since I first saw my original birth certificate I have learned a number of truths:

 

Both my adoptive parents and my birth parents are successful and functioning members of society.

 

Both sets of parents are of German and English heritage.

 

Both sets of parents were Lutheran.

 

Similar, yet different. My adoptive family was not better than my birth family, nor were they worse. Just different. In the end, my adoptive parents were deemed fit to raise me because they were married and my birth mother was not.

 

The truth was hidden from all parties to my adoption.

 

What if my birthparents had been told that their child would indeed by raised by good people. But that she would have questions about them?     That adoption was an option, but not an option without impact on all involved? That their child might like to meet them one day?

 

What if my birthmother had been told that she would never forget giving birth to her first child; that she would always wonder about her welfare and happiness. What if she had been told that meeting each other was an option when her child was an adult?

 

What if my adoptive parents had been told that their child would love them dearly, but that she would have questions about where she came from?   What if they had known that, even as an infant, she would mourn the loss of her mother? That she would wonder what her parents were like? That she would wonder if they ever thought about her? And that she would wonder whom she looked like? What if they had been given a complete health history that was updated regularly, through the adoption agency?

 

What if I had grown up with accurate, age-appropriate information about my birth story? Including the name I had been given at birth and photographs of birth family members? What if I had grown up with the knowledge that my beginnings were not a secret; that the information was available to me when I became an adult. What if I had grown up with the knowledge that, if I wished, I could meet my birthmother when I became an adult?

 

I don’t know the full answers to all of those questions. But I do know that my birth families, my adoptive family and I would have all benefited from knowing the truth about adoption.

 

I acknowledge adoption has changed since the 1960s. Not enough has changed. And in some ways it has become worse. The changes should be drastic. More drastic than the what-if scenarios I played out in the preceding paragraphs.

 

Change in adoption practice is necessary.   This is the reason adoptee voices are important to add to the conversations taking place during National Adoption Month. The voices of those who have been living adoption need to be heard. Adoptee voices are joining to #flipthescript this November because our experiences can and should influence change.

For the Love of First Mothers

Posted by on May 8, 2014 in Adoption, Book Reviews | 0 comments

Building Bridges for Change

A few weeks ago, I packed my bags and headed  cross country to San Francisco to attend the annual conference of the American Adoption Congress.   Yep — four days of adoption-related keynotes, workshops, films and art.  And to beat it all, I shared a room with someone I had only talked with briefly on the phone.  Crazy, right?  Well, actually, no it wasn’t.  It was worth every bit of time, effort and money I spent to get there and back.

Of course, I learned from the keynote speakers and from the workshops I attended.  had an opportunity to learn about efforts to open adoptee records in a growing number of states.  And the touching films shown in the evening made me cry.   I loved connecting with other writers.  The experience as a whole helped me as a person, as an activist, and as an adoptee.

Hands down, though, the most valuable  aspect of the conference wasn’t the formal conference activities.

 

It was the connections and the conversations.

 

The adoption community is full of terrific people!  I was in the midst of fellow adoptees, activists, first parents, adoptive parents and adoption professionals.   And each of us has a story — there are similar themes, but every story is unique.

The conference opened with a session to allow attendees to get to know each other.  I almost skipped out on this session.  In fact, the only reason I was there in time for that session was because I accidentally booked my flight a day earlier than I had planned.  And I almost skipped out in favor of some sightseeing in the City by the Bay.

But I didn’t.  And because I showed up at that session, I met two women who touched my heart with their stories.

Picture this:  the room was set up in wagon wheel circles.  The idea was to answer a couple of questions with the person sitting across from you, then after a few minutes, the outer wheel of the circle moved, and you repeated the conversations with someone new.  Within the first few minutes, I met two first mothers who, in just a few brief minutes told me enough of their stories to make me want to hear more.

I ended up having dinner with these two lovely ladies, and we talked several more times throughout the conference.  What I loved about these conversations is that, because they were willing to share their experience of being young, unmarried, and pregnant in the ’60s, I was able to put a little more of the puzzle together of what my own mother’s experience might have been like.

It’s comfortable to have conversations with others who share our experience.  We stretch and learn and grow when we open ourselves up and have deep conversations with someone who has had a different experience than ours.  I learned from them, and maybe they learned something from what I shared about my experience growing up adopted.

I had a great time getting to know these two ladies, and many others, while I was in San Francisco.    It seems fitting to share this experience with two first mothers in the days leading up to Mother’s Day.

My  experience reinforced to me that we learn by being in community and conversation with each other.   The AAC Conference is a great opportunity to meet others who have been touched by adoption.  But it’s not the only way — there are discussion groups, online communities and maybe  a neighbor or coworker who has also has an experience that will touch your heart.

Reach out.  Connnect.  Share.  And learn.

Not Fade Away Dawn Young

One more thing:  

During one conversation, one of my new first mother friends mentioned that she had written a book about her experience.  I ordered it as soon as I arrived home, and I finished it over the next week.   

 

I’m usually a fast reader.  But with Dawn’s book, “Not Fade Away,” I found that could only absorb so much in one sitting.  Our conversations at the AAC Conference didn’t prepare me for her story.  It is that intense and that real.  She pulled me right in to her experience as the girlfriend of Rolling Stone Brian Jones, the experience of getting pregnant in 1960s England, the heart-wrenching choice of adoption that was made for her and her son, and then putting her life back together.  You can read my review of Dawn’s book here.  

Philomena and Adoption Reform (Yes, they are related)

Posted by on Mar 3, 2014 in Adoption | 0 comments

Philomena LeeThe Oscar-nominated movie, Philomena, has created a great deal of buzz.  It isn’t often that the effects of adoption practices in the Baby Scoop Era are widely discussed outside of adoption circles.   Philomena Lee (the original, not Judi Dench) is in the audience at the Oscars tonight — she even got a shout-out from host Ellen Degeneres!

If you haven’t heard about this film, here’s a snapshot:  Philomena Lee, was an unwed Irish mother who was not given a choice about keeping her son, Anthony.  Anthony was born in an Irish Catholic Abby in 1952.  He lived there with his mother until he was adopted by Americans when he was three.  There are many review of this movie — here’s one:  Philomena is the most powerful movie of the year.  And another, written by fellow adoptee, prolific blogger, and pastor Deanna Shrodes:  Deanna’s review of Philomena.

Even more frustrating than the fact that she felt she had no options to raise her son,  both birth mother and adoptee were searching for each other and the nuns who facilitated the adopted stood in the way of a reunion between them.  Sadly, Philomena found her son when she found his tombstone.

It is an understatement to say that Philomena Lee was treated badly by Irish society and the Catholic church.  However, as difficult as it had to be for her, she is telling her story in hopes that other birth mothers will find the courage to overcome the shame bestowed on them by society many years ago and search for their children.  Philomena Lee, along with her daughter, are promoting The Philomena Project to advocate for open records in Ireland.

Also encouraging, Philomena Lee and her daughter were recent guests on the Katie Couric show.  Katie also recognized that bad adoption practices weren’t limited to Ireland.  The show also included an interview with an “American Philomena” and the son she placed for adoption.  Leslie Pate Mackinnon’s story makes it clear that adoption agencies in the U.S. are also capable of trying to keep mother and child apart, even when they know both desire a reunion.  You can watch the interview here:  American Philomena.

I love that Couric included the interview with Leslie and her son.  The issues created by adoption practices and beliefs are very important issues.  However, those issues don’t often get mainstream publicity.   When adoption makes the news, it often doesn’t present a clear picture of the issues of adoption on adoptees and birth parents.  I have a growing library of books by and for adoptees, birth parents and adoptive parents.  I’m pretty sure most of my non-adopted friends have never heard of any of those books.  An “adoption” section in a typical library contains many books geared toward prospective adoptive parents, while ignoring the voices of adoptees and birth parents.

This movie hits close to home for me.  My mother was also an American Philomena. She found herself unmarried and pregnant in an era when middle-class young women were viewed as unfit to parent if they were unmarried.  She has kept her story inside for 52 years.  I know only the bits and pieces she was willing to tell me in one phone conversation. Her story remains untold.  As do the stories of countless more mothers were deemed unfit to parent only because they were unmarried women in an era with religious and societal stigmas attached to single parenthood.

The stories may not be in mainstream media.  However, one doesn’t have to go far to find stories of how unmarried pregnant women were treated in the “Baby Scoop Era (BSE)” in the United States.  A quick Google search will give you lots of examples.   Keep in mind for every BSE birth mother who tells her story, there are many thousands of women still living with the aftereffects of how they were treated.

My hope is that the film, Philomena, opens up conversations that start a tidal wave of change in the views surrounding adoption, search and reunion in mainstream America.   I hope that many American Philomenas will begin to understand they are not alone and that they can let go of the shame and let their stories be heard.  I also hope that American society will begin to understand that adoption laws and practices need to change.  The secrecy that has long surrounded adoption does not have a place in the society today.  The secrecy NEVER was a good idea.  But now we have plenty of evidence to back up the fact that secrecy does not have a place in adoption practices.

Giving a voice to the unmarried women who felt they had no option but to allow their babies to be adopted is a good place to start.  Changing access laws, changing current adoption practices, and changing society’s perceptions about adoption are all important.  I hope we in the adoption community can continue to build on the buzz around Philomena and create a wave of true change!

Adoption Reunion in the Social Media Age: An Interview with Trace A. DeMeyer

Posted by on Jan 29, 2014 in Adoption | 5 comments

ADOPTION REUNION cover copyA new book on adoption reunions is available now on Amazon. I am SO honored to be a contributor to Adoption Reunion in the Social Media Age, which opens up  important conversations on the topic of adoption search and reunion.  As part of the launch of this new book,  Trace A. DeMeyer (author of One Small Sacrifice and Two Worlds) and I are participating in an interview series with the contributors.   Laura asked us to discuss our experiences and share these questions on our blogs. The book was released on January 27, 2014 and is available as an EBook on Amazon (ISBN  978-0985616847).  A paperback version will be released soon.

After reading, check below to learn how you can win a copy of the book!

BECKY:  “Genetic Mirroring” is something most non-adoptees take for granted.  Knowing someone we look like and act like is often missing in the lives of adoptees.  You wrote about finally meeting someone you look like.  How important was it for you to meet someone you looked like and what advice would you have for adoptees who struggle with their lack of genetic mirroring?

TRACE:  Unless you’re adopted with a sibling, you aren’t genetically related or physically resemble anyone in your adoptive family. That is why “genetic mirroring” is a wonderful new discovery – experts finally get it that adoptees need it! I was adopted by strangers who had no clue as to who I was, or my own unique genetic identity… My adoptive parents could not tell me anything.  Because of this, I felt isolated, a stranger in the family.  Back in 1996, I travelled to Illinois to meet my natural father Earl. For over 30 years, I never looked like anyone – this bothered me to a much greater degree than anyone realized. Finding someone who looked like me was a very healing thing.  I saw a photo of my grandmother Lona and knew instantly that this was my family.

I would tell adoptees going into reunion that they will look at the faces and manners and eccentricities in biological relatives and find all kinds of good surprises.  It’s like solving your own mystery.

BECKY: Many adoption reunion stories published in the press focus on reunions with mothers. However, we all have fathers, too.   Both Trace and I found and reunited with our birth fathers after our birth mothers refused ongoing contact with us.  Trace, what are your thoughts on why your father was willing to meet you and your mother was not?  What would you say to a birth parent reluctant to meet their child?

TRACE: When I was in my 20s, I was fixated on finding my mother and had not even thought about finding my dad. I don’t know why that is. Then I found a news article about Florence Fisher* who reunited with her birthfather. It opened my eyes and gave me huge hope. *Florence founded the Adoptee’s Liberty Movement Association in New York.

When my birthmother Helen refused to meet me or talk with me, I was not prepared – how can anyone prepare for that? I didn’t get to know her so I can’t even guess why.  But I felt rejection and confusion, not love or acceptance. I never expected an apology. I read her letter over and over and felt shock first, then a crushing pain, then deep sadness.  Sorting it all out emotionally took a few years. I later met an uncle who told me it was better Helen and I never met.  If Helen’s own family felt this way about her, I felt sorry for her actually.

My reunion with my birthfather’s family happened 20 years ago. When I phoned, my dad asked me how soon I could get there. Why birthparents are reluctant or refuse to make contact is actually where they are emotionally, too.  If they never told anyone they had a baby and gave them up, they might still be afraid of what others think.  I would tell them what really matters is healing yourself – and this can happen once you reunite with the child you lost.

BECKY:  As adoptees, we long for information about our birth families yet adoption agencies, laws, and sometimes even our birth families, feel we have no right to know.   You met your grandmother (Helen’s mother), without her knowing who you were.   If you had it to do over, would you take that step again?  What advice do you have for other adoptees that have not had an opportunity to meet a birth family member, such as a grandparent or sibling, because of a birth parent’s desire to keep their existence a secret?

TRACE: I started my search when I was 22 (in late 1970s) and was very naïve, eager, optimistic.  I was not aware of what to do or what not to do. There weren’t any books on searching or reunions!  Like you Becky, I had no choice but to use my intuition (and phone books).

It’s true that adoptees become genealogists, detectives and search for clues using a single name (usually their mother’s name).  It’s tedious work that usually lasts years.  In my desperation, in 1993 I did drive to Wisconsin to meet Helen’s mother (my grandmother was also named Helen)… If I could do it over, I’d definitely ask questions about ancestry, family history and medical information, just like I did.  This time, on my way out the door, I’d tell my grandmother I am your grandkid and here’s my phone number and then leave.

I am so done with secrecy, to answer your question.  Adoptees are human beings yet denied the most basic information others take for granted.  I think that is probably one of the most outrageous ongoing injustices in the world.  Since I went through this myself, I tell adoptees to meet every relative you find, don’t delay, be brave, make calls or visits and do not stop. We don’t need permission to do this.  It’s our information!  I also think birthparents and adoptees need to “Man Up” and get therapy if they are not in reunion or too afraid to try.  And please read this new book!

BECKY:  Trace and her father confirmed their relationship with DNA testing.  At the time Trace reunited with her father, DNA testing was an expensive option.  My birth father and I also confirmed our relationship with a DNA test. In 2013, DNA testing had become readily available and prices low enough to make it a viable option for just about everyone.  In fact, some adoptees that don’t have access to their original birth certificates have been able to find birth family members by using very tedious search methodologies using DNA results.   Trace, how important of a role do you think DNA testing will play in adoptee search and reunion in the coming years?  What are your thoughts about the importance of DNA testing for adoptees?

TRACE: My mother Helen’s name was on my original birth certificate so this wasn’t a question that needed DNA.  But I do think DNA tests will be critical and crucial until we have better reunion services and registries and paperwork for the millions of adoptees out there now.  A father is not listed in adoption paperwork if you are illegitimate like I was.  Birthfathers will need to recognize this and consent to do DNA tests if an adoptee finds them.  If he refuses or is already dead, I tell adoptees to find a paternal relative, like an uncle or granddad, to do the DNA test with you.  We can’t wait until our birthparents are ready or emotionally well enough or open to it.  Waiting can be a huge mistake.

I want to thank Trace for sharing her thoughts and story with me.  Adoption Reunion in the Social Media Age is sure to create conversations in the adoption community.   Trace and I would enjoy hearing your comments to our stories.  And check this out:  one commenter to this post will win a free copy of Adoption Reunion in the Social Media Age (your choice of an ebook or a PDF), so let us hear your comments today!  I will announce the winner here on Sunday, February 2, 2014.

Trace has also interviewed me about my experience.  You will find her interview with me on her blog  at www.splitfeathers.blogspot.com and on her website www.tracedemeyer.com.  Please visit her sites to read my interview and for information about her memoir One Small Sacrifice and her anthology Two Worlds: Lost Children of the Indian Adoption Projects.

Check out additional contributor interviews here:  http://www.laura-dennis.com/anthology/blogtour/

 

 

Those Who Came Before

Posted by on Jun 9, 2013 in Adoption | 3 comments

images (1)One of my favorite church celebrations is All Saints Sunday – a service to honor and remember all those who have gone before us.  As we sing “For All the Saints” I always get the image in my mind of a large gathering of family and friends – those I knew on earth and those who lived before me.  Honoring those who have gone before has always felt important to me.

Some of those who have gone before me, I knew and loved on earth:  my adoptive grandparents, aunts, uncles and my adoptive Dad.  Others have been unknown to me.  Especially my biological family.  As I’ve learned more and more about my biological family, I’ve been able to put names and some faces with those biological family members who came before me.

In my quest to learn more, in the past few months I’ve been lost in Germany.  Not physically — I’ve been here in Ohio the whole time. I’ve been fascinated with 1800’s Northwest Germany — an area known as Ostfriesland – as I’ve gone deeper into researching my biological family tree.

The day I saw a photo of my 2nd Great Grandparents’ grave markers on Find-A-Grave was the beginning of this latest journey.  Their parents, my 3rd Great Grandparents, all immigrated to Missouri from Germany in the 1850’s.  My 2nd Great Grandparents were born in the U.S.  Yet their tombstones are carved in German.   After hours of additional digging in online databases and libraries, I’ve discovered that none of my biological family set foot in the U.S. before 1850.

My biological family came to the U.S. recently enough that the influence of their German heritage was much more prevalent than that of my adoptive family.  Those German inscriptions for my 2nd Great Grandparents sparked an interest in learning about the lives the German ancestors who came before me.

I have now been able to trace back both my maternal and paternal biological families into the 1700’s I have one Grandmother whose parents are English.  The other three grandparents all have deep German roots.  So, Germany seemed a logical place to begin a deep dive into my ancestors’ lives.

From historical records, I can trace back the ships they sailed on to get from Bremen to New Orleans or New York.  I can discover whom they traveled with. From census records I have learned where they live, and from death certificates, obituaries, and tombstone engravings, I can learn how long they lived and where their final resting place turned out to be.

I’ve learned a few more personal details from a family history shared with me by a biological uncle.  And sometimes even public sources, like a Centennial history book for a town where my family settled, shed light on my family: one set of 2nd great grandparents spent their honeymoon on a ship to the United States.  They first settled in near Chicago.  Then, “when they moved to the Flatville area in 1874, the family came down from Freeport on the train while he drove down with a wagon and team, but they were misdirected somewhere and he arrived in Rantoul before they did”.  Then, talking about their start in farming:  “with two horses, a borrowed mule, and a one-bottom walking blow he broke the marshy prairie.  When furrows were made the snakes and water would follow them”.   These glimpses of my great-great grandparents’ lives fascinate me.

My birth father’s ancestors came from the Northwest coast of Germany; an area with a heavy Dutch influence.  This people from this area are culturally different from much of the rest of Germany, mostly living in peasant villages.  Primarily farmers in a marshy, low-lying, flood-prone area.   They spoke the Low German language (or Plattsdeutch), rather than the “standard” German language that only became the standard after Martin Luther chose to use Middle German in his translation of the Bible.

They farmed when they settled in the United States, too.  Settling in areas with many other German immigrants from the same area, their social life seems to have been built around the Lutheran churches they organized soon after they settled down.

Though I’ve only started to learn about this rich heritage, I have realized that the German culture persisted well into the 1900’s for those who came before me.  In fact, from a DNA “cousin”, I have learned that my father speaks Low German fluently today.

Though I’ve always been interested in history, I asked myself what this particular research project (my husband calls it an obsession) is bringing to my life.  Fellow adoptee Jean Strauss, in her book  “Beneath a Tall Tree” explains this very eloquently.  What she wrote about the conclusions she came to after spending years searching her family tree were an aha moment for me. She put words to my jumbled thoughts about the importance of history and of remembering those who came before us.

“”As I paint the names of these ancestors on my family tree, I reflect on how their actions, large and small, affected the course of families, of history.  Their stories have taught me that what we do in life impacts our descendants.  Our names may not be remembered for long, but our deeds set in motion all that follows. “  Jean Strauss

Learning as much as I can about who my ancestors were and how they lived is my way of honoring the legacy of those who came before me.  Think about this:  the decision each and every one of my ancestors made about whom to marry, where to settle, and how to make a living has impacted the course of history, to some extent.  The choices they made, from my parents on back into history, have certainly impacted who I am and the fact that I even exist.

A hundred years from now, the German names of my Great-Great Grandparents may not be legible on a tombstone from 1916.  But their lives and the lives of all who came before and after will continue to touch lives.  Likewise, a hundred years from now, the choices I made and continue to make will have in impact on my descendants.

I have also been struck by the realization that my biological family doesn’t have dibs on impacting my life.   Since I’ve been three months old, the family that has loved and nurtured me is part of who I am and the legacy I will leave behind.

The more I learn, the easier it is to put faces and stories to those members of my biological family who came before me.  Their faces now join the faces of adoptive family members who are no longer here as I honor their legacy by learning about their lives.

What do snow and adoption have in common?

Posted by on Mar 24, 2013 in Adoption, Lifestyle | 8 comments

Spring Snow

Image Credit: Warren Brown Photography via Flickr

Snow

It is Spring in Ohio.  Temperatures on the official first day of Spring were around freezing.  Weather forecasters reminded us that one year ago, the temperature on the first day of Spring was in the 70’s.

Yesterday, I enjoyed walking in the sunshine with only a light jacket.  Spring was in the air.  Today?  Today it snows.  We’re told to expect up to ten inches of the fluffy white stuff before this storm passes through.

I’ve seen a lot of moaning and complaining about this late winter storm on Facebook.  I haven’t joined in.  Why?  It’s NOT because I love Winter. I am more than ready to walk barefoot in the grass and to soak up the warmth of the sun.  I’m ready to see the Spring flowers bloom.  And I’m definitely ready to put away winter coats and wool sweaters and bring out short sleeves and sandals.

I haven’t joined in the complaining because I gave up complaining for Lent.  And it’s still Lent.  More importantly, though, I’m not complaining because it is totally.  Out. Of. My. Control.

I am learning that accepting that many circumstances are out of my control improves my relationships and my life.  

Acceptance

I’m taking a guess that my day today will be much more pleasant because I’m choosing to not be unhappy about this early Spring snowstorm.  I can also think of other times my life has been happier because I accepted what I can not change:

My husband did not like traveling to Europe.  (He DID give it a try.)  I do.  I could pout and beg.  Then we could both not enjoy the trip.  Instead, I chose to take a trip with friends and I had a wonderful time.  We were both happy when I did not try to change the fact that he wasn’t interested in traveling to Europe again.

I don’t love every choice my adult children have made.  When I choose to remember that they are adults and capable of making their own choices, I am much happier.  And when I choose to remember that  I am an adult and I am capable of choosing my own reaction to their choices, I am much happier.

Adoption

Accepting circumstances outside of my control also affects my experience as an adoptee.  All of the circumstances of my adoption were completely outside of my control.  I had no say in any part of the adoption process.  Even as an adult who has searched for and found birth parents, there are many circumstances that remain outside of my control.

Today, most importantly for me, that means acknowledging that I can’t change that I was born in an era when unwed mothers were shamed.  And I can’t change that my birth mother has kept my existence a secret and doesn’t want a relationship with me.

That means accepting that, though I have the right to know about my birth family, I do not have the right to a relationship with her.  Relationships are two-way streets and today, the road is definitely a one way dead end.

Is it what I prefer?  No.  But just like I can’t control the weather, I can’t control my birth mother’s choices.  When I accepted this truth, my inner turmoil began to dissolve.

It’s also funny how, once I accepted the truth that my birth mother’s choices are about her and not me,  I began to see the choices I DO have open to me.  By losing what I can’t control, I had room in my head for what IS possible.

  • She wouldn’t tell my my father’s name.  I figured it out without her help.
  • I reached out to other birth family members (who knew I existed) and I have discovered open hearts and open doors.
  • I began to look outside of my own circumstances and began truly learning about how adoption affects others.
  • I have been able to channel my energy to an area of adoption where I can play a role in change:  adoptee rights reform.  I have access to my original birth certificate. Many adoptees do not.   I can bring my voice and my energy to this cause.  When I was focused on events I could not control, I was not able to look beyond myself.   Now, I’m using my voice to help those who don’t have the same rights I have and I am finding great joy in contributing to this cause.  As a plus, the wonderful people I have connected with since I’ve started looking beyond myself have been a wonderful gift.

Snow and Adoption

Just in case it’s not totally clear, I completely believe snow and adoption have something in common:  lack of control.  I hope I’ve shown you here that accepting circumstances outside our control and bring happiness and new opportunities.

I would love to hear from you if you have examples from your life about how accepting what you didn’t have control over improved your life.

 

(I owe much of my growth in accepting what IS to Brooke Castillo and her no-bullshit style and to Susan Hyatt and her Life is Delicious philosophy, also completely no-bullshit.)

Book Review: And Then I Found You

Posted by on Mar 12, 2013 in Adoption, Book Reviews | 0 comments

And Then I Found You: A Novel

Over the past several months, I’ve been lost in a world of time travel, 18th century Scotland and America, romance, drama, action and sex.  All thanks to Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series.   I recently discovered this series of seven very long books and I’ve been obsessed.  While I’m waiting on book eight to be released later this year, my reading list is looking a little more varied.  

The Outlander series has an adoption story line, 18th century style.  Though adoptees are a minority, adoption is a theme that seems to come up a lot in fiction.  Or maybe I’m just drawn to adoption-related books…   

And Then I Found You is a novel centered on adoption.   I recently received an advance reading copy of this book from Goodreads.  (The book is scheduled to be released in early April.)  Below is my Goodreads review of this book.  

And Then I Found You: A Novel by Patti Callahan Henry

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book started out slow. In fact, I considered putting it aside. I’m glad I didn’t. Once the story started moving along, it was a page turner. By the time I got to the final pages, I was sorry to see the story end.

And Then I Found You is emotional, believable and thought-provoking. It is a story that explores the heart of a woman who loved and lost not only her first love, but her first child. It explores big questions without easy answers. It acknowledges that what has been done cannot be undone. And that the past will find you. It goes well beyond a traditional love story with a predictable ending.

What I appreciated most about this book was how well Patti Callahan Henry dealt with the complexities of adoption and the lifelong emotional impact on all of the parties involved. She explores the emotions of not only the birth mother, but also birth father, the extended birth family, the adoptive parents, and the child placed for adoption. In the introduction, the author explains that she speaks from experience: her sister placed a child for adoption. This novel is inspired by her family’s experience.

Though heartwarming, the novel highlights the stark reality of the many lives that have been forever changed by an adoption decision. As an adoptee, I appreciate that she does not sugarcoat the emotions. Rather, she explores them in a way that acknowledges that even a happy adoption reunion carries emotional baggage for all involved.

I received an advance reading copy of this book through Goodread’s First Reads program. Had I not received this advance copy, it is definitely a book I would purchase. I’m glad to have discovered this author through this program and I’m looking forward to reading more of her books.

View all my reviews

Why is an original birth certificate such a big deal?

Posted by on Feb 24, 2013 in Adoption | 1 comment

Original Birth Certificate

My Original Birth Certificate

Do you have a copy of your birth certificate?

If you are not adopted, you probably take for granted your ability to walk in to the Vital Statistics office and request a copy of the document that proves you were born.   Adoptees have two birth certificates, the original document and an amended document issued when an adoption is finalized.  In many states, adopted adults do not have the right to a copy of the original birth certificate.

Ohio congress is currently considering bills that would give all Ohio adopted adults the right to access their original birth certificates (I’m just going to call it an OBC).  Writing letters in support of this legislation has pushed me to be very clear about why I feel so strongly about an adopted person’s right to access this document.   I wrote more about adoption in this post.

Why is an original birth certificate important to an adoptee?

The answer to this question is simple and uncomplicated: because it is my right as an adult citizen to have unconditional access to a document that proves my birth.  At the core, an adoptee’s access to their original birth certificate is a civil rights issue.  Adopted adults are discriminated against when this original document is sealed.

Adoptees had an identity and a history before adoption.  If an adoptee’s OBC is sealed, they are denied a record containing an important piece of personal history that is available to every non-adopted person in the United States.

What is open records NOT about?

Access to the OBC is often assumed to be for one of two reasons:  to search for birth family and to obtain a family health history.  This is simply not accurate.   Successful searches can and do happen without access to the original birth certificate.  In my case, open records made my search easier, but I  had enough information to search without my OBC.  I also discovered the identity of my birth father, who was not even named on my OBC.

I chose to search for birth family.  Other adoptees choose not to initiate search.  But even those who do not actively search want to obtain copies of their OBC.  Adoptees who choose not to search have questions about who they were before they were adopted; the OBC answers some of those questions.

OBC access is also not about replacing an adoptive family with birth family.  Most adoptees who choose to search have strong bonds and loving relationships with their adoptive families.  I did choose to search, but never with the intent to replace the family I grew up with.

Access to my OBC isn’t about learning my health history either.  I’ve yet to see a birth certificate that lists a family health history.  Is a health history important?  Absolutely.  But a method to obtain health history can be provided without access to the OBC.

A piece of the identity puzzle

Adoptee access to original records is about having a complete picture of one’s identity.   I believe we are all a product of both nature and nurture.  I like to describe it as pieces to a puzzle.  Every single human being has an identity that is made up of many pieces.  For adoptees, it means that the puzzle has a few more pieces.  When adoption records are sealed, that means that some of the pieces of an adoptee’s puzzle are missing.  With the OBC, pieces of the puzzle related to nature can begin to be put into place.  The legal and emotional bonds to our adoptive families are important, but understanding the biological identity we were born with is just as important for an adoptee to complete the identity puzzle.

Simple, yet complex

Adoption is a complex and emotional issue.  All members of the adoption triad (birth parents, adoptive parents and adoptees) will tell you that dealing with adoption is a lifetime process.  Access to an original birth certificate should be a simple issue for an adoptee, it should not add to the complexities of adoption.

Links:

This post only begins to touch the surface of the complexities of adoption.  Many other adoptees write regularly about a variety of adoption issues.   For more adoptee points of view, visit:

The Declassified Adoptee

Family Ties

No Apologies For Being Me

Lost Daughters