Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The Vanishing Leaf: Adoptees & the Family Tree


Ancestry.com advertises how exciting it is to see the little leaf pop up next to an ancestor's name on the trees you can make on their website.  The leaf leads you to all sorts of possible clues, documents, and other member's trees about your ancestor.  Oh, and they're right, it is exciting.  The little leaf things popped up all over the place when I made a family tree for my [Adoptive] Father and I traced him all the way back to the mid 1600's.  But what if a leaf never popped up for you; or worse yet, what if your name just disappeared? 

Thanks to my dear friend Priscilla Sharp helping me trace my genealogy (I am reunited, but my original family didn't know all of the things she found about our family), I know I am eligible for membership in two different historical associations.  I have begun the daunting task of collecting documents spanning over 15 generations to prove my ancestry.  I was not thinking about my family or myself when I started this today though.  I was thinking about all of the adoptees who may never have the opportunity to know who they are or where they come from.

I have one original great-grandmother and one adoptive grandmother who are both adoptees.  My original great-grandmother always had her OBC.  My Aunt sent it to me and I am working on tracing her heritage.  My adoptive grandmother never had a birth certificate; born in Connecticut in 1932 and adopted in New York she only has some agency paper. She knows her birth name but doesn't talk about it.  Her leaves on my ancestry.com tree list her marriages but there's no way to trace her original heritage.  Somewhere, out there, her original family is making a tree, likely without her on it.

So I asked Priscilla if adoptees would be kept on family trees decades later when genealogists go back to document a family's ancestors.  She said it would be likely that adopted descendants would be kept on the tree "but would be clearly delineated as 'adopted' on the tree."  Thinking on these historical societies I am looking at who accept individuals biologically related (related through adoption disqualifies you) to recognized historical figures, I asked her if someone was tracing the descendants down from one of my adoptive grandfathers, would my line be followed?  She wasn't sure.

I know that if I had not received my OBC and reunited to pass on my original identity to my descendants, my descendants would trace our history and hit a wall when they get to me.  1/2 of my adoptive father's heritage is unknown and 1/4 of mine (until I get a chance to use my grandmother's OBC to trace her roots) is unknown as well.

 In the state I live in, the birth certificates of adopted persons never become available.  Some genealogists will argue for their availability to ancestors after 100 years for genealogy--but isn't that a right for someone to enjoy while they're still here to enjoy it?  It's not hard to think of the needs of people down the line to want to know their ancestry but can no one fathom why a person whose heritage was taken wouldn't want it themselves?

As my adoptive grandmother told me on the phone today when I offered to help her trace her heritage "you go do yours and enjoy it.  It's too late for me now."

"Even now the sands and ashes of continents are being sifted to find where we made our first step as man. Religions of mankind often include ancestor worship in one way or another. For many the future is blind without a sight of the past. Those emotions and anxieties that generate our thirst to know the past are not superficial or whimsical. They are real and they are good cause under the law of man and God." --Judge Wade S. Weatherford, Jr., Seventh Judicial Circuit Court, South Carolina, ruling on an adoptee's petition to gain access to adoption records.

Photo creditEvgeni Dinev

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Adoption as a Pattern in Family Systems

"Think of what you can do for this baby [by giving her up for adoption]," Dr. Cuddy says to the expectant mother in her care.  Dr. Cuddy, a character in the hit TV show House, some episodes back; she wanted to adopt an infant.  She had been matched with this young woman who ended up having serious complications and was admitted to the hospital of which Dr. Cuddy is the director. 

After a dramatic and complicated medical ordeal (of course, it's House after all), the young woman decides to keep her baby.  Heartbroken, Dr. Cuddy reminds the woman why she wanted to choose adoption in the first place, to break the cycle of how her grandmother was a horrible mom to her mother and how her mom was a horrible mom to her, and give her own daughter to Dr. Cuddy to adopt. 

I remember watching this when it first aired, before my reunion, and before I began to identify with the silent adoptee I had hidden inside of me.  I was on Dr. Cuddy's side; she was wealthy and could provide the baby with a good life.  The expectant mother was young, naive, poor, from a disengaged home, and I believe had a previous drug history.  Without realizing it, I likely had a negative affect towards her for those reasons alone; poor, young women carry many negative social stigmas.

I watched it again today as a re-run and saw it in a whole new light.  Young?  She'll grow older.  Naive?  Educate her.  Poor?  Help her find resources.  From a disengaged home?  Counsel her to find ways to not repeat the mistakes her family made.  A former addict?  Encourage her to stay clean; set her up with NA meetings.  I did not see anything that was stacked against her as an unsolvable problem like I did before.  I thought how I would feel if I were that young woman trying to make a decision.  I thought of the infant who shouldn't be separated from the only mother it has ever known if it is not absolutely necessary.

But it was probably the comment about "breaking the cycle" that got to me most.  One of my very first professors once said that some one's life path is chosen by two things (1) doing exactly what their parents did or (2) having awareness that their parents were wrong and choosing to use that awareness to make a positive change.  A more recent, and super-favorite, professor of mine noted that repeating negative patterns in a family can be bad thing...but so can being aware of them and doing the exact opposite.  Opposite isn't always better.  Opposite is...well, opposite.

My favorite passage of the Bible is Ecclesiastes chapter 7.  No one really knows the human author who wrote Ecclesiastes.  It is hypothesised that it was King Solomon, judging by the often weary tone of the book--something Solomon might have donned after gaining wisdom from God the easy way and then choosing to re-learn wisdom the hard way by making poor choices and bad mistakes.  I could not help but think of this passage when I was watching House today.  Chapter 7 is about wisdom and the meaning of life.  My favorite part is verses 15-17 when he talks about balancing good and bad.

"It's best to stay in touch with both sides of an issue. A person who fears God deals responsibly with all of reality, not just a piece of it" (verse 17, paraphrase by The Message).

It's not wise to go from one extreme to the other.  This young girl did not receive proper love and nurture from her own mother.  Suggesting that she go go the opposite extreme (making sure she wouldn't ruin her own daughter's life by choosing to sign away her rights) was not wise of those she was seeking support from to do, in my opinion.  Adoption is a permanent "solution" for all of her temporary problems.

Going to the opposite extreme might stop the current negative chain but it stands to make a negative chain of its own.  As I have said before, making a genogram of my adoptive dad's super-adoptee-filled family and comparing it to the genogram of my adoptive mom's non-adoptee filled family was so eye opening.  My mom's side was a neat...tree-looking thing. 

My dad's genogram looked like a very complicated schematic of some type.  My grandmother and I are the two who are traditionally and legally adopted.  There are several other family members who live adoptee-like circumstances and lack of family permanence is a real issue for just about any branch you take off of this genogram.  Are there other factors?  Yes--there always are.  But I was able to make quite a case for adoption's impact in the project that I did.  It is not my purpose to blame adoption for every bad thing in life.  But it is not a perfect solution to everything that's wrong with no issues of its own either.

I realize this is TV.  But I am adopted and I live in the rest of the very real world like everyone else.  A world that watches TV, listens to radio, sees movies, and gazes upon advertisements.  I see the rest of the world that doesn't understand what it's like to live adoption portray it in all of these media sources, and when I see it, I have to internalize it and decide if its true for me or not.  And it usually isn't.  Rarely is there ever something out there that I can positively and realistically identify with as an adopted person.  Either it's a dramatic story that exploits our sensitive stories or it's a rainbow and glitter view of adoption that ignores the realities adoption entails....but there's hardly ever a balance there either.  But then again, I don't look to the media for wisdom either.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Can Legislators Help Adoptees Access Their Records?

Does your legislator's newsletter or website say they can help you access records like birth certificates?  Take him/her up on his/her offer!

When I got my House of Representative's newsletter in the mail, something at the bottom caught my eye. His office can help me apply for birth and death certificates!  I was born in a state different than the one I live/vote in, and I already have my OBC so my Representative cannot help me....but are they willing to help their other adopted voters?

Is help with applications for various things (e.g. birth records, death records etc.) something your legislator has claimed on their website, newsletter or other public statement that their office can help you with?  Call your Representative's and Senator's offices tell them that you need to make an appointment for someone to help you apply for your birth certificate.

If they don't know the difference between an original and an amended, tell them. If they don't know the process, tell them everything you have to go through. If you were denied, tell them about that too.
If you have to petition the court, ask them to help you with the process.  If you get denied, tell them.  If it takes forever, tell them.  If you have to go before a judge or to a counselor, ask your legislator if they'd be willing to do that.  If you are subject to a Disclosure Veto or have to sign a Contact Veto ask your legislator how they'd feel if they had to do that.  Get a big bill from it all?  Show them the receipts.  Show them the bill.  Would they like to pay it?

Why the Original is Important
  • Identity is identity whether you are adopted or not.
  • You were not materialized out of thin air in a judge's chambers. Your life began at birth and you deserve to know about yourself from birth forward
  • Original Birth Certificates are made available to the non-adopted; the adopted should be no exception.
  • You may need the original to get a passport. If you move into another state, you may need it to get a driver's license depending on their laws.
  • You deserve to see the original, factual document off of which your amended certificate is based to make sure the amended is accurate.
Is your legislator adopted? How would they feel if their positions were questioned because they could not produce an Original Birth Certificate to prove their citizenship or that they were born in the United States? How would they feel if they were not permitted to run for office if they cannot show an Original Birth Certificate? Such legislation aimed at public officials in the United States has been discussed!

How would they feel if they, their son, daughter, mother, father, sister, brother, friend, neighbor or anyone else they cared about was discriminated against like this?

And if you don't get your birth certificate out of it, your Rep will have to do the right thing and draft legislation to support your right to unhindered access to your birth certificate.

Live and Vote Outside of Your Birth State?
Go to your Rep/Senator (if in their newsletters, website, or other public statements they've offered to help you with applications) and show them just how bound to your birth state you are for your identity. How strong is their claim that they're willing to help you?  You do not vote in the state that holds your OBC hostage, tell them how that feels.  Ask them to look in to how their state treats adult adoptees.

If they are offering to help in their newsletter or website, they really should mean it--and they should mean it for all of their voters, not just the non-adopted ones.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Pennsylvania Adoptee Rights Needs Your Help Urgently!

From the folks at Pennsylvania Adoptee Rights:

Dear Advocates,

As you may have known, there were two bills in the Health and Human Services Committee that seek to change the portion of adoption law that governs an Adult Adoptee's access to identifying information.
HB 1968 is the BAD bill. HB 1978 is the GOOD, equal rights, bill.

Unfortunately, despite all of our outpouring of support for HB 1978, it is still sitting in the HHS Committee. HB 1968, on the other hand, has made its way out of committee and is now before the PA House of Representatives for consideration.

It is of utmost importance that HB 1968 be defeated. HB 1968 not only does not change the current law much at all; it actually makes it worse. Worse even yet, should HB 1968 pass, we worry that legislators (1) will believe that the law is improved when it isn't and (2) won't want to re-address this issue and portion of law, and will leave HB 1978 to die in committee.

We cannot let the law get worse with HB 1968. We cannot let HB 1978 die.

We have created a call-to-action made available HERE.
In the call-to-action you will find:

(1) the text to the bill
(2) bill sponsors to contact
(3) a guide letter to assist those who are new to contacting legislators in drafting letters and emails.
(4) ways to help PAR and defeat HB 1968
(5) our Position Statement of Opposition to HB 1968 to give you an overview on the bill and why we oppose it.

For more information, please see http://www.adopteerightspa.org/
 
***it does not matter if you are impacted by adoption or not.  If doesn't matter if you don't live in PA or even the US.  Contacting PA legislators in opposition of this bill can still help!  "Injustice ANYWHERE is a threat to justice EVERYWHERE" (MLK Jr.)****

Their rights are in your hands.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

An Honest Look at Open Adoption in the Documentary "My Flesh and Blood"

"Why do they deserve to be in his life?"  A fellow learner pondered aloud.  I was in a discussion group one day where we were evaluating the documentary "My Flesh and Blood."  The documentary chronicles a brief period in the life of adoptive mother, Susan Tom. 

Susan Tom is the single mother of two biological children, two daughters adopted from Korea who do not have any severe disabilities, and 9 adopted children with a wide range of disabilities and serious medical conditions.  At least two of the children are from Russia and at least two others are involved in domestic open adoptions.  While there are many points within the documentary that could be discussed, it is the open adoptions that I want to draw attention to.  I wanted to share with you a very raw and honest look at open adoption coming from the eyes of average people who are not directly impacted by adoption.

There are two boys, Joe and Anthony, who are involved in open adoptions.  They were briefly chronicled in the documentary.

Joe
Joe, who passed away toward the end of the documentary, had Cystic Fibrosis as well as an emotional disorder.  In addition to having 12 adoptive brothers and sisters, Joe has 8 biological brothers and sisters.  Joe was placed with Susan at a young age while his original mother recovered from drug addiction.  As the years passed, they maintained an open relationship and Joe's original mother remarried.  She decided to move away because of the benefits to her new family.  Joe had a need to be loved by her, which is why Susan kept her promise to keep the relationship over.  The clip of Joe's original mother telling him that she is leaving is found here; it is difficult to watch.

Anthony
Anthony, who passed away a year or two ago during the Extreme Makeover of the Tom's home, had a condition called Epidermolysis Bullosa.  This is where a person's skin literally starts to fall off, leaving painful open sores all over their body.  Anthony's original family was featured at the end of the documentary at his 20th birthday party here, starting at 3:25.

During the discussion of the documentary and of the family, several people wanted to know why the original parents of the two boys were permitted to have open adoptions.  "I don't get it," one woman said.  "They don't do his daily medical care or take care of him, but they get to come to a party and have fun?  How is that fair?"  These individuals, who are not themselves affiliated with adoption, are asking honest questions.  They are not trying to be mean just trying to understand.

It is important to note that no information on how Anthony became adopted by Susan or why his original family couldn't care for him is mentioned in the documentary.  You see a glimpse of his original mother and she appears to be very young, and remember, Anthony is 20 years old himself.  Society seems to tend to associate "Birth Mother" with someone who is poor and unprepared.

Being poor comes with its own stigmas.  Research has shown that perceived class differences can impact how we feel about others and how we respond to them.  For example, women of humble or provocative appearance are less likely to receive help from passersby when in obvious danger than women who are dressed modestly or what one might call with more "class."  Being an original mother in itself may have caused an unintended, but automatic, negative judgement of her.  "Why does she get to be in his life when she doesn't do anything?"

This was a teachable moment.

I was happy that my professor chimed in that openness is often in the best interest of children.  And I agreed.  Too often we as adults and parents focus on the other adults and parents in a situation and think of what's "fair."  But the focus should always be on the children.  Adoption should not be about excluding and punishing an original parent for what they could not or were not given the opportunity to provide but about allowing an original parent to love their child, because the opportunity to receive love from one's original family.  Openness is not about what is "fair" to parents but about what is best for a child.

These are individuals who are learning, not trying to be mean.  But they also represent what other individuals might be thinking who may not ever have the opportunity for someone to offer them a different viewpoint.  These individuals, like you and me, are voters, and can influence legislation, just like you and me, including legislation involving adoption issues.  We fear rejection but it can bring good to speak.  It can make a difference in the lives of others, in the community, in the state, in the country, and in the world.

Watch the Documentary
You can watch the documentary for free on YouTube.  I have provided the first 7 minutes of the documentary in the player below.  There are 10 clips total that you should be able to be taken to on YouTube by clicking on the player. 





Photo credit:  Francesco Marino

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Someone Finally Handed an Adoptee the Microphone: NPR Gives Adoptees a Place at the Table

I have to give credit where credit is due.  A while back I was expressing how miffed I was that adult adoptees are rarely asked to present their own perspectives and feelings on Adoptee Rights.  NPR apparently saw the importance.

I can personally confirm for you that the producers of NPR diligently and specifically sought out an Adult Adoptee to appear on their recent short segment about Adoptee Rights.  Kudos to NPR.  The adult adoptee they to speak was none other than one of the ARC's founding members Diane Crossfield.  Kudos to NPR for that too.

NPR set up Diane to debate Tom Snyder, a representative of the NJ Bar Association who opposes an adopted person's right to access their own birth documentation.  Diane did an excellent job.  I won't lie; Snyder made my skin crawl because so much of what he said was not, in the very least bit, true.

You can listen to the archived show for yourself here.  But I can't close this blog entry without commenting on a few things Snyder said.

Snyder said that this argument of Adoptee Rights is new to adoption practice and hasn't been contemplated much.  What he was basically implying is that since they never anticipated the rights and adulthood of the adoptee in the agreements made in adoption practice, it's too late to do right by these adoptees now.

I don't think it is ever too late to treat a citizen of this country equally.  Not only has New Jersey been seeking to reform their access laws for the past 25 years, the Adoptee Rights Movement has been sweeping the nation (and the world) since at least 1950.  The Child Welfare League of America, which has 800 member agencies, has supported our cause for decades.  Not for the past 60+ years has there ever been an excuse for a lawyer or agency not to anticipate the rights and adulthood of any child whose adoption they facilitate.

Snyder also stated that original mothers assumed there would be confidentiality because of the practice of amending and sealing.  We all know this simply isn't true.  It was disproved recently at a hearing, which Snyder's organization attended.

Snyder, along with the NJ-UCLA and other organizations, aligns himself with the NCFA.  A 1983 theoretical study that was presented at an NCFA convention expressly stated that confidential adoptions are beneficial to the adoptee and adoptive parents.  Confidential adoptions were thought to be superior to adoptions where parties would have access to one another because it was believed that an original mother who could access her child would interfere with her child's stages of development and the adoptive parent's ability to form a bond with the child.  No where is confidentiality ever mentioned as protecting a surrendering mother from her surrendered son or daughter.

To listen to the great points Diane made and to hear the entire broadcast, please visit the hyperlink I made above.  Please comment and let NPR know this is an important issue to you and make sure to thank them for asking an adult adoptee to speak on the show.