Tuesday, March 26, 2013

"My Name is not Mom": Why Identity is so Important to me

"Hi, are you mom?"

"My name is Amanda.  I am W's mom."

"OK mom.  I'm your son's nurse.  I'll be taking care of him today."

My son recently returned home after both of us had a week-long stay at the hospital.  He was the patient recovering from the effects of a virus on his little body.  I was the worried parent by his side.  During our ordeal, the above scenario played out over and over again, with a few exceptions, each time I would meet a new professional that needed to interact with my son.

All of the professionals were both kind and knowledgeable.  The people who stood out to me the most were the ones who called me by my name, not "mom."  Calling me "mom" may have been their way of affirming an important role I have in my son's life.  However, calling my by my actual name instead is a matter of showing respect.  I am not their mom, I am my son's mom.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Why New York City's Anti-Teen Pregnancy Campaign is a Terrible Idea

If you're visiting a New York City subway anytime soon, you might take notice of new posters featuring small, tearful children.  "Dad, you'll be paying to support me for the next 20 years" one poster reads.  New York City has embarked on a campaign aimed at reducing teen pregnancy rates.  The city hopes that by informing teens of the statistics citing poor outcomes for teen parents and their children, fewer teens will get pregnant.  

Proponents of the campaign maintain that shame is an effective tool to keep teenagers from becoming pregnant.  Opponents point out that the campaign perpetuates gender stereotypes and misleads the public into believing that teen pregnancy is the cause of poverty.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

My 40,000 Ancestors: the Defense of Adoptee Genealogical Research

The use of the Internet to disseminate news has brought with it a new and revolutionary platform for opinions about current and historical events to be shared.  The relative anonymity that the internet provides allows readers to comment on these events in ways they might never speak in everyday life.  These comments express both what people really feel as well as harshness that few would ever unfurl before another person were they standing face-to-face.  In adoption news articles, this new reality is no exception.  Harsh feelings, double standards, and hurtful themes unfold before the eyes of the adoption community.  At times, this conjures a sense of hopelessness.  Will the general public ever truly come to understand the people of adoption?

In adoption articles, we see the public's reaction to adoption issues, and we see how the reporting itself influences and conjures biases from readers.  Articles about happy reunions, for example, carry happy, congratulatory comments.  Articles about individuals who are searching, who were rejected, or who did not want to be found elicit a much different response.  People become angry.  They want the adoptee to know how they've betrayed their adoptive family.  They call the adoptee names and remind the adoptee they "should have been aborted."  They advise the adoptee to "leave well enough alone" and stop their search.

With a heavy heart, I plead with each and every person in the public who is not adopted, examine your biases before you condemn an adopted person on an issue so close to their soul.

Searches for biological ancestors, pouring through records, and seeking oral history to guide you along the way are completely reasonable parts of being human.  If this were not so, websites like Ancestry.com would not gross well over $100 million in revenue per year.  Ancestry.com has over 1.5 million users and is rapidly growing.  Yet our biases draw a line in the sand between those who are adopted and those who are not.  Those of the 1.5+ million Ancestry users that are not adopted might be delightfully referred to as "hobbyists."  Adoptees are accused of not "letting sleeping dogs lie."

A year or so ago, I received a message on my Ancestry.com account from a complete stranger.

"Are you related to so-and-so?  They wanted to know.  "I've searched up until a certain point and cannot find the last name Thomas* that goes back farther than the past handful of generations.  Have any idea why?"

My reply came.

"Yes, my adoptive mother appears to be your distant cousin.  The reason the name Thomas* only goes back so far into history is because it was not the family's original name.  My mother's great-grandfather was a First Nations tribe member.  He was taken to the Carlisle Industrial School, as was his father before him, was stripped of his surname name, and pulled the name *Thomas from the lottery to replace it."

I sighed before typing out the last few dreaded sentences.

"He was told never to speak of his culture or original surname again.  And so he never did.  No one in the family knows the family name or any information beyond my great-grandfather."

I sent him my mother's great-grandfather's name.  It belonged to him too.

I was so saddened to be the bearer of the solemn news in my adoptive family's history.  I am not biologically related to them yet I still feel their historically inherited pain.  Even still, I was so honored to be the one to tell this man of his amazing heritage that he had never known of before.

I was the first person to ever tell this man--a complete stranger to me--that he descended from a great First Nations tribe.

The thought to criticize this man for his curiosity never entered my mind.  It never once occurred to me to chide him for reaching out to someone for information, whom he perceived to be an oral historian of his family.  "Go on with your life and appreciate the family you have now" never once flew my finger tips onto the keyboard.

"My genealogy is not important to me" say some in comparison of themselves to what they expect from adopted persons.  Some who say such things grew up surrounded by their genetic information, just by observation, and integrated it into their identity formation during those very crucial periods when they were young.  Everyone forms identity based on what information about their family/families that they have; some simply have less information than others to do so with.  Let's not lose compassion for what that might be like for a person.  Let's not fail to examine our own biases in adoption that cause us to have a sour gut reaction to the news of an adoptee doing what so many humans do.  Searching, seeking, and collecting the history, names, and stories that mark their existence on this earth.

I once asked someone that I consider a mentor, an expert in Jungian Psychology, if she believed that my ancestors watch out for me.  She replied kindly, conjuring a memory of a song about each person having 10,000 ancestors dreaming of them.

Knowing I'm adopted she replied, "adoptees have 40,000."

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

The View from the Outside: My Aunt Stephanie Speaks

You've read the story of how I first connected with my original family on Facebook three years ago, when I finally wrote about it in this post in 2011.  What you've never seen is the story from the other side of the computer.  My aunt has been a support to my original mom and was there when my mom received that Facebook message from me.  This is the story from her perspective.

I still remember the day we decided to set up a Facebook account for my dear friend and sister-in-law. She was curious as everyone she knew had one, and asked me for help. It was a week before I could when she told me that she had a message and didn't know how to look at it. In fact, she didn't even know the person who sent it. We sat down at the laptop and opened it. We started reading it together and stopped after the first line and just looked at each other in shock. You see, my sister-in-law had given up a baby for adoption when she was 14. This unknown person was her daughter, who was now 24 years old.

Due to the circumstances of the birth, my sister-in-law had limited family support, even though she comes from a large one. I have been married to her brother for 22 years at this point. I knew the story, and I was there for her every year on the baby’s birthday. I also let her speak, and allowed her to vent whenever she needed to. Most of the family would not hear of this child, named Christen.

Christen was missed every day. My sister-in-law felt like there was always going to be something missing. She had no control over what happened with this child. As a child herself, she was told what was going to happen and that is what happened. We had many conversations about what would happen if they ever found each other, and how some tough questions would be addressed when and if that happened.

We also talked a lot about the love and guilt my sister-in-law had about giving her up. My sister-in-law had an idea in her head about how the reunion would look and sound and feel. Needless to say, life happened, and the white picket fence had yet to be built 24 years after the fact.

I read fear and hope in her eyes when we read that Facebook message, and she said “what do I do?”

After a few minutes of conversation we decided she should message her back, understand that my sister-in-law had recently been in contact with a Confidential Intermediary who was transferring info to her about her daughter. She was told that she needed to pay for contact in person and well that was something we were working on. We immediately got a message back from Christen, her family named her Amanda, and phone numbers were traded, phone calls were made, contact was established. They had the get to know you conversation, and I spoke briefly to Amanda myself that day. I could not leave my sister-in-law that day, as she was scared and unsure.

Now Amanda is part of our lives, and loved in words and in actions as much as any of her cousins have ever been.

As her aunt and support for her first mom, Amanda is everything that my sister-in-law could have been, had her life been different. I look at her and see my sister-in-law; I get all weepy whenever we talk about it. These 2 women are strong and independent, and every day I thank God for letting me be part of this, and to see a real miracle. The process has been hard, not all hugs and kisses. Everyone brings baggage. I still support my sister-in-law and now Amanda. I am mother to 2 daughters, and now my sister-in-law and I share another thing. We have amazing women who are confident and strong and excellent mothers themselves. The pride she has for her daughter shines in her. 

I want to thank Amanda for allowing me to share this. I love to tell stories; this is the best story I have so far. It is also true. I am blessed to have one of the most amazing women I have ever met, who has supported me through some hard times, and the younger version of her and the potential that she had, is alive in her daughter.