Writing Practice

I have always sought refuge in words. Perhaps because of the lies, words have always carried weight for me. They press down upon me or give me wings. Words unlock secrets, or conspire to keep them. Words inform. Words shape how the world informs us. Words mean what we give them permission to mean. Words sneakily enlarge themselves, taking on new significance. Words are the building blocks that allow us to understand ourselves, and others. They provide context and content and allow contact.

Maybe that’s one of the reasons documents mean so much to me, and to so many others? Without words, meaning has no..framework. No scaffolding upon which to build comprehension of all of life’s complexities. No way to place ourselves in history, or to make history of our own.

Eh. Could be I overthink things.

Because I love words, one form of therapy for me is poetry. I won’t pretend I write good poetry, but good is not the point. The point is to take whatever emotion I feel at any given moment, pour it out of my skull where the feelings have been thrashing around causing damage to the furnishings, and let them rest on the page. Or, cyberspace.

I have a writing practice. Every poem must include either a word suggested to me, or the first word in the dictionary for a letter of the alphabet. Or, the next to the first word, etc, depending on how many times I have run through the alphabet! Every poem must be finished in under five minutes.

Todays word suggestion was necklace. As I typed this, I was thinking about all of the ways and words that have labeled and shaped me. I thought of the words that have turned my life in different directions. I thought about how we take the twenty-six letters of the alphabet (if you speak English) , arrange them in this way and that way, and completely change meaning, just as how changing the grouping of proteins in chromosomes alters the nature of an organism. So simple, and yet, so incredibly profound.

A pen stroke on a document, and I ceased to legally be one person and became another. A word stings like a lash, or soothes like cool water. Some words we choose for ourselves, and others brand is against our will.

What words do you choose?

The Necklace

I wear a necklace of words
Words that bind me
Words that
Define
Me
Words that are only visible
To those with
Eyes to see
A necklace of shabby
Old fashioned fonts
Of illegible handwriting
Catholic cursive
Dot matrix precision
I wear a necklace of words
Words that wound me
Words that wind me
Tight like wire
On a fishing reel
Words that burn
Words that learn
New forms
I wear a necklace
Of symbols in sequences
That
Rearranged
Free me
Empower me to be
Me
I wear a necklace
Of words

Therapy take-aways

  • I don’t have to buy into the idea that I should feel guilty for being angry with my adoptive family and with the adoption culture
  • My anger and resentment is a reasonable response to the lies and manipulation
  • Feeling upset with how the lies prevented me from knowing my family is reasonable
  • Allowing guilt to keep me from processing the anger and resentment is not productive
  • Processing my anger and resentment is necessary for healing
  • Exploring ways to express those feelings is a step in the right direction. In therapy, in support groups, through journaling, blogging, writing, art; so long as they are safe spaces for me
  • Anger may feel very scary, but it’s okay to express anger in ways that are not self-, or other- destructive
  • Expressing my needs in a clear way is reasonable and okay
  • It is not acceptable for others to attempt to shame me into silence.I have a right to speak up for myself
  • Adoption involves trauma. Denying that it does helps no one.
  • Squashing down feelings inhibits healing and growth
  • My feelings are real and valid. It’s okay to give myself permission to set aside the cultural conditioning that dismisses and invalidates them.
  • Any therapist that denies the trauma inherent in adoption needs to further educate themselves in order to provide adoptee- centric counseling.
  • An adoptee does not have to have had a “bad experience”. Being relinquished is, in itself, a trauma that shapes every aspect of the adoptees life from that point forward, no matter what kind of adoptive family they find themselves in.
  • Adoptees should be at the forefront of creating the language that describes our experiences as adopted people. The adoption industry should not be the ones shaping perception

Social Worker Interviews

I wasn’t sure what to expect when I received my adoption file from the United Kingdom. I had looked for Adoptee support groups in the area where I was living. There were none. The internet was not yet a place where groups and forums could be found. This was back when you had to learn a special language just to interact with an enormous desktop computer. Other than the therapist I was required to see, who had zero previous experience with adoptees and adoption paperwork, I had no one to talk to about what a file might contain, or how I might feel about what I would find in one.

My adoption was an international, stranger adoption. My adoptive parents had a lawyer, and a military representative. The United Kingdom had their version of social workers.

My adoptive parents had to prove their fitness to be parents. In the process, they, their parents and select friends and coworkers were interviewed. At first glance, the interviews seem pretty thorough. Yet, they missed the fact that my mothers father was a violent alcoholic, saying only that he worked for a trucking company, was married to his second wife, and thought there would be no problem integrating me into the family. The social worker missed the fact that my fathers mother was a woman traumatized by her husbands alcoholism and death in a terrible accident. They overlooked or did not comprehend my mothers Obsessive compulsive disorder, and her other-oriented perfectionism. No concerns are voiced over the deep, deep grief my mother carried over the loss of eight previous pregnancies. They put my fathers hesitancy down to professional ethics considerations, not discerning the fact that he didn’t want to adopt at all. They did not appear to find it troubling that my parents attempts to adopt in the United States were denied . The primary considerations seemed to be that my adoptive parents were educated, well-mannered, neat and clean, and well thought of in their community. Their seven year old daughter was polite, tidy and “well-trained”. There were no objections raised by family members or friends to the idea of a strangers child becoming a part of the family. The placement seemed ideal.

This is my emotionless summary of pages and pages of interview notes.

The first time I read through them, I missed a lot of the details. I was feeling so overwhelmed by this clinical assessment of the removal of a person from her family. The reports mention how much effort was put into keeping my mother from ever seeing me. How much anxiety my adoptive parents felt about concealing their identity from my mother. How uneasy they felt until she returned to the United States with her parents, my grandparents.

Another section is devoted to how much effort was put into concealing my origins from other members of the military community where my adoptive father was stationed.

I read a few pages today. I had to stop. I wanted to tear the papers to shreds, rip them apart, obliterate them.

The social worker says they see no reason my adoptive mother can’t handle any issues arising from my adoption. She comments on my adoptive sisters understanding of how, while I was born the same way that she was, I was not born to her parents, and could not live with my genetic family.

She says my adoptive mom seems happy with me, and confident that she can care for me.

Yay?

This essay is as confused as I feel in my heart and my head.

There was no therapy requirement for my adoptive parents before they gained approval to adopt. There was no concern for my psychological well being beyond the officials feeling confident that the secret of my origins could be kept.

There isn’t a guidebook for how I am to navigate how this inch high stack of papers makes me feel. There is a self congratulatory tone to it all that torments me. They are the heroes and I am the object of their heroes quest. An object. My mother is the means to an end.

One sheet of paper is the summary of an interview with a close family friend, someone I knew growing up. Someone I spoke to just last year. He was a pediatrician, and had helped place many children with adoptive families over the years. The summary states that he and his wife, having known my adoptive parents for seven years and seen how they raised their own daughter, felt certain that they would provide an adequate environment for an infant.

I had no idea this doctor and his wife had anything at all to do with my adoption until I received the file in my late thirties. Not once, in fifty five years, have they wver mentioned their involvement to me, or asked me how I fell about being adopted.

No one involved with my adoption has ever asked me.

Maybe it’s time that adoptees be asked.

Longing for Normal

Longing for Normal.

What is normal, for you?

Is normal knowing who you are, where you belong?

Can you point to names and pictures? Do you have a timeline with You firmly placed in a date and time in the family continuum?

Do you feel like you fit? Can you see your features in the people who surround you from day to day? Hear the sound of your voice in the rhythms of your family?

Or do you, like so many of us, sit outside of Normal? Longing to enter. Normal is a place many adoptees long for but never have the opportunity to visit, let alone hang out long enough to feel comfortable.

Normal for me and so many of us consists of applying for paperwork, paying for DNA tests, going to court, becoming genetic detectives, familiarizing ourselves with adoption law, deciphering foreign bureaucratic codes, sending messages to relatives, hoping for connection.

Normal is always feeling Other.

July is a terrible month for me. So many anniversaries to navigate. I was going to reread some of my paperwork, start interviewing fellow adoptees about how they have coped with theirs; basically get organized. Instead I am sitting in my car in grocery store parking lot, grieving the loss of Normal.

Except this is when the truth hits me. I have never known any other kind of Normal but loss.

I realize this is an uncomfortable truth. In the past the response is almost always But you gained so much from being adopted!

Okay. The problem there is that what I gained I was never able to claim. You can not establish authentic relationship in a context of lies.

To have achieved real affection would have required at least some degree of transparency. Some level of informed consent. I was raised by strangers. No matter their intentions, they could not provide me with genetic mirroring. By denying the trauma existed, they denied me the opportunity to process the loss and make a connection with them based on anything real.

I acknowledge that not all adoptees are Late Discovery. Not in the sense that they were not told about being adopted, anyway. I think the argument can be put forward that the majority of adoptees do deal with late discovery trauma to some extent. I make this argument because, even if raised knowing they are adopted, the vast majority of adoptees I have spoken with or read of, did not know who their families were until they were at least eighteen years old. Many of us still do not know, are still searching.

This shouldn’t be our Normal. We shouldn’t be Other. We shouldn’t be left, just, longing.

The Medical Questions

I just want my medical history? Maybe some pictures, so I know who I look like? But, mostly, medical history?

Why does each sentence sound like a question?

  • Because I am scared and I don’t want you to ghost me?
  • Because our culture informs me that medical history is the only acceptable part of my identify for me to desire?
  • Because maybe, if I seem reasonable and non- threatening you will decide you like me?
  • Because I don’t want to have a horrible disease growing unbeknownst to me in some hidden part of my body? Like pancreatic cancer or breast cancer or pretty much any cancer?
  • Because if heart attacks run in the family I should probably change my diet and exercise patterns before I drop dead at a party where I am picking up my kid?
  • Because the prevalence of early onset Alzheimer’s in the family tree would be good to know about so that I can plan accordingly?
  • Because some illnesses appear in some ethnicities more frequently so maybe I should know before I decide whether to have children of my own? (I probably shouldn’t have told my doctor no to the Do you have any Jewish ancestry question).
  • Because many mental illnesses have a much higher percentage of occurring in the offspring of people who have those mental illnesses? Best to know the possibilities? Again with the good to know before I decide to have children?
  • Because I am tired of being told I am a hypochondriac because I have some extremely rare condition that my adoptive family has never heard of and they would rather die than admit I am not genetically related to them?
  • Because I wouldn’t have purchased that parrot if I had known birds and asthma are strongly connected in my family?
  • Because I wouldn’t feel like a total weirdo for having all these life threatening allergies if I had known my (fill in the blank) also suffers from these allergies?
  • Because I am tired of the deep feelings of embarrassment and frustration every time I see a doctor and they ask me awkward questions or make jokes about all of the blank spaces on my medical history form?
  • Because all of these questions are exhausting?

Or, how about this: why do I want my medical history? Because my medical history is MINE. I deserve to know.

Please don’t retort with “lots of people don’t have medical histories”

My medical history used to end with ME. Chances are good that you, dear non-adopted person, have at least one parent or sibling or aunt or uncle or cousin or grandparent whose information you can write down on your medical forms. You’ve just never had a reason to think about it that way.

We adoptees should not have to persuade anyone of the Whys of our quest for medical history. There should be no questions. No pleading. No debasing ourselves. No fees, no intermediaries, no lawyers, judges, obstacles.

Our medical history should be ours from the moment we are born, carried with us like the arch of our eyebrows or the soles of our feet.

My medical history is Mine. No question.

Adoptees medical histories are ours. No question.

Now, Hand over those forms.

Anniversaries

This is taken from the final sentences of the social workers report in my adoption file. I have removed the majority of identifying information because my mother is still living.

Today, on a day that many Americans celebrate with family gatherings, I sit in silence. This is a familiar silence. I used to try to drown the silence in noise, in activity. I thought, enough time passes, and the ache will ease. Several years ago, I decided to simply accept the void as unfillable. I will learn to live with the silence.

On the Fourth of July, 1978, back when I believed my adoptive dad was my dad, my adoptive mom was my mom, my adoptive siblings were my siblings…my dad had a sudden and fatal heart attack at an Independence Day party. I was not present. I was sitting on a redwood log, roughly hewn into a long bench, at a sleep away camp in Northern California.

Since that day, when strangers were sent to retrieve me and return me to a house that had been home, I have learned how oppressive silence can be. I watched as the crowds of mourners swirled noisily about the silent eye of the storm that was my sedated mother. I crept around the edges, listening as adults expressed concern for her well-being. I heard them as they dismissed any worry for her children’s well-being. Children are resilient was the cry of the day. We would be fine. I felt the stab of pain that came with those words, and drew the barb in, anchoring it deep in my heart and mind. The wound formed a capsule, cutting me off from sound and emotion. I didn’t realize at the time how practiced I already was; how dissociation was already second nature.

When I discovered that I was adopted, I was told The Adoption Story. Anyone adopted will immediately recognize the components of this story. We wanted a child more than anything. We searched for and chose YOU! We were so blessed. We loved you before you were even born. We knew you were ours the moment we met you!

My story has a twist. My adoptive father had already met me, in a way. He was the obstetrician who provided prenatal care for my mother. He heard my heartbeat, had an idea of what I might look like, sound like, be. My mom told me of how he delivered me, how he “brought you into the world and loved you from the moment we brought you home”.

I missed the nuance. From the moment we brought you home. Not from the moment he first held me.

I have some education in ethics. My first question was How was that ethical? She was confused. No, seriously, how did they allow that? For my mothers doctor to be the person who adopted me? She shrugged. Did my mother know? I was told, of course not!

I was told my dad had no concerns. Then I was told the military assigned a special caseworker to make sure the adoption would be conducted ethically, with no undue influence on my mother to give up her child.

I applied for and received my adoption file from the United Kingdom. I read the notes from the special caseworker, detailing my dads concerns over being my mothers doctor. I read how the situation was considered dangerous. I felt sick.

I tried talking to my mom about this. She was evasive. I asked my mother if she knew her doctor and his wife had adopted me. She said no, and nothing more. I found myself wondering if it was at all possible for my dad to have not engaged in any effort, conscious or otherwise, to convince my mother to relinquish me.

I realize only now, decades later, why my mother being present to hand me over to my adoptive parents would have been so dangerous. I remember the pride in my moms voice when she told me of the plan that had been formulated, should my mother change her mind and ask for me to be returned to her. My mom would take me and her other children and disappear into Western Europe. They would never give me back. She told me this to reassure me of her love for me, of her unwavering belief that I belonged to her. Her, and not the woman who gave birth to me.

I confronted my mom about all of her inconsistencies. I read her the notes describing her husbands concerns.

He didn’t want to adopt, you know.

Um, no. I did not know that my dad did not want to adopt.

I worked on him and worked on him, and he finally agreed. she sounded triumphant.

I wanted to vomit. The silence must have sunk in, as she quickly stated, of course, he loved you after we brought you home!

He grew to love me. She is confused about my lack of joyful response.

Why should I believe you? Why should I believe anything you say?

She is hurt, upset by my disbelief.

I did it to protect you!

Ah, the final part of the adoption story, the one the liars cling to when all else fails. I am supposed to understand and forgive and feel grateful, elated, ecstatic.

Maybe he loved me. Maybe he pitied me and was kind because he was a decent person. I don’t know, and I can never ask him. This is another part of the silence.

Colorado

Click to access JDF%20494%20Instructions%20for%20Access%20to%20Adoption%20Records.pdf

Click to access JDF%20532%20request%20for%20access%20to%20adoption%20records.pdf

Colorados law regarding access to original documents used to be a mess. They had all kinds of restrictions based on date of adoption, and offered biological parents the option of having their names removed. However, the state finally acknowledged the unfair application of their laws regarding access. The current understanding is that any adoptee aged 18 or over can apply for and receive a non-certified copy of their original birth certificate and any records contained in their adoption file.

One bonus that I haven’t seen in many places: records can be obtained by legal representatives of the adult adoptee, or, by descendants of the adult adoptee of the adoptee is deceased.

My parents had two natural children and two (unnatural?) adopted children. The second of their adopted children became my little brother. He died in 1979. In 1999, I discovered we were adopted. I began the search for both of our parents. I learned that, where we were born, only the adoptee could request their adoption file. I asked if I could obtain the file if I provided a death certificate, and was told no. The provision in Colorado law would still not allow me to request his records, as we do not share a birth parent, but it was really nice to see that some thought had gone into giving family members access to records in the event of an adoptees death.

The cost to apply for records in Colorado is not listed anywhere that I could find. The instructions for how to apply for records says that the applicant will be responsible for any fees related to the search for, copying and mailing of documents. The court provides an option to appear in person and make copies once the records are located, or to have them sent certified mail.

If you have any experience with applying for and receiving adoption records from the state of Colorado, please comment! Hearing from someone about the costs related to application would be very helpful. The more we share, the more we help one another.

Thank you!

Alaska

Alaska

http://www.legis.state.ak.us/basis/statutes.asp#18.50.220

The state of Alaska allows all adoptees aged 18 and older to apply for a non certified copy of their original birth certificate. The state also gathers information about the biological parents that is included in the adoption records.

Application fee is $30

This original birth certificate may not be used for legal purposes. The adoptees amended birth certificate is their official birth certificate.

Alaska does not make provision for the first parents to request redaction of information. The names recorded in the adoption records are as provided to the state at the time of adoption.

If you were adopted in Alaska and would like to comment on your experience seeking your records, all the information that we share makes it easier for others seeking their identities.

Thank you!

Also, big thank you to organizations like adopteerightslaw.com for all of the work they do advocating for adoptee rights!

Alabama

https://www.alabamapublichealth.gov/vitalrecords/adoptee-seeking-original-birth-information.html

Adoptees adopted in the state of Alabama may go to the above link for information about applying for their original birth certificate. The fee as of today, 29 June 2021, is a non-refundable $25.

What can the adoptee expect to receive?

Copied from the actual website:

  • The applicant will receive a copy of the original birth certificate clearly marked that it is not a certified copy and it may not be used for legal purposes. Note that the information on the birth certificate in the file is shown as it was provided by the birth parent(s) at the time of birth.
  • The applicant will receive copies of all other documents in the “sealed file” which often include the legal documents from the court where the adoption or paternity determination took place or other legal documents for a legitimation. These files do not contain medical or other information about the birth parents.
  • In the case of persons who were adopted, the revision of the law in 2000 allows birth parents to submit a Contact Preference Form which will be placed in the sealed file upon receipt. If a Contact Preference Form is in the file at the time the original birth record is requested, it will be sent to the applicant.

Be aware that parents are not required to provide a Contact Preference Form. This is an option that is voluntary on the part of birth parents.

The birth parents names are not verified by the state. The fathers name may or may not be on the birth certificate. The copy provides to the adoptee may not be used for legal identification purposes. Your amended adoptive birth certificate is still considered your legal identity.

Your file will not contain medical records, photos or other information unless provided by the parents if they filed a Contact Preference Form.

Were you adopted in Alabama? Have you applied for and received your file? Please let us know if any of the above information is inaccurate, so that it can be corrected. Thank you!

Nature vs Nurture

Adoption is propped up by the widespread belief in the prevalence of Nurture over Nature. Every argument that your real parents are the people who raised you is based on the idea that your environment is more important to who you are as a person than your genetic inheritance. Every argument that says that strangers raising a child is just as good as or better than kinship adoption is an argument based on Nurture vs Nature. These platforms ignore, either out of ignorance or in pursuit of a financial or political agenda, the crucial ingredient of Nature when considering the well being of a child.

A growing body of scientific evidence demonstrates the importance of genetics in determining who we are as people. Not just what we look like but our temperaments, interests, desires. The need for genetic mirroring and the necessity of feeling rooted in space and time are based in Nature rather than Nurture.

Pretending that a child’s mental, emotional and physical health can be completely divorced from Nature is preposterous. Yet, I see adoption and donor conception advocates argue from this position every day. They want to convince people that removing a child from or conceiving a child separately from genetic relatives is completely acceptable. Laudable, even. They put forth all kinds of reasons why this is so, but none of them are supported by the emerging research.

I don’t bring this up to take an anti-adoption stance. I realize there are circumstances where parents are unable to raise their children. In these cases, kinship adoptions should be pursued and supported. Stranger adoptions should be rare, not the norm.

Kinship adoptions allow people to stay in an environment where both Nature and Nurture come into play. Stranger adoptions of older children should be open adoptions, where the person maintains their birth name and has contact with extended family. This openness allows for a continuance of identity and the opportunity for Nature and Nurture.

We should not be approaching adoption from an either/or position. People are not either Nature or Nurture. We are, or should be, the result of both factors in play in our lives. To deny us Nature is to rob us of ourselves.