Kudos to My Pop – Featured Birth Father on Huffington Post LIVE Broadcast 11:45 CT Nov. 18

Here is our viral reunion video which has received more than 70,000 views and which paints a beautiful culmination to what began as a sad loss for this kind-hearted man who only discovered he had a daughter 42 years after my conception.

Our story began the day I drove down the drive to my birth father’s home on July 16, 2011.  

Who would have dreamed that two and half years later, long after the roller coaster of reunion had spun us about it’s wild ride, that my Pop, Jerry Knight, and I would be scheduled as guests on Huffington Post’s Live Interview coverage honoring National Adoption Month. We will be talking about our reunion, and he will be representing the birth father’s perspective for men who have fathered children of adoption all over the world.

We are excited to share our unique reunion story. So often reunions covered in the media are between birth mother and child, with birth father reunions being quite underrepresented. There are reasons for this: many birth fathers are simply unknown, DNA testing back in the 60’s did not exist, and social stigmas and systems have long sought to erase all ties between birth parents and their children. Birth mothers’ names were far more likely to make it on the birth record than the birth fathers’. This left the birth mother bearing the brunt of the stigma, as well as the emotional toll of adoption. Thus ensued the stereotypical belief that birth fathers got off scot-free.

“Not so! Not all!” says Pop, who works with grieving and searching birth fathers via his Facebook page dedicated to Birth Fathers. “I lost a whole lifetime with my child, and had no say so about it,” he explains.

Thanks to a sexist society and system that failed to hold birth fathers accountable even to the slightest degree, adoptees my age and older must rely on our birth mother’s memory and willingness to share what information she has. These memories are often about a man she has harbored ill will toward for decades. A man who got her into the mess and suffered little to no consequences – a man who may never have even known. This does not describe all birth mothers or birth fathers, but it is representative of many.

Thus ensues an emotional tug-of-war between the newly-found birth mother and her child. Many times the birth mother wants to keep this reunion all to herself, and new bonds are strained under her unreadiness to share, or expose, the other half of the story. This happened to me and my birth mother, and had it not been for my birth mother digging deep within herself to find among her memories a few names she had put behind her, I never would have reunited with my birth father. About a year after our reunion she found him for me. I had his name — something that many adoptees of my era can never have without their birth mother’s cooperation.

Her cooperation was my only hope. The only place my birth father’s name was – was in her head. My birth mother had assumed I was the child of a different man, a man she said had raped her, and she never contacted Jerry, the man with whom she had shared only one night. Read about that night here.

At 70 years of age, Jerry Lee Knight learned that 41 years earlier he had fathered a child. Back in 1969 Jerry was not contacted as a possible father, so he had no opportunity to have a say in my relinquishment, and this has haunted him and confounded him with grief since the day he learned of my existence.

According to www.alovingchoice.com, “The U.S. Supreme Court has protected a putative father’s right to constitutional protection of his parental rights when he has established a substantial relationship with his child. The Court defined a substantial relationship as the existence of a biological link between the child and putative father, and the father’s commitment to the responsibilities of parenthood by participating in the child’s upbringing.

However “when an infant is placed for adoption at birth, the putative father can have no more than a biological link to his child; he never received an opportunity to develop a substantial relationship with his child. The Court has yet to rule on what this putative father must do to protect his parental rights.”

Still the question remains, when do birth fathers get to claim their children as their own? Will they legally be granted the opportunity to raise their children before adoption can enter the picture? And most importantly, should birth mothers be required by law to inform, use DNA to confirm parenthood and allow birth fathers the option to step up, before adoption can be considered?

Too many birth fathers are stuck in this embryonic limbo denying them the right to have a say about, and often to even have a right to step up into the role before adoption occurs. How heart breaking it must be to find out after the fact, let alone 40 years after the fact, that the child you fathered is now in the legal custody of another family. Simply, and with no legal recourse, denied the right to fatherhood with no say and no legal rights in place to protect you.

I hope you tune in to the Huffingpost coverage and share with those you know who are adopted, or part of the triad known in adoption circles as: the adoptee, the adoptive family and the birth family. Birth fathers have long been given a bad rap as the guys who question “Is it mine?” and then say “prove it!” But many birth fathers long for their lost children or the lost time with children just as birth mothers do. Point being birth fathers experience loss too, have rights too and deserve the same support, understanding and voice as anyone in the triad.

I encourage everyone touched by adoption to log on and tune in!

NOTE: This blog post will be updated as links and details become available.


The Primal Wound & Divorce: An Adoptee’s Story of Deliverance

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Had I known my adoption reunion would lead to my divorce, would I have done it anyway? To quote Anne Sexton, I sit here “on the spike of truth,” and I say ‘Yes, I would have.’

I can confirm that yes, there are significant divorce risks in reunion and many hurdles for the married adoptee – this is a bitter truth. Reunions don’t kill marriages, but any weak spot in the marital bed will be tested under the weight of it, and the swells of emotions that rise from reunion can wash away the foundation of your marriage like a high-tide upon the sand.

Perhaps those who have walked the reunion road are wary to share these truths because we understand the importance our search and reunion played in the journey to our true, genuine, magnificent selves. I have heard it said, “It is not what you find, but that you find.” But perhaps we journeyed adoptees avoid discussing the harsher consequences of search and reunion for fear we might scare adoptees away from their truth – a discovery most of us say we would take on again and again.

“I fear if I keep looking for my family my husband and I will end up divorced,” she whispers over the phone with the most confused, scared, conflicted sound in her tender voice. “He asks me, ‘Why can’t you just be happy?’” She sighs as though she has tried at “just being happy” and failed a million times.

I sit on the line frozen, the words I want to find drip off my tongue and hang like icicles on my teeth. What to say?

It has only been weeks since that day. The day I sat with my iPhone in hand watching my husband’s iPhone move about the Travis County Court House on a mission to divorce me. We had downloaded the Find My Phone app, so if either of us ever lost our phones the other’s phone would show us right where it was. That had only been a few months ago, but today 150 miles away from home, this Find My Phone feature was my only window into his world. It was nothing more than intuition that said, “Wonder where he is right now?”

He had asked me to leave home three weeks before, a trial separation. I had asked for the truth about this sudden disengagement. The truth I was told was that I was “unhappy, insecure and untrusting,” that my husband needed a break from me. It was during this sudden bizarre separation, that I watched him travel about his day without me, and then he was THERE, at the court house.

Maybe I was acting like an insecure untrusting wife, common character traits any good adoption book will tell you most adoptees possess, but I had other reasons to worry as well. I had felt him distance himself since my birth father had entered the picture. I had been consumed in the happy haze of reunion road, but when the fog lifted I found my husband’s heart had traveled away, down a dark path – one that perhaps led to the comfort and attention of another? I did not know where he had gone.

After witnessing the court house visit, I rushed home the next day, all 150 miles from my little Fourth of July forced solo-vacation, through our front door, into to our empty bedroom. Surely he had been at the court house doing something in regard to his child support decree with his first wife, but then I saw it, his wedding ring burning a hole atop his dresser. Backing out of the bedroom I turned to find a poisonous buffet of legalese spread across the kitchen table: D I V O R C E petition, a will I was written out of, and a passport application. Only a month before had we not been out looking to buy a new couch? Planning our wedding anniversary?

And I fell. I fell forty-two years back into that cold as stone cradle, the one with silent nurses and bribed doctors making rounds about me. The one where the man in the dark suit stood above and judged, ‘yes she can go’ – the man who made plans for me, pulled together the papers of my life, determined my fate, signed the deal and filed the papers that would mandate my destiny – again I have no voice? No say? No choice? Unheard? Signed, sealed, and delivered out alone into the world again. Who gives a shit about what you wanted … or thought or felt … the lawyers are in charge and off you go! This news of the divorce seared my soul, a branding iron upon this adoptee’s heart.

Not again! Why am I not good enough? Why am I being disposed of? Why do I have no say over this? Do my voice and feelings count for nothing. Nothing?

And again here I sat ‘on the spike of truth.’ Rejection and abandonment burst and spiraled like fireworks and I fell back into the cradle — a long child’s cry goodbye.

“I can’t get him to read the books,” she sighs, and I imagine her holding herself with her arms, hands at opposite elbows pulling herself in close, embracing her core, comforting that fearful child who longs to seek and fears repercussion. “Even in search I feel myself becoming more like me,” she says as a faint smile spreads across her teeth. I hope she continues her search, and I remind her she is the only one who can make that choice.

There are repercussions to searching, they tell you. Not in such stern words. They are constructed to sound kinder and more supportive, “You never know what you might find; Are you prepared to deal with rejection? What if you find they are dead or don’t want to meet you? Have you considered how your adoptive family might feel about this?” Well meaning, fear inspiring, to keep your expectations in check.

But there are other repercussions as well. I must not tell her, or should I, that as an adoptee finding her true self will by nature lead her away from her false self. It will make her ask for things she needs, wants, deserves — and can shatter who and what she thought/thinks she was/is/needs. Should I tell her this discovery can help you see even the small lies in the life you have weaved – the worn threads in the apron you wear as you dance about the kitchen being what everyone expects of you, the codependent chameleon role you so happily clung to your whole life.

That the man you love may not change with you or understand your needs.

“I could not get my husband to read the book’s either,” I say, and an icy dagger falls from my mouth and melts on the tension in the line, “he never understood me and now he is leaving.”

I rage in my head! If spouses and family would read the books they would know that we must go on this journey, that we are naturally less trustful of a world in which the most important people have left, that we must feel in control of our destiny, and that can equal even what kind of tea we drink or the movie we see.

If family and spouses would read the books perhaps they would understand that we love deeply, that we attach profoundly, that we fear abandonment like death; that what we love it seems can be taken by a thief in the night in a heartbeat — so we cling perhaps a tad too deep. Our loved one should know these things.

The books explain that we are faithful and dedicated, and we desire above all family and a sense of belonging. That when we fear abandonment or rejection we will crawl up into a ball until we are coaxed out and reassured again and again that we are worthy. But we will never leave, we commit deeply and devoutly.

I reassure her, “Reunions don’t necessarily destroy relationships but they shed light on what is already weak. They demand the best of you both.” It’s because most adoptees will start asking for what they need and then conflict ensues. Who is this new person? What do they need? “If the marriage has the strength to work through the conflict, if the spouse will read and go to adoption-related therapy, it can be a difficult but wonderful and bonding thing.”

I won’t tell her about the many adoption-reunion-touched marriages I am watching pulled at the seams, the spousal jealousy, the adoptive and birth families’ inability to relate and their insecurities, the  fraying of family ties with the constant weathering reunion brings.

I said I would have lost my marriage, rather than never find myself, that is true; but I will never say it was even slightly an easy thing to do, nor do I think I have yet to fully feel my self-worth, but I sense I am on the correct path. Even though it is a path I did not choose, I can see it is mine to walk now, and I have great hope for where it will lead.

I wish there was more study of, articles about, and support around divorce and adoptees. I look online and find many stories about how divorce of adoptive parents affects adopted children, but what about how adoptees cope with the rejection and abandonment, self-esteem and attachment issues that divorce brings up for us? How do we fight the feelings of being discarded, rejected, and abandoned once again?

I believe for those who are brave enough to find their answers on their adoption journey there is a healing and strength of self that will eventually carry us through. I wonder what it must be like to meet and marry once you know your truest self, your whole truth, your you-est you!

My first marriage in many ways constructed a place for my adoptee self to fit in. It promised that fantasy family, it offered the illusion of everlasting love and acceptance. But although I lost my adoptive mother to death during my marriage, my daughter to adulthood, and my husband and my role as step-mom to divorce, I have begun to attain a truer sense of belonging than I have ever experienced before; I am coming away with a stronger understanding of what family should mean and be and is.

My reunion gave me a more profound bond to my adoptive family, two new birth families and a deeper understanding and patience with who I see in the mirror.  But still, only eight months separated and not even divorced yet, I struggle daily with the pain of rejection, abandonment, isolation and self-worth — the slicing open of the adoptee’s wounds inherent in divorce.

I hope we see and read more about this topic in the future. Please share your experiences; I would love to hear them.

Note to Readers: I must apologize for the 8-month absence of my blog posts.  I did not want to blog while coping with the difficult emotions of divorce. I wrote today’s post about 4 months ago and have now decided to post it (with revisions). Today, the date of my actual birth, I am beginning my blog again. While I have always celebrated Jan. 5 as my birth day, I learned three years ago it is actually Dec. 22. Unlike Jan. 5 the day my birth certificate says I was born, and a day full of happy memories of birth days past, Dec. 22 for me is a bitter-sweet day. It is the day I left my natural families and joined a very special one – so it will always be a day deserving of my heart-felt recognition. I choose to honor it this year, as well as my profound personal growth in the last year, by resuming my blog.

 

 


A Year Ago Today I Learned My Birth Father’s Name and Started the Second Leg of My Adoption Journey

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Ayear ago today, thanks to my birth mother Lana’s search for the truth and the man connected to it (and her sharing that information with me), I learned my birth father’s name is Jerry Knight. I learned one year ago, on this day,  that he was alive  and very much wanted to meet me. Within a few days I wrote him a letter and took the second step on my adoption journey.

With my first courageous step into reunion I had found my birth mother, and maternal family members, including my grandmother, aunts and cousins, and my dear half-brother Bill. With the second step I would return to facing the great fear of what might be found on the other side of reunion, but this time with my birth father.

Would he want too much? Not enough? Would he like me? Would his family embrace me? Would he be gentle and embracing, or callous and dismissive. Would I like him, respect his choices in life, be able to fit him and his people into my world? Would they want or be able to fit me in theirs? The first reunion taught me this is no walk in the park. I was vastly more scared the second time around.

Yet I dared to believe, and in doing so I found a tremendous amount of love, acceptance, and an additional amazing and loving family; Susan Nance Knight (and all her Peeps), my half-brother Bart Knight, his wife Marlane Maisel Knight, his son Morgan Knight, Laura Kato Knight and Cailey (who I better meet soon), my Aunt Patricia and her kids, my cousins Heather Ammons, and Kelly and Ken and their families; and so many new wonderful friends, Sandy and Dana and Becky and their husbands, and many many more dear people.

I also found in this wonderful man, a person so much like myself, physically, mentally, personality-wise. Hardheadedness and stubborn yet loyal and determined – it was all there and all so much like me. We bonded instantaneously; and family, while at times scratching their heads about the eerie Twilight Zone feel of the whole thing, accepted our closeness and the way it made us different yet better people because of it.

These are not blessings just for me but for my daughter Victoria, as well as many others. Through this reunion, my birth father had another reunion of his own. Recently, this past Father’s Day Weekend, he and I went to Lubbock so he could reunite with his sister, my aunt Patricia (after 30 years of disconnect). There we celebrated her 80th birthday. There I also met my cousins, who ironically are also adopted like me. 

As to the miracle of my reunion journey coming full circle on this day well, I must say it would have made my mother and father so tremendously happy to know we have this beautiful new canopy of leaves on our family tree. We even learned my daughter’s father’s family is related to Susan’s family. So Victoria and Susan are related through their royal English blood.

And so I will conclude this tribute to this special day with a bit of advice to adoptees on that paralyzing edge of beginning search: Never be afraid of discovering your truth, it is the most loving, nurturing thing an adoptee can ever do for themselves. It does not always come with as much bounty and blessing as this family has been fortunate to find, and with growth does come pain and loss, sometimes profound pain and loss even, but to know your full story and fully own your past, present and future – that is truly priceless.


An Early Happy Mother’s Day Letter to My Birthmother and then a Little Mother’s Day Rant

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As
this blog is about adoption, it seems natural for me to wish my Birth Mother Lana a Happy Mother’s Day. So with this post I have a Letter and a Mother’s Day rant. But first here is a little slide show I put together in honor of  Lana on Mother’s Day. Note: if you wish to see my comments on the pics, just click on the picture to be taken to my flicker page where you can read descriptions of each photo.

 

Here is my Letter: My Mother’s Day Letter for Lana

Here is wishing you a Very Special Mother’s day Lana! I hope it is a good day of peace for you. I thank you for your choice to give me life, and I so much appreciate that you opened the door to me in reunion. It means so much to me that despite the tremendously difficult road our reunion took that you never gave up, that you did not close that door again after I initially rejected you; that you act as the mother you are and love me like a mother, you stay committed to us working things out. As a mother would never give up on her child, you never give up on us, and you give me time to process my adopted life and work through my many mixed and difficult emotions.

It is not to say that all rough spots are behind us – but I can promise you I no longer expect you to be that perfect mom of my adopted child fantasies. I understand that you are human as I am, and that while we might look a lot alike – we don’t have to be alike to accept each other. I won’t push you away again to test if you will come back for me. I won’t fear rejection so much that I fail to be honest about things I think you won’t like. I can promise I won’t do those things again. That is my Mother’s Day Promise to You! Love, Pam

So with the close of my letter, here is my RANT:

I speak for myself when I say I can only assume that Mother’s Day for many birth mothers is not necessarily a happy day, or a day one feels like celebrating. Much like birthdays for adoptees, this day can be a reminder of loss. It feels almost surreal that I can sit down and write this and know Lana, my birth mother will read this. That we are in contact and I know who and where she is.

So many Mother’s Days before I would buy my adoptive mother a card, make her a meal, thank her for being a great mom, but somewhere in the back of my mind I thought of her – that mystery woman whose belly held me and fed me, the womb of my very creation. Somewhere there was a woman walking around with a belly I had once resided in. That seemed so very bizarre to me. As I got older I of course thought of her in more sentimental less childish ways, and when I became a mom, my heart began to ache with the thought of her on Mother’s Day.

It always occurred to me  that it was highly likely that if she was alive – well this day was the one day of them all on which she would be thinking of me – even if she tried her hardest not to.

“I am here. I am okay. I hope you are well and not too sad today. Thinking of you too, sending my love. Let’s find each other one day okay?” And then that was that.

Today I go to the store and look for a good card to send – but they don’t make cards for birth mothers (although I did learn this year a little too late that you can buy them online these days). I poke through the selection at the grocery store, “Thank you for kissing all those skinned knees Mom,” or “Sorry I never cleaned my room Mom,” or “You were there for me no matter what Mom.”

Where are the cards that say “Thank you for giving me life Mom! – Thank you for not aborting me Mom – Thank you for suffering your whole life with a big gigantic hole in your heart Mom – Sorry for the lost years between us Mom – Sorry it took me so long to find you Mom – Wow Mom you must have super human emotions to be have been able to endure all these years between us – I bet you would have been an Awesome Mom, Mom if you have only been given a chance –  Mom, We may have lost many years, but we have the rest of our lives to make up for it. – Or – I am sorry I was unprepared for reunion and rejected you Mom, so thanks for sticking with me – Or – I am sorry we are not as close as we’d like but at least we are reunited Mom.”

No I don’t see these cards. I also don’t see any for foster moms or step-moms, or like-a-moms. And for sure none for birth-father’s either! There are so many many forms of parenting and it makes me so sad to stand at the card rack and see only what “the buyers” think will sell. I am temped to create my own line just like those smart folks I linked to up there.

So that is my wish and my rant – Happy Mother’s Day to all the Mom’s in every shape and form everywhere!

A special shout out to MY SPECIAL MOMS!

Jacqueline McIntyre Meyer – My amazing mother who raised me well and taught me all the important stuff, like how to be an awesome mom, how to love your kids, how to be a proper bitch when necessary and/or sometimes just for fun, how to drink responsibly and play poker with wild abandon (or was it drink with wild abandon and play poker responsibly hmmm?)

Susan Nance Knight – My newest mom, my mother’s long lost twin sister, who is teaching me so much about how to roll with the flow that life sends you (what a lady to welcome me in and adopt me as she has), she has been wonderful in every way; and she is a generally awesome blast of a lady that I hope to be like when I grow up.

Joan McDonald – My mother-in-law who gave birth to my husband and is Ganny to my step-son. She reminds me how important a mother’s love is and how important unconditional love is. Her stories have taught me to fight for what you know is right in your heart. She raised my Jim and I get to reap the benefits of a job well done.

Christine, Donica, Brienne, Tracy, Alison, Julie G., Sharon, Crystal, Tweeter, Trish, Kathy, Marolyn, Marlane, Dawn, Robin, so many of the AKA moms I have met and a few Mommies-to-be I know – You all are/will be the best MOM’s on the planet. I am serious ladies, you rock the Mommy Bus BIG TIME!

LOVE YOU ALL AND HAPPY MOTHER’S DAY

 

 

 


Mirror Mirror: How Being an Adoptee and Single Parent Shaped My Parenting Style and Relationship With My Daughter

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Victoria and I at her job as a shot girl at Gators in Dallas, April 21, 2012


Having just spent a long weekend with my 22-year-old daughter Victoria I came home with a bag of great memories and a few mixed emotions. Although my brain knows my daughter works three jobs and pays for her own apartment, the Mom in me can’t process that she is not still my little girl; while I am proud to see her so determined, my heart hurts to watch the hurdles she climbs in her daily life.

We drove around Dallas in her non-air conditioned car,  music turned up on the radio, as she gave me the tour of her demanding life, 3-9 pm admin for Lennox, 5 am to Noon Front Desk for Lifetime and 10:30 pm to 2 am Shot Girl for Gator’s, a local bar. In addition she belongs on a softball team and has found time to work out and lose 60 pounds on her tremendous weight loss journey.

I remember this life. When I was 22 I lived it too, long hours, hard work, hot cars, little to no food in the fridge and it all seemed bearable back then, sometimes it was even fun. I got through it with a super-woman-can-do attitude that I realize today I may have somehow lost along the road to middle age. 

I have always thought I had my daughter to thank for the passion and drive of my youth. She was just past two years old when I was 22 and she was just past 4  when I stepped out into the world as a single mom at 24. It was knowing I had to succeed so she would succeed that got me through the most challenging times. I have often wondered what I would have ended up doing with my life if I had not had her when I did, my inspiration – my compass to stay focused and get somewhere and do something, to be successful enough to give her the moon. 

Today buying a giant stack of TP at Walmart for her bathroom, while fighting the urge to buy the numerous things on the list in my brain that she needs (a microwave, a new bra, food for the fridge, an air conditioner for her car), I don’t feel like I gave her the moon. I feel the weight she bears because she was born to a single mother who tried her best but had her own set of limitations.

Today just the thought of the pace Victoria keeps exhausts me, and I wonder where she finds her motivation. I hope it is just a natural drive to succeed. I hope she is excited by the possibility of tomorrow and not overwhelmed by the difficult path to get there. Maybe having been there I see the difficultly a bit more clearly, maybe not. 

Although I was a single mom, which some could argue would have made my life harder, it was being a single mom that ironically made my life a bit easier than my daughter’s. As a single mom I qualified for student loans and grants and scholarships that my daughter does not.

Today, the government says I make too much money for them to lend her any to go to school. That I should be able to pay for my daughter’s college, and if I can’t then she must work and go to school and figure out how to live on her own, or with me and pay for college at the same time. She says she does not want to live with me and is willing to do whatever it takes to do this on her own. She will qualify for student loans once she gets married, joins the military, has a child or turns 25.

This is why right now she is out of school and working, hard. Having earned her Associates Degree, she has taken time off from school to examine her life and explore her options. Degrees are not cheap, so she hopes to get it right the first time. Do any of us get it right the first time?

She is looking at psychology and photography and has considered architecture and law. However, having recently found a passion for health, Victoria is now hoping she can build a degree plan around health and psychology, nutrition and business to enable her to become a professional life coach.

Somehow the irony is not lost on me, as a matter of fact it inspires me. Here she is, my daughter deep in her demanding life, no air conditioner in her car, working her butt off at three jobs, out of TP in her bath, and rather than see her life as a struggle, she sees it as training for her future career – so one day she can sit down with a person she is coaching and say “Hey, do you think my life was easy? Let me tell you how I got here.”

She is finding herself as well. She is learning the fine art of truthful self-evaluation, she is learning about healthy boundaries in relationships and no excuses, personal responsibility, co-dependency,  finding her own voice, staking her claim, owning herself — I am so very proud.

We had a talk while I was there about what kind of parent I was – I hoped she understood what it was like for me as a teen parent trying to learn all those things and raise my daughter by myself. She answers me, “Mom you were the best. You did the very best you knew how to do.”

We both agree I was a distracted and lax parent, and despite the surviving aspect, I wonder how much that had to do with my being adopted, my fears of being rejected by own daughter, my lack of understanding how powerful the biological bond really is – one of my greatest fears raising my daughter was that she would become so angry at me that she would run away or disown me.

Thus while reading “Parenting Style and It’s Correlates” on Adoption.com, I identified myself as an Indulgent parent (also referred to as “permissive” or “nondirective”). The article describes this type of parent as “more responsive than they are demanding. They are nontraditional and lenient, do not require mature behavior, allow considerable self-regulation, and avoid confrontation.” It also notes that there are two sub-types: “democratic parents, who, though lenient, are more conscientious, engaged, and committed to the child, and nondirective parents.”

Thus I was an indulgent, lenient, yet democratic parent. I like being described as “more responsive” than demanding, and I confess I certainly feared confrontation. Again I think this related directly to my fear of my daughter disowning me as a mom. Perhaps something in my psyche felt if a mother could leave a child certainly a child could leave their mother.

Authoritative is supposedly the best, these parents are both demanding and responsive. “They monitor and impart clear standards for their children’s conduct. They are assertive, but not intrusive and restrictive. Their disciplinary methods are supportive, rather than punitive…..”

The article goes on to say “Children and adolescents whose parents are authoritative rate themselves and are rated by objective measures as more socially and instrumentally competent than those whose parents are nonauthoritative.”

Sorry Victoria, but it also states that while indulgent parenting can lead to problem behavior and poor grades, it has it’s pluses too, “Children and adolescents from indulgent homes … have higher self-esteem, better social skills, and lower levels of depression.”

And so it is I wonder what effect being an adoptee has had on my parenting style?

My daughter asked me this weekend if I thought all adoptees “have issues.” She said she knows many adoptees who say adoption had no effect on them, so how could it affect their parenting. I told her I would have said the same thing before my search.

To say being adopted had no impact on my life to me would be like an African American or Asian American or Mexican American saying their race had no effect on their life or who they grew up to be. The circumstances of your birth shape your life and your world view. This impacts every relationship you have, the one you have with yourself, your parents (birth and adoptive), your siblings and yes even your children.

What did being raised by an adopted mom mean for Victoria. It meant she lived as my only mirror for the first 2O years of her life. It meant she was raised by a woman whose fear of rejection often outweighed her parental common sense. It meant, out of my fear of abandoning my adoptive mother who saved me, I often chose being a better daughter to my own mother than being the best mother to my own daughter. It meant also meant she learned she was not blood related to her grand parents on my side, she had only half her genetic code as well.

I wonder also if it meant that in some quasi narcissistic way if I did not subconsciously push her to become as much like me as possible. Perhaps driven by my desire to deeply connect to someone just like myself, I gave her less room and permission to individuate, wanting to keep my mirror image as intact as possible. While I always encouraged her be herself and become something very unique in the world. Did my words and my actions send her different messages?

Two days ago my daughter got a tattoo and despite my knowledge that I support her commitment to herself, her journey to finding herself, her ownership of her life and her body, the Mom in me who looked to my daughter as my only mirror for so many years, cried out, “Why? What are you doing? This is not you. This is not US.”

My reaction was fast and furious, it came from my gut, and it made no sense to my brain. And then I realized my reaction was about ME. This is not ME…my daughter is not ME…SHE is not ME.

I believe this is a hard thing for many parents to get past – separating their selves from their children. I would argue that for an adoptee it is even more difficult.

For so long – as I believed she was all I had to see myself in – I believe I got lost in her mirror. Through the healing of my recent reunion – the finding of my many mirrors – the adoptive mother in me is beginning to accept that while my daughter does mirror me, she is not my reflection. We are two different women. One who would wear tattoos and one who would not. I am so very proud of her. Every day she teaches me something more about  myself, actually about both of us.

For so many years she has said over and over again, “I am NOT YOU Mom!”

And I finally understand what she means. I am a blessed mother to have her love and understanding and insight. She has watched me grow up almost as much as I have watched her, and sometimes she is way ahead of me.

PS. Please check out Victoria’s blog Vibrantly Victoria. 

How does/did being an adoptive or sinlge parent affect your relationships and parenting of your children? I would love to hear comments about it!


In My Birth Mother’s Shoes …… Pregnant at 19, A Different Choice

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SEX. It fed my low self-esteem and proved to me I was wanted at least temporarily. I used it over and over again and when I got the boy, I chased him away before he could leave me. I lied or I cheated or I just put up walls.

Beginning in middle school and ending somewhere in my 20’s this was my modus operandi: The highschool quarterback, my boyfriend, then his best friend, the older man, the coworker, the pro-ball player, the pilot, the millionaire. And for the ones who would not go away on their own, well the game became to see how many times you can take ‘em back and leave‘em before they finally give up and realize you won’t let them be the heart breaker.

It was a text book example of a young adopted woman struggling with attachment, intimacy, and abandonment issues. I had one exception during those years, one I had hope for and had tried very hard to make work. He was my daughter’s father.

At 19 years old, I created the same circumstances to put myself squarely in my own birth mother’s shoes. Do I keep my unplanned baby? The moment the plus sign appeared I knew what I would do.  I could never leave or abort my baby. In an instant it dawned on me, ‘inside me now is my first known living blood relative.’ I was scared and elated.

I did not know then that adoption statics predicted this event; that four out of five adopted females become unwed mothers in some desperate effort to either identify with their birthmothers or to repair or redo the wrong they perceived was done to them. Perhaps it is a subconscious drive to create and connect to someone you can know and who can know you on a level that up to that point you could only dream of from watching others share that special biological connection.

In my adoptive family it was common knowledge the Potters had lots of blondes with prominent chins, they talked A LOT and had hot tempers. The McIntyres had blondes and red heads, a few hot tempers, a prominent family nose and beautiful white silky hair in old age. The Meyers had olive skin, moles here and there, dark curly hair and a tendency to put on weight. I had me — light skin, turned up nose, dark hair and freckles.

I was creative. I wrote poetry. I drew pictures. My Mommy played Scrabble, played the piano and worked on crossword puzzles. She could also do math in her head. Daddy’s nature was more in line with mine – he was the creative one. But no matter how much I felt accepted and part of my family, there was no way around the absence of my genetic mirrors.

At the time of my decision to keep my child, I knew nothing of genetic mirrors. I had never considered how I was physically or emotionally different from those around me or how it affected me.  I only knew in this moment that I had to keep my baby. It was also in this moment that I thought of my birthmother and realized she had to have let me go with either a tremendous selfless love or a complete indifference to the matter. I believed no one could have forced my hand with this, no one.

Looking back I realize it was easy for me to think that – I was one of the lucky ones. A teen mom in the 1980’s, not the 1960’s. My odd-ball adoptive family would be supportive. The father of the child was a grown man and he would be around. Yes this would change my world, but I knew how I would feed, clothe and provide for my child. I had let some family down, worried them about my future, but I would not be shamed publicly or disowned, told to pack my bags and leave. Never!

My pregnancy evolved from a relationship with my 32-year-old boss. He was a wheeling dealing, small-town rough neck, seeking fame and fortune in the oil industry, and man was he slick! I was his personal assistant in more ways than one and I travelled around Texas with him a young pretty thing on his arm, a symbol of his success.

A month before the news of my pregnancy we had discussed the benefits of open relationships and were considering sharing an apartment together no holds barred. Two weeks before the pregnancy his apartment got robbed and among the things they stole was my birth control. One hour after the pregnancy test showed positive, and I stated I was keeping the baby, he was asking me to marry him. I told him I had to ask my mom first.

I was surprised that my mother was thrilled I was pregnant. She was relieved I had what appeared to be a wealthy man to help with the child, but I doubt that would have changed her feelings about it either way. She was not so excited about my idea of getting married. To this day I am not sure why she so embraced my pregnancy. I suppose since she adopted at 32 her chances at being a grandmother were slim.  My young pregnancy meant she would enjoy her grandchild while my father was still alive, as he too could not have waited for me to play by the rules.

My father was more practical about it but none-the-less supportive and overjoyed at the idea of being a grandfather. I believe my parents both believed that there was not a problem in the world that showering a child with love could not solve.

Telling my extended family, especially on Daddy’s side, was a bigger deal. Yet there in my Aunt Tweeter’s living room, the very living room I had been brought straight home to from the hospital some 19 years before, I sat readying myself to tell my two female cousin’s, both who were more like big sisters, my Aunt Louise and my Grandmother Mom that I was pregnant.

I remember being very embarrassed to confess to my Aunt and Grandmother that I had been having sex, let alone telling them I was so good at it I made a baby. Yet I also remember being very surprised at how upset they all were with the news. Like my mother and father everyone was crying, but these were no tears of joy.

They were disappointed, saddened and in shock. My grandmother seemed angry at me and could not look at me. Tweeter was kind and supportive as usual and played the gentle referee, as I tried to answer my cousin’s questions about how this could happen and what my plan was. Of course they were worried, I was only 19.

I remember how my cousins implored me to think about how I had my whole life ahead of me, how much things would change if I kept the baby. One suggested I consider adoption and mentioned that I of all people should understand why adoption would be a better choice for me and my unborn child. I tried to explain that that was the main reason I could never consider adoption. Interestingly it is these two cousins, those who took the news of my pregnancy the hardest, that recently took my adoption reunion the hardest as well.

I explained to them that I could not imagine having a mother and daughter lost out there in the world. Perhaps keeping the baby would be a selfish thing, but I of all people also knew what it felt like to be adopted. I would not and could not put my baby on that course — or cope with a compounded loss.

In the end my family of course accepted my decision and was supportive no matter what, but I have never forgotten that talk we had there in Tweeter’s living room. The memory of it took on new meaning for me when I met Lana and heard her talk of the devastation and shame her family had rained down upon her, how she was never given a choice, let alone understanding and support.

Giving birth would later illuminate for me exactly what my adoptive mother and I had lost through adoption. For the first time I felt inside me what had been missing between us all these years. It is still today almost indescribable, but it is what I later understood when I held my baby for the first time as the birth bond, an almost physical connection that begins in the womb, is nurtured in the hours days and weeks after birth and endures for a lifetime.

I am not saying my mother and I were not as close as we could possibly be – we absolutely were – but I could not share her DNA and she could not share mine no matter how much we wanted it be otherwise. And the time I spent in the hospital before being placed in her arms meant we missed a critical time for bonding that came much later than it should have.

My daughter was born a c-section and this meant I did not hold her until after my recovery. I was wheeled out of surgery and into the hall where I was met by my mother and my new baby’s father, “Look what I did Mommy! Isn’t she beautiful! I knew she was a girl!”

“She is darling. She is so beautiful, you did a terrific job,” she assured me.  “The nurses say she got the highest scores on all her tests, they can tell you took care of yourself,” Mommy gushed beside my gurney.

I was rolled away sooner than I wanted, and once in recovery was told to lay on my right side. It was explained that when my blood pressure came down I would be released to my room and then I would hold her, my baby girl. I believed that if they would just let me hold my baby my blood pressure would come down a lot sooner. They disagreed, so I laid there as told and cried for my baby.

As the epidural wore off, the pain increased, but it did not compare to the agony I felt when I thought of her being alone in a world of strangers. She should not be away, not for a second, not with strangers, not away from me. Too many minutes between her birth and my arms and we might miss the birth bond. This miracle I had studied and anticipated. But it was not just this. I was tortured by the idea of her there solitary and helpless in a hospital crib. It was heart wrenching to picture it. I did not realize then why this troubled me so, but I do today.

At last I was returned to my room, a trip during which I did not shut up about “bringing me my baby as soon as humanly possible.” Shortly the nurse returned wheeling her bassinette close to my bed. And as my daughter was placed in my arms, I had three distinct thoughts that seemed to come all at once.

My first thought was how amazingly beautiful she was. I knew she was the most beautiful thing I had or would ever see in my life. My second thought was that I could not believe two people, especially if I was one of them, could truly create such a wondrous being, and my third was that I was meeting my first known living blood relative. I was no longer alone in a world of blood kin.

As I held her close, I could never imagine letting her go. I demanded she be kept in my room at all times and only be taken away for tests. With my mother there I could rest with the baby in the room. I would not rest if she were not. She was mine and I was hers.  I named her Victoria, I suppose she was and still is in many ways my victory in life.

I never married my daughter’s father but we lived together until Victoria was 4 years old. Then I moved out. He was a passionate man with a talent for making a deal materialize from nowhere but sadly not the world’s best businessman. His passion for his work and his dream to be wealthy beyond all things drove his every action and ruled his world. He desperately chased fortune while longing for the love of a true family. Yet he could not assimilate both into his world.

Additionally he refused to believe a 20 something could dedicate her life to him and not “twist off to sow her youthful oats.” He never fully trusted me and it seems he created exactly what he feared. Perhaps I would have “twisted off” even if he had been totally emotionally invested.

In the last 20 years I have watched replacements come and go from his arm, he is a better visionary and deal maker, but no better with managing his money than the day I met him.

No matter who he is, he gave me my beautiful daughter and a greater understanding of what it is to be a mother. It was having Victoria that taught me the deepest meaning of unconditional love, which set my heart right with my adoptive parents, which later helped me understand the choice my birth mother made and which put me on the path to fully and freely love myself and those around me again.


Dealing with My Adoptee Fears & Anxiety Related to the Primal Wound

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Reader’s Note: As borrowed from, http://www.terrylarimore.com , excerpts from Nancy Verrier’s Primal Wound will appear in italics throughout the following blog post:

Jim leading a class.

I wake up this morning and I feel it again, the wave of sickness in my gut, a dirty tide lapping in the depth of my belly, a hot sun rising in my throat, stealing my breath, burning my chest a bright angry red. My heart beats hard like it thinks I am asleep trying to wake me up. “Do something about this,” it shouts. My skin seems electrified and everything is amplified, and I remember what day it is.

Today is the day, like the many before, which my husband, a first degree blackbelt, will test for his next rank in Taekwondo (TKD). This used to be a special night where we would all head down to the school to watch him punch and kick his way to the next rank. “Bravo! Good job!” But now, at least for me, it is my worst nightmare.

… the severing of that connection between the child and biological mother causes a primal or narcissistic wound which often manifests in a sense of loss (depression), basic mistrust (anxiety), emotional and/or behavioral problems and difficulties in relationships with significant others….

You see a year ago my husband was diagnosed with hypertrophic cardio myopathy, a genetic heart condition that affects heart rhythm. After suffering loss of breath during his TKD practice, he went to the heart doc who then told him to wear a monitor. The monitor clocked his heart while sparring at 280 beats a minute, quivering was all it was doing. The next day the phone rang,”Mr. McDonald, how soon can you get to the doctor’s office?”

Within a week they had placed an implantable cardiac defibrillator (ICD) in his chest. They told him things would change, he would not be working on cars, or mowing the yard, or using cordless tools – all those things could mimic a heart rhythm and confuse the device into pushing 700 volts through his chest — stopping his heart, so it could start itself again and hopefully pick up a proper rhythm.

They told him he probably ought to consider a different sport, as contact sports were not advisable. Sports like football, basketball, TKD had an increased risk of impact, the device could be hit and dislodged causing his arteries to tear and bleed, or the wires could move from his heart muscle and puncture the sac of fluid around the heart. Also any hard impact could just stop his heart period.

But he did not stop doing TKD. And less than a year with the device, during a TKD tournament I watched my husband’s body take the jolt and fall to the floor during his Free Form routine. I was sitting in front of him minutes later as it shocked him again. I was standing alone in the street as the ambulance took him away. I will be at the hospital again in a few months as they perform a cardiac ablation to try to control the bad heart rhythms that medicines won’t fix.

… although we may call the fear of being abandoned by the adoptive parents a fantasy, there is precedent for that fear in the original separation experience, which may be felt only unconsciously. What the adoptee is fearing isn’t a fantasy, it is a memory trace which at any time can be repeated … Is it any wonder that adoptees go through life feeling as if at any time the other shoe could drop? To what extent does this fear of abandonment affect their development?

And this is why I am now sitting on the couch crying. I don’t understand why he is beside me telling me he will be OK, when he really has no idea if he will or won’t . I can handle him taking classes. I have come to the point that I can drink a glass of wine and watch TV and sit by my phone and get through it twice a week. But the testing scares me, terrifies me, sends me into a panic attack every time. It’s hell.

Heart disease and I are no strangers. My grandmother had heart disease and numerous heart attacks during my young life. My Daddy dropped dead at 58 with congestive heart failure. My mother too suffered with her heart, and we endured several heart attacks. Even my Uncle, the man who was supposed to walk me down the aisle died after bi-pass surgery two weeks before my wedding. Now my husband has this heart problem, and as if all that was not enough – I learn my birth father has a stint and a failing heart valve, and the worries continue.

Because of their experience with abandonment, is it possible that this threat is one which hangs over the heads of all adoptees like the sword of Damocles all their lives, but about which they might not be consciously aware?

But truly my prior experience with heart disease is only a part of this terror – all those deaths and heart attacks and threats of death only serve to fire up the adoption-based fears of loss and abandonment that have burned like somber coals in my chest my whole life.

All of this anxiety, my tears on my husband’s shirt as he holds me and makes himself late for work, is significantly magnified by the fact that I was adopted, that at the very beginning of life I experienced primal loss, rejection and abandonment.

…it is this threat which causes the generalized anxiety so often found in adoptees. Anxiety is different from fear …Children who have been abandoned have an early awareness that they need to be cautious, alert and watchful–a response which is called hyper-vigilance. This gives them the means by which to try to avoid another abandonment…

This is why my reaction is so raw, so hard, so gut wrenching. Since I have started studying adoption I have learned so much about myself. Why I react to things the way I do? Why no matter how much I don’t want to be I am a worrier, I am. Why the worst case always seems to sit at the front of my mind in any situation. Why I fear for the security of my family on a daily basis. Why I am hyper-vigilant and waiting for the worst to happen.

Think about it – on day one in my life the worst happened. I was rejected by the one person who is supposed to be there no matter what. It did not matter to the infant that I was that she was forced, it did not matter that I would get wonderful adoptive parents. For two weeks alone in the hospital I experienced significant pain and loss and fear as I searched for her, cried out for her and found her not there. And even then, after my adoptive mother took me into her arms and rocked and soothed me, adoption studies say I knew she was not her – and this meant attachment and trust and bonding would be made that much harder.

Additionally doctors say this early experience imprints into the developing psyche altering the physical wiring of the developing brain, meaning these babies become basically wired for stress and anxiety.

This was my Day 1 – “What else can life take away from me?” is always at the back of my mind – remains with me and it never goes away.

My husband says he needs TKD in his life to be happy. I suppose many wives, like those of servicemen, race car drivers, stunt men, or snake handlers, support their husband’s risky decisions, out of nothing but love and wanting their spouse to be happy and fulfilled. Still I am still struggling with understanding how my husband weighs such risk and deems it worth it.

I will get through his testing although I can’t watch it. The last time I watched him test my heart rate rose to 150 and I thought I would pass out. Tonight I will go have diner and margaritas with a new friend. The margaritas should help, but my phone will be on high, the ringer will be on, and my heart will be racing until I see him again.

PS. I invite you to read Core of Love – the story I wrote of my husband’s collapse on the eve of our first wedding anniversary. We did not know about his condition at the time of the event. Now that I know the truth the story is that much more visceral.

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Harm Unintended: Acknowledging My Birth Mother’s Angst After Reading My Last Post

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After my last blog post, Adoption Reunions: Managing Expectations Assimilating Birth and Adoptive Families, I received a disturbing email from my birth mother Lana. In it she was very upset with many of my recollections of our reunion, to the point of accusing me of blatantly lying and being on a mission to hurt and embarrass her.

She asked me to share her comments with you as she is very concerned that the truth be accurately portrayed. I initially told her I would post it and was very tempted to do as she asked. I even created the post and was about to publish it, but something in my gut said ‘No.’ And after consulting with my wise-blogger daughter and few other wise women I know, I decided that because of the angry and defensive nature of the letter, and because this blog is about support and encouragement and NOT about “he said, she said” I have decided not to make those comments public.

I see this as a great opportunity to stress again that, in my opinion, in the triad – truth is not as important as validation. What I mean by that is HOW PEOPLE FEEL is HOW PEOPLE feel. What people RECALL is what they RECALL. Saying ‘oh that is not how it happened’ or ‘oh that’s not how you should feel’ only serves to re-injure or re-open old wounds, it invalidates rather than supports. We must remember that how people recall what they experienced, or how people remember their lives is their truth and while you can disagree, it is to be respected.

Most people in reunion are not purposefully lying, being vengeful, or doing things out of spite- they are relating their reality (one you can never know unless you have stood there in that moment in their shoes) – how you interpret others’ actions and reactions is the most important part of reunion, making defensive assumptions or accusations causes many problems and is not taking steps toward healing hearts. The ability to hear, accept and forgive (even if you disagree) is key.

With that said I would like to publicly address Lana’s main concerns, not because I feel the need to defend myself, but to try to show her I never meant any harm whatsoever and to validate and acknowledge her feelings:

Let me begin by saying I NEVER intended to poorly portray Lana, or her family, or her home, and I certainly did not mean to hurt her or embarrass her in any way. I only wanted to portray the problems that can arise when reunions are taken on too fast and too furious. When baby steps are replaced by leaps and bounds, people will fall on their faces in the process.

I did not intend to place or imply blame for the problems we experienced, it just was what it was. In exploring the difficulties we experienced and the mistakes we made during reunion I wrote things that Lana believes were false or misleading. While it is tempting to write a rebuttal to each of her statements, I will only comment on what seems her most pressing concerns:

THE FLIES/DOGS: I stated there were flies and that they came from her surrounding neighbor’s dogs. Looking back I realize I do not know who that day suggested to me that neighboring dog pens may have been the reason for the flies. The point of even mentioning the flies was to demonstrate that poor planning and poor communication between myself and Lana resulted in not anticipating flies or buying proper repellents like bug oil Tikki torches and candles. While I have heard dogs in her area and seen them in her neighborhood, I do not recall seeing any dogs adjacent to her backyard that day. I was not trying to put down her neighbors, or imply she has an unkempt yard. They live out in the country, of course there are dogs and flies. The thing about flies is that they can fly from other places nearby and spoil a good time, and that is nobody’s fault but the flies.

THE FOOD POISONING: It is important to Lana that I note that NO ONE else at the party got food poisoning. As she states in her response I probably got food poisoning because the turkey I brought home with me was stored in the outside refrigerator that was opened many times during the day as guests helped themselves to the fruit sangria. I believe the flies contributed to the contamination and again I only included this as example of our poor ability to plan a party  together and to add a small element of levity to a rather serious subject. I never meant to portray her as a poor or unclean cook. Sometimes you just have to find a speck of humor in a difficult situation.

THE COMMENT: Lana says my statement about what I felt was an insensitive compliment on her part was not truthful and that she never said such a thing. I want to stress, and I believe my readers understand, that my blog is and can only be based on my own perceptions of events.  I was not writing this to hurt Lana, we all say things we later wish we had not, but only to remind people that we must be especially careful with our words during such reunions.

IN SUM: This blog is going to hurt people’s feelings from time-to-time no matter how carefully I try to word things. At some point people on all sides of the Triad get their feelings hurt – it comes with the territory of adoption and reunion. I will use these and many more examples of mistakes I made, and mistakes I believe others made, ONLY to try to help others from making the same mistakes – THIS BLOG DOES NOT SEEK to hurt or humiliate anyone.

I want to acknowledge that Lana and her husband worked very hard preparing for the party and went out of their way to prepare lots of delicious food and host the party at their home and that has always been very much appreciated. Actually in light of this, the story of the difficulties of the day are that much more profound.  Additionally a hand full of my family members, who stayed till after dark and were able to visit with Lana on the front porch under the ceiling fans, reported they had a good time.

Although Lana has “dared” me to post her upset response, and truly desires that I share her feelings publicly about this,  I will not do so – as I truly believe that doing so will accomplish exactly what she fears I have done already and that is to put her in a negative light with my readers.

I hope in my coming posts I can delve into the history of Lana and I a bit more to give clarity to the situation between us without offending her again in the process. I also don’t plan to regularly apologize for simply sharing my perspective and feelings.

I am still struggling with how to move forward with Lana after the difficult reunion we have had. I don’t want this blog to be a tabloid take on adoption, I don’t want to rehash the past or paint false pictures. I really want to write about how adoption shapes my life today and share any experiences I have had on this journey that may help my fellow adoptees who are travelling a similar road.

I hope Lana is appeased and I pray she can understand I do not and will never use my blog to intentionally hurt her or her family or anyone. I am forever grateful to her for the choices she has made in her life, both today and yesterday, that have steered the course of my life and made me who I am today.

I asked Lana if she wanted me to remove her name from this blog and write about my birth mother anonymously, and she has stated that she wants me to continue to use her name.

If Lana feels that I am being untruthful or hurtful I encourage her to start a blog and share her experiences and opinions from her personal perspective. The world needs more birth mothers sharing their adoption and reunion experiences; and if she did create a blog, I would happily include a link to it from mine regardless of how much her memories or opinions may be different from my own.

If you would like to contact Lana for any reason, or to help her start a blog, please email me directly at patricia@myadoptedlife.com and I will gladly forward you her your email.

 


Adoption Reunions: Managing Expectations Assimilating Birth and Adoptive Families

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This past weekend was a big weekend. Jerry my birth father finally met my family. In the last seven months since our reunion, he had met his grand daughter Victoria, my husband and step son, a few of my closest girl friends, even Jack, Victoria’s father, but he had yet to meet a single solitary person who had raised me; those who had been related to my parents, who could tell my stories; paint a picture of the world in which I was raised; portray a sense of the people who instilled their values, morals and delightful humor in me – those who made me who I am today.

My Mother with a few of our family members from her side and Daddy's. - Left to right, Mommy, Kathy, Tweeter, Marolyn, Grandmother Mom, Judy, and at bottom Trish and Angela

Since both my parents had passed away before my reunions, this monumental task of representing my dearly deceased parents fell to my father’s sister Louise, who I call Tweeter, and her six grown kids, my cousins. This kin shared the task with those on my mother’s side, the Potters, my mother’s first cousins and their kids (my second and third cousins). Combined these were the people who had created and could share the memories of my family – the many many ties that bind us with my newly found birth parents.

Both in prior experience and in my studies on adoption, I was especially aware entering into an adoption-based family reunion, that it’s very important that people are not made to feel put on display, that all parties meet when they believe they are ready and comfortable, and to take things slow and steady.

I believe for many adoptees the idea of introducing the birth parents to the adoptive family is not to show the newly-found biological parent off or to have the adoptive family meet them, but exactly the reverse. And this is a critical distinction. It is not like “here look who I have found” it’s more “here check out these awesome people who raised me.” While I know not all adoptive children feel this great symbiosis in their adoptive family, this was at least how it was for me. I loved my family and never felt “adopted.”

I am proud of my family, these are the people I love and who love me, who never made a distinction about my not being of their flesh and blood, nor who ever treated me differently because of it. I wanted my birth parents to meet these people, so that they could see how lucky we all were, what wonderful people I had in my childhood, how much love we all shared and continue to share.

During my prior reunion with my birth mother Lana, I made just about every mistake in the book. One of which was to throw a very large Memorial Day barbecue where everyone under the sun was invited; her family and nieces and nephews and my family on both sides, as well as friends and distant relatives. I even invited my grade school teacher. In sum without recounting every grizzly detail of the whole hot mess, Lana and I, both used to being the one in charge, butted heads on every little detail from selecting and serving the food, to alcohol being served, to where to seat people. Having only met that January, she and I had barely had time to get to know each other, let alone start planning parties together.

In short we had the reunion at Lana’s house, and although I warned her I had a ton of family and despite her saying “oh the more the merrier,” well there were too many people. Lana and I were on our feet the whole time playing hostess. We were unable to visit and make proper introductions and basically most of my family stayed in the yard and most of her family stayed on the porch.

Additionally, mistakes were made that immediately set people at unease. At one point Lana stated, “Look at the beautiful, smart daughter I made,” which pained my adoptive family member’s ears, ringing a bit disrespectful to the memory of my parents and the role the whole family played in making me who I am. Additionally a cake was ordered in honor of the reunion with a picture of Lana and me and my half-brother, but which did not include my daughter, the new-found grandchild, who was there at the party and of course a big part of the reunited family.” These are examples of the small faux pas which can carry broad and lasting consequences when placed in the high emotional atmosphere of reunion.

By the time it was over we were all exhausted, had spent too much money and met and mingled with too few people to make it worthwhile. And amid all this, the coup d’état was that the neighboring yards had numerous pens full of dogs that resulted in so many swarms of flies that you could not even pick up your fork without five flies landing on your plate, and while you were swatting the flies off your plate, more were landing in your drink. It was miserable and thanks to the flies, as though the reunion standards gods have some kind of sick twisted sense of humor, I came home with a horrible case of food poisoning that kept me in bed for a week; plenty of time to lay there and think about all the things that went oh so wrong.

Thus it’s no wonder that it took me seven months to work up the courage to plan a time for Pop to meet my family. I called my Aunt Tweeter and assured her this one would be much more pleasant. We would take baby steps, just a few cousins at a time. Knowing how close my cousins were to my adoptive parents, their Aunt Juice and Uncle Bub, I asked my Aunt to please call the two who lived near her in Houston and to ask them if they were ready to meet Pop. They said they were and a small dinner in a public restaurant was arranged, hopefully small enough and public enough that no one would be put out, and we could just sit back and relax and get to know each other.

Additionally I sent a separate email to my mother’s side of the family asking them who might like to meet my Pop while we were in town. From my mother’s side I received an email saying that several of my mother’s cousins were excited, and that they wanted to have a get together at one of their houses and bring snack food etc. and family photos. Knowing intuitively that these were my mother’s people, and that if meeting Pop was going to stir emotions it would be on my Dad’s side, I was not worried about having a larger number. I told Pop, “The Potters will talk your ears off, force feed you and take lots of pictures.” And that is pretty much what happened and we both enjoyed it very much.

Pop was relived by the easy Potter welcome, as the prior night meeting my Dad’s family had been a bit more nerve wracking for him. He knew how attached my cousins were to their Uncle Bub and Aunt Juice, he knew my cousins were as close as I could get to my own siblings, and he knew that at the table sat his two toughest critics, those who were very very close to me and protective of me as well. So really, no pressure right?

Victoria, my daughter, had come in for the event and before the dinner the three of us, Pop, Vikki and I, had spent the day visiting my father’s grave, as well as the grave of his father, my grandfather, and the graves of my grandparents and aunt on my mother’s side. We had then toured the beachfront home in Galveston where I spent my teens and twenties; the house Victoria was brought home to and the house where my Daddy had died.

If ever Pop’s absence in my life had been underlined and highlighted it was on this day. The day he would meet the family, stand on the grave and visit the home and place of death of the man who loved and raised me, the man who I call my Daddy, the man who stood in the shoes Pop was denied by fate to ever even consider wearing. This was a big day for Pop and he shined, both absorbing the significance of this day’s journeys and paying his respects.

At the end of the dinner he graciously and bravely asked my Daddy’s sister and my cousins to welcome him into our family – to find a way to make room for him in their hearts. I was proud. The night included a moving moment as we toasted my Mommy and Daddy paying tribute to them; and I was again touched as my daughter Victoria spoke of her grand father Baba and how special he was to her, while also expressing to the family the joy and love Pop and his wife Susan have brought into our lives.

And as I had anticipated, as is the nature of adoption reunions, emotions swelled and exposed the tenuous mixed feelings that are part and parcel with healing the past and blending families. As one of my cousins become overcome with tears, the other helped me understand how all this adoption change and self-discovery feels to my adoptive family. It can be hard for adoptive family members to realize that there was some missing piece inside you that they could not fill. I assured them that in my experience growing up I never felt like I was broken or missing anything, or that they or my parents were not enough. I explained that, just as they recall my saying many times, I was only curious. I always just wanted to meet them. The compassionate side of me just wanted my birth mother to know I was ok.

I explained that both the pre-reunited adoptee and post reunited adoptee versions of myself still agree that adoption was a gift, that I was extra special and loved and that I could have no better parents in the world than my adoptive parents, that my family is and will always be my family and that I still would not have changed a thing. I noted that what reunion does do, is lift a curtain and reveal the stage upon which the story of your life has long been being written. You suddenly see things fully. It’s like not knowing something was broken until it’s been fixed.

Once reunited the adoptee begins to learn that his or her fairy-tale story with the happy ending had a darker side too; you were born, relinquished to strangers, separated from your biological ties, your history and genetic lineage, those things do matter to a person and they need to be processed.

Most importantly, when you can at last bring everything full circle, it may mean that people in your adoptive family, just like you had to, will eventually realize that the reality of adoption is not all happy endings; that it also includes for many adoptees latent feeling of abandonment, poor self-esteem, difficulty in relationships and intimacy, early pregnancies, and a longing for completeness. As your family watches you learn and heal or hears stories of what being adopted has meant to you, they may feel some type of guilt or sorrow for not knowing or understanding the challenges associated with being adopted.

It’s important to assure them that THIS was not anyone’s fault, that even you really did not understand it then, that most no one did and no one is to blame. You must assure your family that they are not being replaced, that no one can take their place. That processing the impact of adoption on your life today and spending inordinate amounts of time bonding with your birth family, is just a part of healing; and that the way they can continue to support you and love you is by listening to you and sharing their feelings, asking questions and opening their hearts. But most importantly it’s by trusting in the family connections you have created across decades, by assimilation, by welcoming in your new family birth members as their own, just as they did for you so many many years before.

Me, second from left, with my Potter cousin Angela to my left, and my friend Laura and my Meyer-side cousin Linda Logan to my right.


The Ugly Goat: The Importance of Genetic Markers in the Adoptee’s World

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P atricia Long Legs is running and playing out in the meadow with her adopted goat siblings at my birth father Jerry’s farm. The farm is named Camelot, after his last name of Knight, but everyone calls him Pop. It’s a sunny Spring day, and I am standing along a barb-wire fence watching the baby calf take on a new day. I realize it’s been 7 months since Pop and I met and that this must mean Patricia is 7 months old.

The day I arrived at Camelot, Patricia’s mother, in what seemed a symbolic gesture of her appreciation for life and Pop’s new-found daughter, gave birth to her own, a beautiful female calf. Pop and his wife Susan observed how long the little calf’s legs were, how shiny the coat, how quickly she stood and tried to walk, so they named her after me. Even with an adoptive father who worked as a meat inspector at slaughter houses, never did I dream I would have a cow named after me, but somehow it certainly fits.

Now those who know me are asking themselves,’but Patricia doesn’t have long legs?’ And they would be right, I don’t. It was just that in one of the first pictures Pop and Susan ever saw of me, I was sitting in such a way that my crossed legs looked a mile long. Similarly the pictures I had seen of Pop, standing next to an unnaturally low to the ground bird bath, had set into my mind that he was one Tall Texan.

So chewing these thoughts, while Patricia trims the fence line, I realize Pop and I both erroneously expected to meet someone tall at the top of his long driveway. Instead I think upon laying eyes on the other we thought, ‘Hey this person is short’ and here is the kicker, ‘just like me.’

Having already met my birth mother Lana, it was a second dose for me of ‘Wow this person looks like me,’ but it was none the less potent. Lana and I had found we share matching smiles, almost identical hands and feet, even an inflexibility with how we handle the world, as well as each other.

I saw things between us that I knew to be true about myself, but not all of what I saw were things I necessarily liked about myself. A simple truth I had never considered – a mirror reflects all parts of yourself.  While I discovered so much in meeting her, I still had not found the person with my eyes, my skin tone, and perhaps most importantly, the person who could mirror my personality and disposition.

True to my adoptee tendencies I felt guilty for my disjointed feelings; that I had not found in Lana the profound reflection and connection for which I had so dreamed.  This of course was not to her discredit, it just was what it was.

Furthermore, had I unfairly expected her to complete me, without realizing that half the equation was missing? After meeting her I both longed for, yet also feared, my complete picture. It was as if seeing half of my reflection had made the remaining mystery parts feel even more foreign and somehow more threatening.

What if I find him and he does not match as much as I would hope either? Would that not mean that I just really don’t have a clue about myself? What if I meet them both and see nothing I recognize as my own? What if I see things in that mirror that I don’t like? Where does that leave me? Those were my fears, steeped in a mixture of insecurity and the unknown, driving up that long driveway to meet my birth father.

Not far from the driveway where we stood that day, Patricia Long Legs is now romping around in the sun with her buddies. In the last few months she and I have come to have more in common than you might expect; and this is really what this post is about. Note the title does say “the importance of genetic markers in the adoptee’s world.”

Well, Patricia the long-legged calf, you see was born into a world of short-legged goats. She had no sibling calves or cousin calves. She was the only calf on the farm, to be specific she and her parents, Mama Cow and Daddy Bull, were the only cows on the farm, period. They lived among a world of goats, and life in general was good for Patricia playing with the goats and watching the cars drive by the fence line with Mama Cow and Daddy Bull. But one day, not long after Patricia could do her own thing, Mama Cow and Daddy Bull went on let’s say a “permanent vacation” from the farm.

This of course left little Patricia sitting alone out there in a field of goats. Did she keep to herself? No. Like any good abandoned calf knows, she knew she must assimilate to survive. And this is why now several months later, Patricia can be found running and playing in the field kicking up her heals right along with the others. This is why she raises her long snout up into the tree branches looking longingly like she wishes to follow her adotped siblings up the leaning trucks to chew on the highest leaves; why she comes when you call “Billie Billie.”

Here she is with her family:

The day that Pop and I witness her standing guard over the little lifeless body of a baby goat that died just after birth, my suspicions are confirmed – Patricia truly believes herself to be a Billie.  Patricia stands protectively next to her sister the grieving Mama Goat. She charges the buzzards that seek to steal the carcass away. She won’t leave her spot protecting her goat family.

Even in the more jovial times in the pasture, Pop worries that with her big feet she might accidentally stomp one of the newest little baby goats dead just trying to play with it, or that her coming horns maybe be no match for the curly ones on the other goats’ heads.

“In time she will figure it out,” says Pop, “and so will they.” He has no idea how much I understand that statement, in time you certainly do.

Watching her out there, the biggest prettiest goat of them all, I am reminded of my favorite childhood story ever, The Ugly Duckling. As a child I never realized the reason I was so drawn to the poor baby duck was because it did not fit in. In 1990 Hallmark released a video version of the story that my daughter Victoria loved and that made us both cry every time we watched it.

In one scene the sibling ducks gang up on the Ugly Duckling in the pond and they all sing, “You’re not one of us, it’s plain to see when it comes to ducks you’re just ugly! Why don’t you just swim away.” It’s well worth a watch if you wish to experience what most any adoptee has felt at least once in their life, and what some have felt quite often, the pain of not fitting in.

Start playing at 6:30 and end at 8:26 for the mean pond scene ;-(:

I hope in Patricia’s special case that she is just as happy being a goat as a cow. It does not look like her sibling goats are calling her ugly, all they do is want to play. Pop has promised me Patricia won’t meet a fate similar to that of her parents. I hope that when her mirror does finally come along, as I know he will, that she sees herself for the first time in his deep brown eyes, in his dark shiny coat, in his long swatty tail and hefty mooooo!

Nancy Newton Verrier writes in her book, The Adopted Child Grows Up (listed in Ten I Recommend on my side bar) about the need for these genetic markers:

Was the little “duckling” right? Was he in fact an ugly duckling? No. of course not! He was a cygnet, a baby swan…When the ugly duckling finally saw his grownup reflection in the water and noticed a flock of swans nearby, he knew that he was alright. He was beautiful and fit in somewhere.

Some of you have felt that kind of tremendous relief when you have met your birth family. The lesson here is living without any genetic markers can make you feel like an outcast, like the ugly duckling. Whether you have been acting like the ugly duckling or the chameleon or anyone but yourself, no one can really get to know and love you unless you become more real.

This is one good reason to find that lost family of swans to whom you belong. Not only may it answer some questions about how you got put into the duck family, but it may make you realize how beautiful you are. Ducks are beautiful, too. But they don’t look like swans. You may have to find someone who looks and acts like you to feel all right about yourself.

Standing in Pop’s driveway looking into my own eyes, I beheld the other side of my mirror. I found my eyes and my chin and my skin, but I also found the person with a nature uncommonly like my own. In finally meeting Pop, I could clearly see all my parts for the first time – everything came into focus – a beautiful honest mosaic of my adoptive parents and family, my birth parents, and my self.

Today I realize that knowing both my birth parents is like holding a double-sided hand mirror. On my birth mother’s side I hold it up and can see myself at a  distance, a reflection perhaps of where I fit into the world; I turn it over to my birth father’s side and I can see myself magnified, very much as though I am looking at where I fit inside myself – the two sides of myself, my natures, those that make me whole. For me the image is finally complete.

This blog is written in honor of the passing of Mama Cow and Daddy Bull, shown here with Patricia before their separation: