Tag Archives: Adoptee

Adoption

Hiding Adoption from Adoptees: It Still Happens

I thought parents no longer hid adoption from their sons and daughters. Moms and dads broach the topic with their children at a young age, explaining what adoption means in simple terms and letting the little ones ask questions. At least that’s how my friends and acquaintances handled it with their kids.

Unfortunately, though, some adoptive parents never tell their children. For whatever reason, they feel compelled to hide the adoption from the adoptee, who grows up believing lies about her family.

If you don’t think telling your child the truth is the right thing to do, then consider how difficult or impossible it will be to hide the adoption forever. In spite of your best efforts to conceal the adoption, it will come to light eventually and you will have to face your son or daughter and deal with a damaged relationship.

Cousins Talk, Adoption Revealed

Here’s a recent example. In a support group, a man revealed that his cousin, a woman in her 30s, did not know she was adopted. Everyone in her extended family knew, everyone except for her. The guy felt burdened by the knowledge. He thinks his cousin should know. He tried to persuade his aunt, the woman’s adoptive mother, to tell her daughter but the aunt refused. She told him to butt out.

The discussion generated dozens of comments, with most commenters in favor of telling the woman but recognizing the truth, especially coming at this late date, would cause inevitable pain. One commenter noted it would be better for the woman to hear it from her mother rather than through a DNA test.

Ultimately, the man bravely told his cousin about her adoption. This guy had the guts to do the right thing, knowing it would turn her life upside down and possibly cause family trouble.

I think his conscious and thoughtful decision to tell his cousin the truth signals how times have changed. I was born in the 1960s and never knew I was adopted. Everyone in my extended family knew but nobody breathed a word. Adoption was the elephant in the room. My sister, Melissa, confirmed everything with one phone call to a cousin. We were in our 30s when we learned about our adoptions.

When to Tell Your Child She’s Adopted

For adoptive parents, the question should not be “do I tell my daughter she’s adopted,” but “when do I tell her?”

Experts encourage adoptive parents to explain adoption to kids at a young age, though exactly when is open to debate. Some experts think it’s best to tell the child  when he is between the ages of 6 and 8, while others believe children may benefit from knowing about their adoption at an earlier age.  While talking about adoption can be a nerve-wracking experience, adoptive parents should realize telling the child is their obligation.

The adoption talk doesn’t get easier with the passage of time. Putting off the discussion only makes it harder for the adoptee to process the truth. And there’s always a chance the adoptee will find out from someone else.

These days, it’s not realistic to expect an adoption to stay hidden. Anyone who thinks she’s adopted can confirm her suspicions with a DNA test or just by calling the right cousin.

It’s disrespectful for parents to not tell their sons and daughters the truth. Adopted people deserve to know about their biological origins just like everyone else in the family. If parents could trade places with their child, they’d understand why this basic knowledge about one’s identity is so important.

The renowned author Alex Haley eloquently summed up this need:

In all of us there is a hunger, marrow-deep, to know our heritage- to know who we are and where we have come from. Without this enriching knowledge, there is a hollow yearning. No matter what our attainments in life, there is still a vacuum, an emptiness, and the most disquieting loneliness.” 

 

 

 

Adoptive Parents and Biological Parents

When I set out to discover the families I was related to by blood, more than anything I wanted to learn my family history. As an adult adoptee, I needed to find my roots. I wanted to meet my birth parents and other blood relatives if they were open to it.

But I didn’t yearn for new parents. After all, it wasn’t as though I grew up without a mother and father. Claire and Bob, my adoptive parents, raised me from infancy. They showed up and did the things parents are supposed to do. Dad chased down Maureen Murphy after she jumped me on the stairs outside of our elementary school. My father taught me how to drive. When I was about 17, Mom and Dad lined up an entry-level job for me at Talman Home, a savings and loan in our neighborhood.

My parents lost sleep when I ran around on Friday and Saturday nights with friends. (This was before young people used cell phones to ignore text messages from their parents.) Mom, Dad and I argued over my running around, smoking, friends, boyfriends and spending habits.

Bob and Claire never wanted their young single daughters to move out but I flew the coop when I was in my early 20s. Once they calmed down, my parents helped me settle into my single girl apartments. Our relationship improved.

My Adoptive Parents, Warts and All

Like all parents, my mother and father were flawed. They fought constantly. At least that’s how it seemed. Their bickering sounded like nails against chalkboard, an unpleasant, unrelenting racket that filled our home with ugliness. If only their fights had been a TV show, I would have switched channels after the first 30 seconds.

Living with old-fashioned parents, I felt oppressed. Traveling with friends to Cancun for spring break, going away to college, working as the editor of the college newspaper, my parents put the kibosh on everything I wanted to do.

More importantly, though, I wish my adoptive parents had been honest with me. I grew up unaware that I was not related by blood to any members of my immediate or extended families. Everyone in my mother’s extended family knew I was adopted except for Melissa and me. I’ll bet the neighbors, my teachers, even the mailman probably knew. When I found out, I felt like a fool. It’s taken me years to process and come to terms with the big lie upon which my childhood was built.

Adoptive parents
My adoptive parents, Claire and Bob, and me on my wedding day

My Birth Parents — the Mom and Dad I Never Knew

While I never wanted new parents, I regret not getting to know Lillian and Steve, my birth parents. I will never know the sound of their voices, the things that made them laugh or how they sounded when they laughed.

In a different reality, I imagine the three of us sitting down and talking over coffee at a restaurant. I would have asked a million questions, taken notes, looked into their eyes, studied their faces and features, checked out their clothes, taken note of how they took their coffee. Maybe they didn’t drink coffee.

Lillian and Steve, their gestures, mannerisms, personalities, habits, opinions and interests, all buried along with them.

birth mother
My birth mother, Lillian
Biological father
My biological father, Steve

Sometimes adoptees connect with their birth parents in ways that were never possible with their adoptive folks. Who knows what would have happened if I had gotten to know Lillian and Steve? Maybe we would have hit it off.

Even so, I cannot imagine thinking of my birth parents as Mom and Dad. Claire and Bob will always be Mom and Dad.

I’d love to hear from other adoptees who’ve gotten to know their bio parents. Feel free to share your stories in the comments.

 

 

 

 

Adoptee, DNA test, Native American ancestry

My Birth Mother and Her Rumored Native American Ancestry

For adoptees searching for blood relatives, DNA tests can be powerful tools. I never would have confirmed my biological father’s identity without the benefit of DNA tests.

Yet these tests have limitations.

DNA tests don’t always work to prove Native American ancestry.

I may have a Native American ancestor. My birth mother, Lillian,  told her children she had an Indian ancestor and showed the kids how to do what she said was an Indian rain dance.

Whether or not they are true, these tidbits pique my curiosity. Michelle, Lillian’s oldest daughter, thinks our mother looked somewhat Indian.

Just look at those high cheekbones, the dark hair and eyes, Michelle said. Gazing at pictures of Lillian, I see a white woman with high cheekbones, dark hair and eyes. I don’t see a Native American.  Lillian’s ancestors came from Ireland.

birth mother, Native American
My birth mother, Lillian, claimed she was part Indian.

I identify as the adopted child of two parents whose ancestors came from Poland and Germany and the biological child of two other parents whose ancestors came from Ireland and possibly Scotland.

Only recently did I learn about my biological parents. As an adoptee searching for my biological roots, I took two DNA tests from Family Tree DNA and Ancestry.

According to Family Tree DNA’s Family Finder test, 90 percent of my ancestry comes from the British Isles, with 9 percent from Southeastern Europe. Maybe I inherited only Lillian’s European DNA.  Perhaps the Native American ancestor is a myth.

Indian Rumor Lives On in My Birth Mother’s Family

No doubt my birth mother, Lillian, heard the Indian story from someone in her large family. Whether or not they are true, stories like this take on a life of their own. At the Arvin-Armstrong family reunion in southern Indiana, one of my Arvin cousins mentioned the rumor about the Native American ancestor. None of the family genealogists have been able to prove it.

I added to the rumor by sharing a story about one of my blood relatives who is part Indian.

An Oklahoma City native, John and I are related on my maternal side. John’s parents were a mix of Irish, Scottish and Native American, his mother being part Choctaw and his father being part Muskogee. Their respective tribes accepted John’s parents as members. “Both of my parents had Indian roll numbers,” John said. “We all have black hair.”

John popped up as a match on Family Tree DNA’s Family Finder test. The test uses autosomal DNA, which is the blended mixture of genetic material that a person receives in equal amounts from both parents. Each person’s autosomal DNA is unique.

Perhaps my Native ancestry amounts to a few drops from a distant ancestor.

Indeed, that is what Elizabeth Warren discovered when she had her DNA analyzed. Warren retained an expert to dig deeper into her roots and the analysis concluded that she has an Indian ancestor. Warren’s pure Native American ancestor appeared to be “in the range of six to 10 generations ago,” said Carlos D. Bustamante, a Stanford University professor and DNA expert.

Proving Native American Ancestry is Tricky

Parents pass stories down from one generation to the next, leaving relatives to believe they have a Cherokee ancestor in the family. Yet DNA tests don’t always establish the Native American link. Genealogist Amie Bowser Tennant explains why DNA tests don’t reveal Native American ancestry.

As Henry Louis Gates Jr. and genealogist Meaghan E.H. Siekman point out, proving Native American heritage can be complicated. Each tribe is a sovereign nation with its own requirements for accepting members.

If my DNA tests had revealed a little Native American blood, I would have found it interesting, a tidbit that I could share at parties or at the next Arvin-Armstrong family reunion. Having Native ancestry would not change my sense of ethnic or racial identity.

I’d love to hear from adoptees who have discovered their Indian roots. Post comments on my blog!

Finding out you are adopted later in life

Finding Out You Are Adopted Late in Life

It feels like a cruel joke. Finding out you  are adopted late in life destroys part of your identity and turns your life upside down. 

I found out I was adopted at age 38. My sister, Melissa, called me one evening and dropped the bombshell. 

“You and I were both adopted,” Melissa said matter-of-factly. 

I couldn’t have been more surprised if she’d informed me that zombies had invaded her home in the south suburbs of Chicago. Stunned silence. Words were not available to me. I sat there holding the receiver, trying to make sense of this news.

MeIissa suspected we had been adopted. One phone call to Gina confirmed it. Gina is like our cousin. Her parents, Virg and Mitch, were close friends with my parents, Claire and Bob. Aunt Virg and Uncle Mitch, as I called them, and Gina came to our home for dinner and we visited them occasionally.

Gina told Melissa that she had known for some time about her adoption and our adoptions.

It took 38 years for the truth to show up like an uninvited guest for dinner, an unwelcome stranger who had no intention of leaving.

Emotional Impact of Finding Out You Are Adopted

I felt stunned. Claire and Bob never so much as hinted at the possibility that I was not their biological daughter. In hindsight, I realized how obvious it was that I was adopted. How stupid was I for not having put two and two together. After all, Claire who was in her 50s when Melissa and I were born. She was too old to have biological children. Well, duh!

Of course I thought it was strange to have parents who were old enough to be my grandparents but I didn’t take that thought to its logical conclusion. It was odd that I had been born in Skokie, way north of Gage Park, but I never asked Bob and Claire why they had me at a hospital that was 26 miles away from home. 

I wasn’t stupid, just trusting. Naïve. Without knowing it, I belonged to a secret club of secret adoptees, people born in the 1940s, ‘50s and ‘60s, during the era of closed adoptions. Surely other adopted kids attended classes with me at Tonti Elementary and Curie High schools in Chicago but we didn’t know we were adopted.  Our adoptive parents upheld the unspoken, unwritten rule: “Whatever you do, don’t tell the kids they’re adopted.”

While 38 seemed embarrassingly old to learn I was adopted, other adoptees discovered their truth even later in life. Joanne Currao was 48 when she found out she was adopted. As if that wasn’t bad enough, Joanne’s brother, had known about their adoptions and never told her.

Finding out you are adopted late in life is unsettling. Author Mirah Riben contacted several late discovery adoptees who talked about the impact discovery had on their lives. Riben wrote an excellent article based on the comments from late discovery adoptees.

Being Adopted, an Uncomfortable Label for Me

Finding out you are adopted is weird.  I didn’t want to dwell on what it meant to be adopted, to accept the reality that two other people were my parents. Claire and Bob were still my parents. I put my adoption in a box and shoved it aside.

Nothing changed in my life, the life that others could see. I took the subway to my editing job in Manhattan, arranged play dates for Jake, cooked meals for the three of us, walked the dog, cleaned the house and did all the other ordinary things that were part of my routine.  Even if I had wanted to dwell on being adopted, my busy schedule would not have allowed it.

When I was a kid, I never felt like I had much in common with my parents. I loved Claire and Bob and they loved me but we didn’t think the same way. We didn’t share the same interests or talents. As far as personality, my mother and I could not have been more different. Claire thrived on drama. She often cried and bickered with Bob about stupid stuff. One time she poured dry cereal over Bob’s head, not to be funny, but to express her frustration. I wanted parents who were more like Mike and Carol Brady. Loud emotional displays made me uncomfortable. I retreated to my room.

Finding out I was adopted helped me make sense of the differences between us.

Adoptee Curiosity Builds

Years passed. On the outside, I looked like me, an older version, but inside, something had changed. Curiosity about my adoption grew. Questions about my biological parents and the circumstances surrounding my adoption sprang up but there was no one I could ask. Claire died in 1998, Bob passed away the following year. Gina knew nothing about my birth mother or father.

I called cousins on Claire’s side of the family. Of course they had known all along that I was adopted. My cousin Gloria could not believe that my parents had never told me. She and my cousin, Collette, had no idea who my natural parents were. Claire and Bob never revealed the details to their extended family.

After the state of Illinois unsealed birth certificates for adopted children, my husband, Tom, urged me to request a copy of my original birth certificate. Tom got the ball rolling. He handed me a check he had filled out for $15 to the Department of Public Health. Somewhat reluctantly, I mailed in the request. I felt apprehensive.

Discovering my Birth Parents’ Identities

My birth certificate revealed my birth mother was a 28-year-old married woman I didn’t know named Lillian, a Northbrook resident. My biological father’s name was missing. A search angel, Marilyn Waugh, helped me locate my half-sister, Michelle, my mother’s oldest daughter. Open and friendly, Michelle told me lots of stories about our family, including some horror stories. Unlike me, Michelle and her siblings grew up with a lot of freedom.

I wanted to know my biological father’s identity. Wanting to help me solve the mystery, Michelle tossed out the name of a guy with a common Irish surname, a man my mother had been friendly with. Michelle thought he could be the right guy but it was just a guess.

Determined to find out my biological father’s identity, I took two DNA tests. I found Stephanie, a woman who turned out to be my half-sister, my biological father’s oldest child.  My natural parents, Lillian and Steve, were married but not to one another. They had an affair and created me. I’m sorry I never got to meet them before they passed away.

Adoptee Regrets, I’ve Had a Few

I regret not having learned the truth about my adoption sooner. Had I known before my parents had died, I could have approached Claire and Bob. I know my questions would have caused an epic shit storm, but I would have learned a few details about the first chapter of my life.  Bob and Claire had their reasons for not disclosing my adoption. Perhaps they wanted to protect me from the stigma of adoption. Maybe they feared I would search for my bio parents. Perhaps the doctor who connected my parents to a newborn baby girl (me) at Skokie Valley Community Hospital advised them to keep mum about my adoption.

At first I blamed myself for being dumb. But with the passage of time, I have stopped blaming myself. Claire and Bob should have told me the truth.

The truth about my adoption felt unwelcome when it landed at my door so many years ago. I kicked the truth aside, unwilling to explore it but it sat there and waited for me. Once I opened my adoption box, I learned the facts about my original parents and their families. The truth didn’t come gift wrapped with a pretty bow on top, but it’s all I’ve got. I feel better, having found the missing pieces of my life.

I’d love to hear from other adoptees who stumbled onto their adoptions. Tell me your stories!

 

 

 

Coming on Monday: “Parallel Lives”

I grew up in a modest bungalow on the Southwest Side of Chicago. My biological family  lived in an unassuming home in the suburbs  north of Chicago. The houses are only 35 miles apart, but the two families might as well have lived on separate planets. That’s how different they were.

Read more about our parallel lives on Monday.

good photo of Claire + her sisters
My mother, Claire, center, with her sisters, El, left, and Marie
Lillian when she graduated bigger
My first mother, Lillian