Category Archives: family

Broken Hearts/Hart Family Tragedy

There were six Hart children, and now, though not all bodies have yet been found, authorities think all of them perished in the car that was intentionally driven off a cliff in Northern California. The children were adopted from foster care in Texas in two separate transactions, two sibling sets of three each. The adoptive parents were white, the children persons of color. Now everyone is dead.

It’s logical to presume that children end up in foster care after a clusterfuck of parental missteps. A lot of things go wrong. And then things go wrong over and over again. Really wrong. And so children are removed from the home. The Hart children were permanently removed. Their parents lost custody. The children were adopted out. They were removed from the state they were born in, removed from family, both immediate and extended. Maybe things were epic proportion horrible for these kids. But here’s the thing. It didn’t get better. They were “saved” by two white women who killed them.

The birthmothers are always the tragedy in the background in stories like this. There’s a whole cast of characters in this silent background that doesn’t make the newspapers until weeks later, if ever. In this story there’s an aunt who had custody but broke a rule, and so she lost custody too. Now according to THIS,the birthmother of one of the sets of children is” taking it hard.” Can you imagine? If you’re a birthmother you can. But you sure as hell don’t want to.

There’s a long history of adoption in our country, and we’ve learned things that we have yet to put into practice. In Adoption in America: A Historical Perspective, E. Wayne Carp cites an early 19thcentury historian, reporting on four orphan asylums between 1800 and 1820: “But adoption did not emerge as the preferred system of child care in the early nineteenth century because elite families with whom the children were placed often treated them as servants rather than family members. This experience led the female managers to favor blood relatives when considering child placement.” Similar conclusions were made decades later as a result of the orphan trains wherein foundlings and street children from eastern cities were sent to more rural areas throughout the country to live with families that sometimes treated them as indentured servants. Early adoption law in Minnesota was forged to combat the corruptions of the orphan trains.

While there are certainly many kudos deserved to those who adopt children from foster care–those people who have the capacity to love and to work toward healing, there are still uncomfortable truths to be reckoned with. I’ll leave you with these thoughts from Liz Latty and her piece “Adoption is a Feminist Issue, But Not For the Reasons You Think,” :

“Here’s the toughest truth yet: Those children are almost always the children of poor and working class people, people of color, native and indigenous people, and young people. The people who adopt them, who directly benefit from the economic and racial oppression of these groups, are most often middle and upper-middle-class people and are primarily white”.

And if you’re the sort of person who prays, pray for everyone. The social workers in the system, the children, the foster parents, the adoptive parents, and the birth families. I’m really not much for praying myself, but I’ll be thinking of the birthmothers of the Hart children forever.

This Is Us

 

 

Writers working at night in Maverick Writers’ Studio on the Gihon River at the Vermont Studio Center

Sometimes it feels like a secret society, this adoption thing.

I’ve been at a writer’s residency the past month at the Vermont Studio Center, and as I read from my book manuscript a couple of weeks ago, I looked out at the faces in the audience. I know that whenever I read from my memoir afterwards, either right away or in the coming days,  there will be whispered conversations. People tell me their stories–or maybe not the story at all–just that they are a birthmother or an adoptee.

I’m still thinking of the young man who waited until the day before he left to tell me how much he appreciated the reading. “I’m a child of adoption,” he said. I saw loss and longing and questions in his eyes. The intensity of it threw me off balance, and I had one of those moments wherein I tried to say something right and good, but because I was trying so hard, I can’t remember what it was I said.

I would have liked to have said that I’d bet a million dollars that his mother loved him and has missed him every day of her life.

 

New Essay in American Adoption Congress Newsletter

 

Here’s the link.

The target audience for the AAC is mostly adoptees, I think. Some birthparents too.

I wrote the piece with adoptive parents in mind. So if you know some adoptive parents, maybe pass it on.

Thank you.

Nonetheless, I’m grateful to The Beacon for the publication.

The Adoption Museum Project

unnamed-1

In my morning scroll though Facebook, I stumbled across a post that had to do with The Adoption Museum.  The what? I said. The what? The initial exhibit back in May of 2013 had to do with birthmothers (yes, there was an ensuing controversy about the term) and I had no idea that the project existed or that the event occurred. I missed it.

In 2013 I was still adjusting to my first year as a caregiver. In May I was obsessing over my mother’s CPAP machine.  All of that–my life as a caregiver, living with my mother, weekends with the man who loved me visiting us, doing what I could to support my younger daughter as she worked on her master’s degree–all of that seems so long ago as if the four of us here together in this house was a dream.

I suppose there are plenty of days that the memory of giving birth to my son and then giving him up resides in the background too. But some days the experience lives inside me close to the surface–not just his birth and the subsequent relinquishment or even the two decades of secrecy or the visceral memory of shame and grief. It’s that girl, the girl I was then. She comes to live inside me. I was a different person then. The other big events– the deaths, divorces, estrangements– happened to the person I now know to be me. But that girl. A visit from her is like time travel and space travel rolled into one. She’s an alien and she is me.

Anyway, there are still ways to get involved and a newsletter you can subscribe to. They are open to feedback.

So I’m just shouting it out. And thinking about what feedback I’d like to provide–where to begin, actually. I am nothing but feedback when it comes to adoption.

The Meanness Olympics/Comments on an article about Simone Biles’ biological mother

cinderella_by_stargazer_gemini

Here’s the link to a newspaper article about Simone Biles’ birthmother. I read it twice. And I also read another interview with her in the Huffington Post and in the New York Daily News–all based on an interview with her from TMZ

She said she’s glad she and her daughter are not estranged any longer, but their relationship is still fledgling.

She says that she wished her dad hadn’t thrown her under the bus in a recent interview of his with the press. She said she thought he was insensitive about the way he described her battle with addiction.

She admits that she took the loss of her children very badly. She admits that she yelled at her father and that she was hard-headed, that she didn’t understand then why she couldn’t see her kids but she says she understands it now. She admits that she wan’t able to care for them back then.

She admits that she was an addict and says that she’s been clean for nine years now.

She is raising her two youngest children herself. She has a job.

It seems pretty clear that Shannon Biles’ children were in jeopardy. “In and out of foster care” is not a good thing. It worked out well, probably better than imagined, that Simone’s grandfather and his wife legally adopted Simone and her sister and are now their mom and dad. Hooray for all that. Gold medals all around.

While I understand the hunger of the media for a story and the  curiosity of Olympic viewers and the general public about all this, I don’t understand the hate directed at Shannon Biles in the comments sections.

Shannon Biles was an addict. She lost custody of four children. That’s a clusterfuck of hurt  for a lot of people, including innocent children. It’s personal disaster beyond measure. BUT this woman who lost her children and the respect of her father is now clean. She has turned her life around. In the olympics of her personal life, that’s pretty damn golden too.

Birthmothers/first mothers/bio mothers are human beings deserving of compassion. We did what we did for a million reasons. Put on those shoes, haters. Try a little running and jumping in them and when your feet are bloody, give thanks for your perfect life and your shiny veneer over your hate-filled soul. I have to try a little bit not to wish you ill, but I can do it. I wish you well. I wish for you understanding, and some personal peace, and an inclination for you to share that with the world instead of hate.

 

image at the top of this post is from stargazer-gemini.deviantart.com

 

What to Say to a Birthmother on Mother’s Day and a Thought or Two on Birthmother’s Day

20110316-bulisova-mw18-910-001_2

There are millions of us. For every adoptee, there is a birthmother. We’re your sisters, your friends, your aunts, your cousins, your teammates, your co-workers, your wives and girlfriends, that person next to you on the plane who’s flying home to see her mom and tells you everything after her 4th rum and coke.

Each of our stories is unique and they’re all the same. What you say to the particular birthmother(s) that you know probably depends on the story. Think about what you know. Step into her shoes. Is she still keeping her secret from others with you being one of the few in her confidence? Is she happily reunited with her son or daughter? Has her child refused to meet her? Is she searching? Does she have other children? Maybe you invite her over for coffee or take her out for a drink. Maybe you tell her you feel enriched by knowing her story, or you give her a card or a take time for a conversation. Maybe you ask her what she thinks of Birthmother’s Day, which is today, by the way, in case you didn’t know.

I don’t exactly hate the idea of Birthmother’s Day, myself. But I don’t really love it either. The phrase Happy Birthmother’s Day pretty much gets stuck in my throat. I’d rather cough up a carving knife than say that, but the idea of commemoration is a good one. We’re here. So, I’m thinking of us and all of our stories.

Identity. Who am I, really?

earnest-web1_Landscape

“The Importance of Being Earnest” is, at it’s heart, a play about identity. I saw a production of it Saturday that was a perfect confection. The play is a classic, written by Oscar Wilde and first staged in London in 1895. Chock full of wit and humor, it mocks social conventions AND though the word is never uttered, it’s also a play about adoption.

The plot is immensely complicated with one farcical turn after another, but suffice it to say that the play’s main character, Ernest (a.k.a. Jack Worthing,) lives a double life and uses his obligations to a fictitious younger brother as an excuse to avoid certain social obligations. As the play opens, his best friend, Algernon, good-naturedly traps him in his lies and things begin to unravel most comically.

Ernest, who is known as Jack (his actual name) while at his house in the country where he maintains his ward Cecily and her governess Miss Prism, frequently excuses himself to travel to London ostensibly  to rescue the fictitious brother he calls Ernest (keep in mind that he himself is known as Ernest to those who keep company with him in the city.)  Cecily has a mad crush on the fictitious brother Ernest and longs to meet him. She gets her wish when Algernon, in his plot to unravel Jack’s lies, shows up at the country house impersonating Ernest–whom Jack has, moments before in an effort to simplify his life, announced as having suddenly died while in Paris.

Algernon and Cecily fall in love. Jack gets a visit from Gwendolyn, the London girl to whom he’s engaged, (remember she knows him as Ernest–oh, and she finds the name Ernest irresistibly attractive.) And in the ongoing investigation of Jack’s suitability as a husband, Gwendolyn’s mother, Lady Bracknell, (who is also Algernon’s aunt) prods Jack into revealing that he was a foundling, his parents unknown to him, thereby jeopardizing his standing in London society.

A few twists later we learn that it was Miss Prism who accidentally left Jack, as an infant, in a large handbag in a train station when she was in the employ of Lady Bracknell’s sister…..Are you ready for it? Yes indeed, the friends, Jack and Algernon, are really brothers. And when Jack investigates further to find out what his original name was before he was re-christened after he was taken in by a benefactor….you guessed it….Ernest.

Most adoption/reunion stories I’ve heard are full of amazing co-incidences. They’re just not as funny. You need somebody like Oscar Wilde, I guess, to pull that off.

I love “The Importance of Being Earnest” and I’ve seen it at least a half-dozen different times over the last few decades. I love how the audience always gasps when Jack finds out who he really is and what his original name was. Every time, I think about all those strangers I’m sitting with in the dark. How many of them are adopted, how many might have brothers or sisters they don’t know, how many would give anything to know the name they were given at birth. And how, in real life, that’s not funny at all.

Adoption and Multi-Generational Loss

20130820193044I became a grandmother 13 years ago last week. But here’s the thing. It’s quite likely that I might never have known that I was a grandmother. All three of my grandchildren are my son’s kids, and I relinquished him for adoption as a newborn. Without reunion, I would not know that they exist. My daughters would not be aunts. The great-grandchildren count for my mom would be halved. Adoption is a very large stone dropped into the pond of life, and the ripples just keep expanding.

Reunion always focuses on the reunion between the birthmother and adoptee. While it may be the central loss, it’s not the only loss. And the loss keeps expanding with each future generation.

I often wonder what my life would be like, had I not met my son. Less than it is right now is the rosiest answer that I can come up with.

Family Resemblances

This morning’s t’ai chi chih class was taught by a substitute teacher–the mother of my regular teacher. It was eerily wonderful to see the same tilt of the head, the same gesture overtake the fingers on a smaller set of hands, a similar look of joy on an older face.

This past week during the visit from my son and his family, my younger daughter and my son’s wife pointed out the similarities between my son, my older daughter, his oldest child, and me. It’s the way we walk, they said. Some basic body language. Which is not remarkable at all. Unless you have been separated by adoption. I see some of these resemblances, too. In my role as grandmother it feels sometimes that I have been yanked backwards in time when I catch my oldest granddaughter out of the corner of my eye. Like some portal has been slit open and I’m slipping back a dozen years into my older daughter’s childhood. Once again, not remarkable at all. Unless I’d never found my son. In that case, I wouldn’t know that my granddaughter existed.

The photo above is the daughter in 2011 at age 25
The granddaughter in 2012 at age 11