Tag Archives: adoptees

Breaking the Silence

Breaking the silence in adoption can be distressing.
Silence,by Odillon Redon

Breaking the silence in adoption scares us. We don’t dare.

This story highlights the secrecy in adoption. And a secret weighs heavy on the heart. A secret can be found out if you’re not careful, so you mind your tongue. Look over your shoulder, scan the room for a face with a knowing look. All the while, your heart begs you to lift its burden by breaking the silence into a million pieces.

Not long ago I was having lunch with new friends when someone asked the ages of my children. The answer to this question always elicits raised eyebrows or a comment. “I had my son when I was a teenager,” I said. “He was given up for adoption, but I reconnected with him.” I always keep the answer short, but people want to know more. When I say that I searched for my son and found him, people think that I’m Nancy Drew, or that I’m super courageous, or a ballsy political activist. My answer is just, I had to.

And sometimes we feel we have to tell our stories. Here’s the link to Caitriona Palmer’s book.

What to Say to a Birthmother

Birthmothers, the mothers in the shadows

Do you know a birthmother?

There are millions of us birthmothers. For every adoptee, there is one of us. 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.

Do you know what to say on Mother’s Day?

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.

“Birth Mother” is on audible.com

“Birth Mother” by Denise Emanuel Clemen

My memoir, “Birth Mother,” published last summer by Shebooks is now available on audible.com. I’ve listened to the sample, and while it’s kind of strange for me to hear another voice reading my words, I like the reader’s voice a lot. She sounds, well….kinda like me.

There are other fabulous books by women from Shebooks on Audible too. Check them out.

“Fable” –a poem by Louise Glück

Judgemnt of Solomon by Raphael(1)
“The Judgement of Solomon” by Raphael

Though the poem, “Fable” by Louise Glück is not meant to be about adoption,  it resonated with me nonetheless. But not in the way you might think-not pitting adoptive mother against birth mother. In the poem we read about the suffering of a daughter in a strained relationship with her sister. Loss and grief are deep and primal in this poem. Like the loss and grief in adoption.

A Fable

Two women with
the same claim
came to the feet of
the wise king. Two women,
but only one baby.
The king knew
someone was lying.
What he said was
Let the child be
cut in half; that way
no one will go
empty-handed. He
drew his sword.
Then, of the two
women, one
renounced her share:
this was
the sign, the lesson.
you saw your mother
torn between two daughters:
what could you do
to save her but be
willing to destroy
yourself—she would know
who was the rightful child,
the one who couldn’t bear
to divide the mother.

Burger King Baby Update

A Burger King baby update tells us that things are going well!

Of all the adoption stories out there on Facebook, this one has certainly captured my heart. I blogged about the baby a while ago, and here I am again with the update.  

I like the candidness of the interview of the birthmother and the daughter, known as the Burger King baby, in the update. There’s so much redemption in the story. And I’m humbled.

I didn’t exactly have a solid plan when I was a pregnant 17-year-old. What I hoped was that I’d have the nerve to take a Greyhound bus to Chicago. I’d been there only once–on a school trip with my high school chorus where we sang in a church with other Catholic high school choirs. I told myself that when I got off the bus, I’d look for a church steeple and go there, hoping to find a convent. I’d ring the bell and ask the nuns to help me–to take me in and let me work for room and board. I would tell them I had amnesia, and that I didn’t know my name. You get the picture….how could this have possibly worked? The Burger King baby–or any number of other things could have happened to me. Desperate people do desperate things.

Adoption Begins With Loss

Mourning attire from the exhibit, “Death Becomes Her” at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NYC

National Adoption Month

What I would like to say to everyone who is happily celebrating National Adoption Month is this: Every adoption begins with loss.

You are happy.


Some of us are dying inside. This piece in the Huff Post by Mirah Riben explains it rather succinctly in rant-less fashion.

You might also want to read this.  Tarikuwa Lemma is as eloquent as a poet about her own adoption.

Every adoption begins with loss.

Crowd-funding for adoption

And as if a National Adoption Month and a National Adoption Day are not enough, there’s now the 4 million bucks  that a pastor recently crowd funded to establish International Adoption Day. Here’s a quote from the article in Forbes just in case you’re too busy eating your Happy Adoption Day cake to read the whole thing:  “The main obstacle to adopting a newborn child is the cost.”

Checking out their website, I’m willing to concede that maybe these folks aren’t  dealing exclusively in newborns from foreign countries… but the pastor did say newborn. Newborns, by the way, have never been the focus of National Adoption Month. According to the North American Council on Adoptable Children, there are currently over 100,000 children in foster care who cannot be reunited with their original families. National Adoption Month was created for them. This four million dollar funding effort is not connecting families with those kids. Adoption from foreign countries is a thicket of concerns, even when older children are being placed. The loss that initiates every adoption is compounded in international adoption.

Every adoption begins with loss

So while you’re toasting to your happy family,I’d like a pause–a deep breath, a nano second of silence in which the happy consider the gravity of loss in adoption. Every adoption begins with loss. That loss is like a stone dropped into a pond. It ripples out, and out, and out. Baby loses mother. Mother loses baby. Grandparents lose baby. Aunts. Uncles. Cousins. Sisters. Brothers. On and and on.

When is adoption truly necessary?

I want you to know that I believe some adoptions are good and necessary. BUT family preservation should be the number #1 goal. That said, I question the North American Council on Adopted Children’s statement above. Are there really 100,000 children who cannot be placed with family members? Rephrasing the quote from the pastor in the Forbes article, the main obstacle to family preservation is the cost. Crowd fund that.

Now party on.  Festoon your house with balloons. I’m going to change my brightly colored clothes and find something black.

photo credit: New York Times

Adoptees and Medical History

Lily Tomlin playing Edith Ann on Rowan and Martin’s “Laugh In.”
If Edith Ann were and adoptee, she wouldn’t know her medical history.

Closed records hide medical history

Adult adoptees often don’t know their medical history. Treated as perpetual children, in most U.S. states they have no access to their medical histories. Why? Because their adoption records are sealed. Therefore, they don’t know who their biological parents are. Imagine going to the doctor and filling out that sheaf of forms by simply scrawling across the top “unknown.”

Adult adoptees need their medical history

A few months back the American Academy of Pediatrics issued a statement regarding adoption records.  Therefore, the Academy is aware that adoptees don’t know their medical history. They say they want adoption records to be unsealed. Well, sort of. Their recommendation contains the caveat “unless specifically denied by the birthparents.” I’m a birthmother, not an adoptee, but I’m pretty sure many adoptees viewed this as only a partial victory.

Pointedly, it was the American Academy of Pediatrics that came forward to voice their support for open records. Not the American Medical Association. Doesn’t the silence of the A.M.A. perpetuate society’s view of adult adoptees as children? And as a person grows older, doesn’t medical history become even more important?

When I was searching for my son I contacted the agency in Iowa that had handled the adoption, and I petitioned the court. I asked both entities to forward vital medical history to my son, who was 20 years old. But I got nowhere. Absolutely nowhere.

National Adoption Month

Me, age 17 and a secret mother

How N. A. M. began

National Adoption Month began in 1976 in the state of Massachusetts as a way of bringing awareness to the plight of children in foster care. Designating a month to this consciousness-raising effort had its heart in the right place. Children need families.

This year’s theme

This year the focus is on sibling connections–which I hope means that siblings ought to remain together, rather than be separated by adoption. All of this is mostly good. Although, I’d prefer a campaign that got more to the heart of things. Something like “Adoption: Designed for Children Who Need Families.” Maybe even throw in a subtitle. Like, “Not designed for families who want children.”

N. A. M., a different perspective

National Adoption Month can be a festival of pain and frustration for people who’ve been separated from their loved ones through adoption. Adoption is often touted as a fairy tale. But what if the tale doesn’t end happily ever after?

Explore adoption

Adoption is more complex than you think. Explore it from all points of view. There’s always plenty to read about adoption. Type adoption into the search box on Facebook and see what turns up. Then try it on Google. Check out the links under the “take action” tab in this blog. Maybe check out my book. Keep your eyes and ears open, and ask yourself how often it’s really necessary to remove an infant from a  mother simply because she is very young, economically disadvantaged, or lacks family support. Is that ever really necessary?

Ask if adoption is necessary

I don’t think it was necessary in my case. If my narrow minded hometown/Catholic Church/Catholic school environment would not have made the lives of everyone in my family miserable, I could have kept my son.

My sister was already married and living far from town out on a farm. What if I’d had a hideaway deep in a cornfield–a little cabin or house trailer? Every night I could have carried my baby down a stubbly path to her house. I might have had supper at the kitchen table with her and her husband and her two little kids. We might have sat together after the dishes were done, rocking our babies and feeding them their bedtime bottles. Then she’d carry her baby upstairs, and I’d carry mine back through the cornfield, fireflies lighting our way.

In our secret abode I would have loved my son, and he would have loved me. No one would learn my secret. Happy years would go on in this secret place, my clothes wearing thin while I witnessed my son learning to walk and talk. He would grown tall, and my braids would grow long, so long that they reached the ground.

That was the fairy tale I imagined as a 17-year-old. It’s not what really happened.

Birthmothers Everywhere!

Adoptees are everywhere too! Adoption! It’s huge! Everyone drank the Kool-aid.

No matter where I go

This past month I’ve been to Albuquerque and to Santa Barbara for T’ai Chi Chih retreats, and I’ve done some traveling with friends in Hawaii. Whenever I meet new people and strike up a conversation, more often than not, I find out that the person I’m talking to is either an adoptee or a birthmother. Or someone very close to them is. Adoptees and birthmothers are everywhere.

the cover my memoir, published by SheBooks

On the plane to Albuquerque, it was obvious the guy next to me wanted to talk. Business cards were exchanged. He stared at my card (the front image is the cover of my book) and out spooled a stream of questions. It turned out that his best friend is an adoptee. This friend had recently seen a lot of ups and downs with reunion. On Maui, one of the people in our group was an adoptee. Also in Santa Barbara. Adoption is everywhere.

Myth busting

When people in a group setting are party to these encounters and hear that I surrendered a child for adoption, there’s a very common comment. “Oh, what a wonderful generous thing you did,” they say. A few years ago I would have mumbled some sort of sheepish reply and changed the subject. But these days I’m much more comfortable telling people that it wasn’t like that at all. “That’s not how adoption works,” I say. So I tell them that I didn’t give up my son to be kind or generous. I tell them I had to in order to survive. And I tell them what it was like living in a town of 3000 Catholics in 1970, and how my family would have been ruined. More often than not people seem to get it.

Drinking the Kool-aid

It’s not just birthmothers who drank the Kool-aid, brainwashed into believing we were doing what was best. The adoption industry has been really thorough at handing out samples of that beverage to everyone. It always feels good to tell the truth about it.

Multi-Generational Loss

Every adoption begins with loss.
This can turn into multi-generational loss. Without reunion, I would have lost my grandchildren.

Unknown grandchildren

I 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 in a closed adoption as a newborn. Without reunion, I would not know that any of my grandchildren exist. Adoption can result in a multi-generational loss.

Without reunion, this loss would have extended to everyone in my family.My daughters would not be aunts. My mother’s number of great grandchildren would be cut in half. Adoption is a very large stone dropped into the pond of life. The ripples of loss just keep expanding. And with each subsequent generation, the loss expands to include more and more family members. Here’s an essay from the Washington Post where a six-year-old explains it.

Reunion unites a family

Reunion always focuses on the reunion between the birthmother and adoptee. While it may be the central relationship, it’s not the only relationship. Think about your favorite aunt, the cousin who is so close they feel like a sibling, that uncle everyone says you resemble. Reunion unites a family. Not just two people.

I sometimes wonder what my life would be like, had I not met my son. I don’t like to think about it, really. There’s been so much joy in our get-togethers. Four generations of us. Partying, talking, laughing. How would we have survived without each other?