about those family secrets…bombs away!

One of the biggest fears I faced when I became pregnant was of telling my dad.  It had been threatened (not in so many words per se – which, in my case, was perhaps far more threatening and/or affecting than words) that if I ever became pregnant out of wedlock I would be disowned.

So when I told my mom about my situation and asked for advice on how to go about breaking it to Dad, she didn’t hesitate or even blink at the thought of dropping this rather massive bombshell on me:  “I’m going to let you in on a little secret about your dad,” and she proceeded to tell me about an affair that he’d had with a married woman during the war when he was stationed somewhere over in Europe (the only place he ever talked about being stationed in his conversations about WWII was France, but that was in peacetime, just after the war had ended…he never would talk about where he was actually stationed during the war but would kind of dance around that particular subject with vagueness….perhaps the circumstances of his eldest son coming to be are part of the reason…I may have recently uncovered where this affair took place, but I’ve digressed enough…).  I knew the woman a little.  She and her husband remained family friends, and Mom still hears from a couple of their children, even to this very day (the children, neither of which are my brother…we’ve never heard from him as far as I know…).  The woman’s husband had denied her sexual relations for I guess what she’d considered an unreasonable length of time.  The affair with my dad produced a son whom her husband raised as his own, even though the man obviously knew the boy was not his biologically.  And this is how my mother told me not to worry about how my dad would react.  As far as I know, both parents left this world without ever having told him.  I’m the only one who knows…my brother still does not know about our elder brother, as far as I know…perhaps it’s time for me to let him in on the secret, but I really don’t know…

I found these little bits of evidence after Daddy died; these artifacts hold pictures of my brother when he was little, the words his mother wrote of him, and, to my knowledge, all that my dad would ever have as a reminder of the son he never really got to know:

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These are among the precious few remaining personal affects that have survived of my dad in his youth.  The black book on the right is a baby book which contains recorded highlights and small pictures of their son in his first six months of life.  The writings reveal that she truly loved my dad and wanted him to be part of their son’s life in some small way (Daddy was, interestingly, named as his son’s godfather and can be seen in a picture within the pages of the baby book of the child’s christening – with the “father” [the woman’s husband] pictured on the left; the mother is pictured in the middle and holding the baby wearing a long christening gown, and my dad is pictured on the right in his military uniform).  The light grey piece in the middle is a portrait of the child at approximately 2 years of age.  The identification card holder on the left contains a couple of business cards of some doctors in Paris, some small pieces of paper with handwritten names and addresses, and a few snapshots of the boy at around 5 years of age.  My understanding is that when Dad became serious about his relationship with my mom, he asked the woman to stop providing him with with news of their son.  I have been digging for years to try and find out his whereabouts, and I think I may have just recently located my brother who is now in his sixties.

I have wanted to meet my brother for years.  Now that I may have tracked him, I am conflicted about whether to contact him and introduce myself to him as his sister.  This means dropping a bombshell on him.  While he may have the right to know that we are brother and sister and share a biological link through my dad, the real question is this: Do I have a right to change what he knows about himself?  This means also changing who he knows his mother to be, and, obviously, she chose not to reveal that she fell in love with another man and conceived a child with him while married to her husband (the woman and her husband remained married until his death in the late 20th century).  She passed away a few years ago, and, as far as I know, she took the secret of her son’s conception to her grave with her.  It is her secret, and she has a right to it – and yet it is not her secret, and she doesn’t have a right to it…he’s my brother!  You know?

Therein lies the conundrum of the dark side of family secrets.  Here, I have a brother I desperately want to know.  He has a sister and brother beyond the family he was raised with that he probably has no idea about.  Lord, in heaven, help us all!!

i’ve said all to say this

I’ve shared some of my secrets here.  I’ve shared some of my pain.  I had to do something with it all because I was being crushed underneath the weight and the magnitude of it such that denial was no longer an option.  I’m not out of the water in terms of the grieving.  I love my son.  I told him every day, many times a day in the days I kept him with me before relinquishing him.  What I am facing is the prospect of coming to terms with the fact that the choice I made may have caused it to be such that I may never get to tell him again, and that is a hard thing, harder than anything I can possibly imagine.  I did not heal like I somehow thought I would after giving him up.  I have not healed yet.  I don’t know how much to expect in the way of healing in looking toward the future, but it’s clear enough that I have not arrived.  I am actively seeking to heal.  I hope I can heal.  At times throughout these near 21 years I have not wanted to go on living, but I choose not to take the choice of that upon myself and allow the breath that is in me to continue.  I must find a way to go on with the rest of my life.

What I am is what I am.  What I’ve done is what I’ve done.  I alone must deal with the consequences, and there is nothing to be done about it now, really, but just let life continue on the course that has been set.  What I would ask of you, dear reader, is this:  If you are a man making love to a woman who is not your wife, I would ask you to think before you bed her again if you would not be willing to raise a child with her.  It is, after all, procreation when you break it all down.  If you are a woman making love to a man who is not your husband and find yourself cast off, please know that you are not obligated to carry on that man’s tradition of tossing you out as if you were trash.  Just because he can treat you like trash, doesn’t make it so; it doesn’t make you trash.  All his actions have proven is that he doesn’t respect himself enough to take care of what he’s taken on in procreating with you.  If he doesn’t respect himself, how can he respect you or anyone else – including, perhaps, even his own child?  It’s not your fault anymore than it is your child’s fault, so do not feel obligated to conduct your life as there is a fault that demands recompense.  A child is one’s greatest blessing, if the man who helped bring this child about does not get that, you’ve no obligation to seek a means of letting him off the hook.  He will never be off the hook anyway.  He’ll always know he has a child in this world, and how he chooses to handle that will be his reward – or his reproach.  If he goes the way of reproach, you are not obligated to go down that road with him – especially if he’s gone his own way and left you behind to handle it all.  They say it takes a village.  I live in the village.  If I know you, I’ll help you in anyway that I can.  There are others who feel this way too.  It will not be easy, but you’ll have your child, and your child will have you, and that’s all that really matters when all’s said and done.

If you are a citizen who knows someone talking of breaking up her family by means of adoption, please be a part of the community that embraces it’s member with a new member on the way.  If a woman is thinking of such desperate means there is a desperate need.  You as a member of her community are not obligated to leave her alone, drowning in her fears.  You’ve got more resources than you think with which to comfort her fears.  Do what you can to just help her let herself be pregnant and really let it sink in what that means: it means she is an expectant mother – emphasis on the word, mother.  You are not obligated to watch her destroy who she became when she became pregnant.  Though we do not like to think of women who relinquish as mothers, it does not make them any less mothers: that is what a pregnant woman is, an expectant mother.  It is not self-indulgent for a woman to think of herself as what she is when she is an expectant mother; it is reality.  If she is considering adoption for her child, there has been a disconnect in her link with reality…know that!  Count on it!  It wouldn’t take much and it wouldn’t take long to bring her around to reality.  Let her indulge in imagining herself as who she is: her child’s mother.  Seriously.  What can that hurt?

If you are a couple seeking a child to adopt, do not seek it from a woman who has found herself alone, scared, and with child.  She is not an object for you to take advantage of anymore than she was an object to be taken advantage of by the man who fathered her child.  Realize where this practice came about…it came about when we scorned women for having sex outside of marriage and sent them out in the cover of night off to homes for unwed mothers before the neighbors found out.  This isn’t the 1950’s.  Women no longer have to be hidden away if they become pregnant.  The woman whose child you are hoping for is not a commodity for you anymore than she is for a pimp; she is a human being.  Don’t seek an agent or agency who would make her a commodity.  You are not obligated to perpetuate a predatory practice.  And also, keep in mind, that child inside her is not motherless yet.  If she has it in her to think of her child’s welfare – especially to the extreme of considering adoption – then she is capable of being her child’s mother.  Give her that chance.  Blowing up her family to create your own will not take away the pain of whatever it is that has caused you to have to look toward adoption.  What about the children already here who truly are motherless?  What about them?  You are not obligated to sit by and watch another generation grow up without someone there to say, “You are part of us.  You are not alone in this world.”

All I am asking is for us all to stop and really think about the people around us.  We are social creatures for a reason, and we are interconnected whether we like it or not.  As a society, we are starting to take on bullying.  That is so good because in this we are learning that every person has value, and no person has a right to take another’s self-worth away.  A man who is allowed to come into his own and find his self-worth without the interference of someone violently stealing it away with bullying may be allowed to let himself be the father he procreates himself into being instead of running away like he had to try and run away from the bullies and the pain they were inflicting.  Maybe that sense of self-worth that he’ll be allowed to grow into will be the difference between doing the right thing and not.  Maybe that sense of self-worth will even allow him to wait until he actually finds the person he would want to have a family with instead of trying to cram the empty holes of his stolen self-worth with the first thing that comes along.  Maybe that first thing will no longer be a thing.  Maybe she will actually be allowed to be a human being who can find and know her true worth.  If she is allowed this, then a better world is already being created for our children – who are, after all, the future.

And that is all I am saying in even starting this blog to begin with.  None of us are objects to be cast aside when no longer of use, so let’s not treat each other as such.  Each of us has value, each has something to contribute if we’ll just give a little mercy, a little room to grow, a little kindness, a little understanding, a little compassion.  Little is much with such grace in our midst.

portrait of a broken family

I think that actively seeking to forgive myself and others for their role in the relinquishment of my child to adoption has enabled me to start opening up a little to my mom about what it was like for me to be in the process of self-annihilating so hideously while every single person with whom I came into contact not only watched but patted me on the back as well, telling me what a wonderful thing I was doing.

I’m definitely out of the anger stage of the grieving process.  In the past few weeks, where I’ve found myself in the process is having basically succumbed to a grievous, grievous horror at the realization of all that was happening.

My mother is the reason I do not carry vengeance in my heart toward anyone involved because I know my mom would not knowingly cause me harm.   I know with all of my heart that my mom has never wanted anything but the best for me.  And my dad, for all of his hardness and unwillingness to extend mercy, wouldn’t have wished what I’ve gone through on his worst enemy.  For all his shortcomings, I know he loved me too and would not wish even the most minuscule amount of harm on me.  I suppose the knowledge of this is partly how I have survived up to this point and how I continue to survive.

The birth of his first and only grandchild should have been one of the most joyous events of his life.  Instead, this is where it left him: crumbling to pieces, as this picture, to me, clearly shows.  Within 4 years from the taking of this photograph, my dad would be gone from this world.

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A picture can tell infinitely more than thousands of words can.  Nearly 21 years later, this photo is still nearly impossible to bear and/or believe.  The fact that this adoption took place is a testament to how egregiously all was not well with this family.  To me, it couldn’t be more abundantly clear that this is the point at which all of the family secrets – the elephant herd that had been angrily charging in the room for decades – had hit home to deal their final death blow.  As I watched this terrible process unfold of my whole world, and my whole family, falling apart, there was little satisfaction in having such a clear illustration and confirmation of how destructive family secrets can be.

adoption is…

The biggest thing that struck me about what Nancy shared was how adoption, so often, seems to be one lifelong, inescapable life interruption.  From the very moment of separation, so begins the interruption, and the interruption continues and often increases in frequency and intensity.  I have fractured myself.  I have fractured my family.  I cannot escape it.

So maybe it’s time to go back, have a talk with that pregnant woman, and tell her…I’m sorry…I love you.  Maybe this will finally be the start of the healing of these fractures.

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an adoptee’s story

I’d like to introduce you to my friend, Nancy.  She was adopted as an infant, and her adoptive parents have been supportive of her search for her biological family.  She has met her birth mother in person a few times as well as other key members of her first mother’s family and has obtained some limited information about her biological father as well but has not yet met him.

Carol has asked  me to share my adoption story, any aspect I wish, but to me there is no way to share just an aspect of it.  My adoption permeates my whole life.  It is something that is so deeply a part of me that I forget about it until something brings it up: a doctor’s appointment asking for family medical history, talking about family, a friend’s pregnancy, a compliment; all of it reminds me that I am adopted, that I don’t just have one family; I have three.  I have the family I was raised with and I am just now beginning to examine critically; I have the family that I have just met, and I am discovering what a genetic connection truly is; and I have the family I have yet to find but spend hours wondering what innate gifts they gave me. 

I am the product of a loving relationship that did not last.  I am the child of two people who are celebrating their 36th year together.  I am a woman struggling to grasp what it means to be an adoptee.

You would think having a title since birth would mean knowing exactly what that entails; however, the dynamics of that title are constantly changing.  As a young child, it meant I was special, I was chosen.  As a young adolescent, it meant I had been rejected, that I wasn’t good enough to be kept.  As a young adult, it has meant battling the false ideas I have ingrained in myself.  I fight against my need to be grateful and apologetic for merely existing.  I struggle to accept the love my maternal family has always held for me.  I fight my urge to demand answers and instead let the process of learning be slow.

Being an adoptee is a struggle and an unchangeable fact.  I will always be an adoptee but my hope is it will not be a fight.

Listly Family Search

Many of you may have started noticing people posting pictures on facebook to search for family members lost through adoption.  There is now a comprehensive list where all of these searchers can get word out of their plight on a service called Listly: Adoptees & Families Searching.

The list can be embedded and shared anywhere.

I wish all great success and restoration in their search.