Returning . . .

I haven’t had the time to plan returning to the scene because I haven’t left it.

–Mick Jagger

I’ve left you all alone for so long. Please understand that despite my absence from the blog, I appreciate you all so much! I have heard from so many of you while I’ve been in this “retreat” phase. I’ve been happy to help some of you with the CABI, and answer your questions about search, reunion, rejection, contact and more.  I’m glad you’ve found my blog and you’ve been able to find some hope and connection with my story. And you all must know–I want to hear your story, as well. Every adoption story, whether it ends in a successful reunion or not–remember, I understand it all. And I want to hear it.

family-027_origAs for me, I’ve been busy meeting more family members–wonderful aunts on my maternal side, and more cousins on my paternal side–who have all been so wonderful in opening their hearts and sharing stories.  There is so much rich history that I am still learning. And I am thankful. It’s been a journey with surprises that I never expected. I’m loving it.

The book is coming. Jackson, my bio-Dad, has been reading my memoir and his approval of the story and the details makes me happy. I’ll finally be able to reveal his true identity and his awesome accomplishments. I am so proud of him and can’t wait to share my pride and his awesomeness.

editing-ratesI’m still editing and rewriting. It’s a big job. It will never be perfect, or just right. I am thankful for my editor, who has been guiding me and punishing me (just kidding), so that I know where to go with my story. Thank you for hanging in there with me.

It’s all about the positive.

Beating the Odds – And Keeping the Dream Alive [And How to Write A Letter to Your Biological Father Who Doesn’t Know You Exist]

road-to-the-beach-sunrise-facebook-coverI apologize in advance. This is a long post. Since it’s been awhile since I’ve updated my blog and my journey in earnest, I wanted to summarize my story and let readers know where I am on this crazy journey. I also wanted to answer a question that I’m asked often: “What did you say to your biological father when you introduced yourself?” Every journey is different and complicated in its own way (although I’m not sure any journey is more complicated than mine!), but I want to encourage everyone who is curious or is being held back by his or her own fears to move forward. And remember, happy endings are not the goal–the goal is wholeness.  

My entire life has been about beating the odds. Don’t get me wrong—I never felt like an underdog. But given my circumstances, at least with respect to my birth and the inexorable journey I would take, I was more likely to be on the side of defeat than of victory.

I was born in 1963 in a prison. A prison baby. At the time of my birth, my mother was eighteen years old and serving a ten-year prison sentence for drug-related charges. She gave birth to me just four months into her stay at the California Institute for Women.

Given that rough start in life, what were the odds that I’d have an opportunity to live a full life with a loving family in a happy home? Thanks to adoption, I did. I was raised by two loving parents and I even had a big brother, also adopted.

My brother and I don’t remember ever being told that we were adopted—we just always knew. As children, it was a non-issue—something that just wasn’t talked about. We were chosen. Loved. We were taught and conditioned to believe that being adopted didn’t matter. So it didn’t. Until it did.

question-mark-faceI was twenty years old when curiosity got the best of me. Of course, adoptees understand that it is much more complicated than just simple curiosity. It’s a need to understand and know one’s true identity. Identity that includes a sense of belonging and a knowledge and familiarity with family history, heritage and ethnicity. A yearning to find someone who looks who looks like me.

Like most adoptees, as I got older, I understood my adoption circumstances a little better. I may have been chosen, raised and loved by one family, but I was given away, relinquished, abandoned, probably even unwanted, by another. I wanted to know more about that. Wouldn’t you?

When my journey of discovery started, I was living and going to school abroad. It was the first time I had lived away from home and away from my adoptive family. I missed them a lot. I wrote letters and telephoned them every other week. They were the only family I knew. During this time, I even wrote and talked to my parents about my curiosity and my desire to search for my biological family. Luckily for me, they understood that my desire to search and learn more about my origins did not mean I no longer wanted to be a part of my adoptive family. I had their support and their understanding.

After graduating from college and returning home, I started to search in earnest. I got in touch with the county adoption services where my adoption was facilitated. They gave me my non-identifying information. What a revelation! I really didn’t think I would learn anything of great value from my non-identifying information, but I was blown away to find that it was packed full of stories and physical descriptions of my biological parents and grandparents and first names of their siblings and their parents (aunts and uncles and grandparents!). I already had my birth mother’s last name from the adoption papers that my parents kept, so I was on my way! I was eager and excited to discover my story.

It was 1986. I hired a private investigator to help me. She started at the prison. She knew my biological mother’s last name and my birthdate, so she checked the records to find an inmate who was in the hospital on or around my birthdate. The names matched up. BINGO! Found.

The finding part was easy. But much to my chagrin, my birth mother was not happy about being found. She cursed the county social worker for giving out the non-identifying information. She cursed the investigator for contacting family members in an attempt to reach her (she had an unlisted number and was difficult to find). She cursed me for . . . well, just being me, I guess. She had no desire for contact. I wrote to her anyway. In the end, we exchanged letters twice, but she was firm in her position that she did not want any kind of ongoing relationship or any continuing communication. She hadn’t told anyone about her pregnancy and my birth and she wasn’t about to do it now. I didn’t even have an opportunity to ask any meaningful questions. I know from the private investigator that she’d never been married and had had no other children. I was confused. And hurt.

rejected

An Exclusive Group!

I tried to look on the bright side. In a weird, twisted way, I had beaten the odds—again. Most birth mothers actually welcome contact from their adult biological children. In fact, research has shown that fewer than five percent (< 5%) of birth mothers who give up a child for adoption reject contact from their adult adoptee child. Despite my disappointment with being a member of this exclusive group, I was able to carry on and live a pretty normal life. I had a great job as a paralegal and was considering going law school. I eventually met a great guy, got married, and we started a family. Everything was normal. Everything was great! Except for one small thing. The questions were still lingering. Who am I? Who do my kids look like?

When I was rejected by my bio mom for the second time, I was devastated. Not so much because I’d never get to know her (I’ve come to realize that I don’t think she is the sort of person I would like anyway), but because she shut down any chance of me getting to know any other family members and finding out who my biological father is. She was the only one who knew and she wasn’t about to give me any answers. I thought I would never learn my truth.

dna_trailLuckily for me (and other adoptees from the closed records era), the evolution of science and technology over the years helped keep the dream of finding answers alive. For adoptees, a DNA test can provide the first ever connection with a biological relative. You may only get distant relative matches at first, but by contacting those relatives and exploring family connections and sharing stories, many adoptees are able to identify close family members and even birth parents. And today’s internet-strong social media makes it easier than ever to connect and make contact. It’s tricky and can even feel like trying to find a needle in a haystack at times, but DNA testing can reveal so much. Even when it feels like you’re fighting against all odds.

Sure, maybe you won’t get that one-in-a-million DNA family match, but there is much to gain from a DNA test. Most adoptees I know, myself included, don’t (or didn’t) know their true ancestry or ethnicity. With the results from a DNA test, we may be able to discover where our ancestors came from. I found out that I am German, French and English. Mind blown.

Some DNA testing services also provide health related information. For adoptees who keep having to fill out medical forms for family medical history with the words “UNKNOWN/ADOPTED,” even a small amount of health related information can be gold. Science is awesome. So do it, even if you think the odds are against you. You may be surprised at what you find.

Back to the relative finding thing. Adoptees have two issues when it comes to finding relatives: (1) we want to identify family members — if not immediate family, then those closely enough related so that they might be able to help identify immediate family; and (2) we’re racing the clock because we want to identify family while they — and we — are still living. Again, we’re trying to beat the odds.

adoption-treeUnfortunately, a large percentage of the distant relative matches will not respond to requests for contact. But because the databases are so large and growing daily, you are still likely to make many important contacts. And here’s the key: you have to be consistent. You have to be willing to tell your story over and over again. You have to talk about your adoption and provide every bit of information you know. Names, places, even stories that may or may not be true. Share and share again. Someone out there knows your truth. Or, someone out there knows just enough of your truth so that you can put the puzzle pieces together. And you never know—you may beat the odds—like I did.

I never imagined that spitting into a plastic tube could reveal the answer to the burning question: “Who’s your daddy?” But that’s exactly what happened. I beat the odds again. My biological father didn’t even know I existed. He doesn’t even remember my biological mother, or the encounter that resulted in my coming into this world (we blame those crazy free-lovin’, drug fueled, beatnik 60s).

When I logged on to 23andMe to check out the DNA Relatives section, I was initially stunned and overwhelmed. 23andMe had matched me with 762 distant relatives (3rd to distant cousins). I had no idea what I was supposed to do with this information. I just couldn’t wrap my head around it.

Then I saw it: 1 CLOSE FAMILY. What? Who?

I clicked on the link, but before 23andMe would reveal any details, a warning popped up. I had to confirm that I really, really wanted the information. This was not a game.

23andMe actually asked for two layers of consent before it would reveal my close family relationship. First, a warning was presented via popup that explains how this “new” evidence of a close family relationship can be unexpected and even upsetting in some cases. Upsetting? Been there. Done that (with my bio mom). Of course I wanted to know.

You may learn information about yourself that you do not anticipate. Such information may provoke strong emotion.

Thanks, 23andMe. I was nervous, but I clicked “proceed” anyway.

Father?! My biological father?! 23andMe found my biological father when no one else (except for my bio mom) knew who he was?

I could hardly think straight as I typed out a message to Father.

Hi,
I am contacting you because 23andMe has identified you as a relative of mine because of our shared DNA. 23andMe has predicted, through our DNA match, that you are my biological father. You won’t recognize my name, because I was adopted and bear the name of my adoptive parents. However, my birth mother’s name is Margaret Michaels. I hope that this name is familiar to you, although it was 50 years ago and I understand that it was a difficult time for both of you. I hope that you will respond to my message and that you are interested in exploring our relationship. I look forward to hearing from you!
Laureen Pittman (original birth certificate reads: “Baby Girl Michaels”).

 

That was over three years ago. My biological father and I first got to know each other via email, then a few Skype conversations. He lives over 1,200 miles from me, so the slow start to our “reunion” was necessary, and good. We needed that time to get to know one another and for him to feel comfortable that I wasn’t some crazy stalker up to no good. We finally met in 2015. I flew up to his home in Washington State and was welcomed with open arms by him, my half-sister, and my sweet little niece.

As with all adoption stories and reunions, it’s complicated. We’re still getting to know each other and we’re helping one another to understand how we fit into each other’s lives and families. Together, we’ve uncovered a rich family history and an understanding of life, love, struggle and the evolution of a complicated, but strong family. My life is definitely much richer for knowing him (and other biological family members I’ve met on this journey) and I’ve learned so much about myself. I believe he feels the same way. Beating the odds has its perks.

My memoir, The Lies That Bind, will be published in 2017.

The Journey – A Musical

“Music… will help dissolve your perplexities and purify your character and sensibilities, and in time of care and sorrow, will keep a fountain of joy alive in you.”
― Dietrich Bonhoeffer

I love this quote for a couple of reasons.

Reason 1: It’s about the music. It explains why I have a playlist for my life. Music speaks to me. My playlist isn’t written down somewhere–it’s subconscious; subliminal.

Reason 2: Deitrich Bonhoeffer is German. I’m German. It’s my heritage; one I didn’t know about (and wasn’t entitled to)  until I discovered my ancestry through DNA. Since learning about my biological father and German heritage, I became a little obsessed with learning about German Americans in WWII and all kinds of spy stories and sabotage operations mounted against targets inside America. Why have I become so obsessed with the dark underside of espionage in WWII? The story of my German ancestors is fascinating and still holds many mysteries waiting to be uncovered.  It’s a long story and I won’t connect all the dots for you here, but Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a musician, a theologist and  a member of the Abwehr (defense) section of the German Military Intelligence Corps, the organization that originally was charged with espionage missions in Europe and the US by Hitler and the Nazi party.  Eventually, however, under cover of the Abwehr, Bonhoeffer became a participant in the German Resistance movement against Hitler and Nazism. His involvement in plans by members of the Abwehr to assassinate Hitler resulted in his arrest in April 1943 and his subsequent execution by hanging in 1945, shortly before the war’s end. So I have a soft spot in my heart for this Bonhoeffer guy.

But I digress. Back to the music. After all, this post is about the music. Everyone knows that the right music can evoke deep emotional response. Think about what composers are able do with movie soundtracks. And that’s without lyrics!  Add some lyrics that might speak to time and place, intended or unintended, and it can leave you in a puddle. It happens to me sometimes.bellingham

Like the time I was traveling twelve hundred miles to Washington for the first time to meet my biological father. I was traveling solo. My husband and my boys were supportive of my personal journey and Guy did offer to go with me, but I knew that if he was with me, I would be distracted by constantly keeping tabs on how he was doing during the trip. I also thought it would be important to have this experience on my own so that I wouldn’t be tempted, either consciously or subconsciously, to gauge my emotions based on what I thought Guy was thinking, or to play up or down my emotions or reactions for any reason. I didn’t want to feel like I was measuring my reactions or being careful with my words. I wanted to experience everything authentically and honestly.

Once the plane was in the air, I put my earbuds in and turned on some music. My phone was loaded with all of my favorites—mostly U2. I’m a huge fan. Some of you already know that. The sounds of The Edge’s guitar and Adam’s baseline in tune with Bono’s emotive voice never fail to soothe me. Larry’s percussions punctuate each song perfectly. The lyrics of most U2 songs are nuanced with spirituality without being preachy, which is perfect for me, since I consider myself a spiritual person without subscribing to any particular line of religious reasoning. U2’s music is often drenched in emotion, while at the same time the sound is pure, raucous rock and roll. U2’s music has always been a sort of soundtrack for my life.

Invisible was the first song I listened to as the plane settled into cruising altitude.  It was a fairly new song at the time, but I knew the lyrics well. That day, however, while sitting on that airplane headed to a truly new world, it was like I was hearing the song for the first time.

It’s like the room just cleared of smoke
I didn’t even want the heart you broke
It’s yours to keep
You might just need one

Everything I had been told or taught to believe as a child about my adoption was that it was good, simple and straightforward. Be grateful. You were chosen. You are lucky.

I was grateful. My life as an adoptee most definitely didn’t suck, but what was missing was an acknowledgment that being adopted naturally comes with questions, emotions and even fears. Being adopted also comes with confines and rules that have been imposed not only by those individuals closest to me (like parents who never openly discussed adoption), as well as by the law and by strangers who can’t even begin to understand, despite their sincere efforts to make sense of the enigma of adoption on my behalf. The mantra has always been: Don’t question where you are, how you fit in, or where you came from. Just be the person “they” want you to be. You have no right to self-discovery.

But now it seemed that the adoption fog was finally lifting. And in that moment, on the plane, Bono was singing to me.

I finally found my real name
I won’t be me when you see me again
No, I won’t be my father’s son

Real names eventually translate into real history and truth. I found mine. And Jackson—we found his real name, too. Our lives are changed forever.

I’m more than you know
I’m more than you see here
More than you let me be
I’m more than you know
A body in a soul
You don’t see me but you will
I am not invisible

Margaret, of course, would prefer that I remain invisible. For so long, her rejection of me defined me when it came to thinking about my adoption. It took me some time and soul searching to realize that my existence and the truth about it mattered, even if Margaret felt otherwise. I finally turned the rejection into a redirection. I can accept that Margaret will never know me.

I don’t dream, not as such,
I don’t even think about you that much
Unless I start to think at all
All those frozen days
And your frozen ways
They melt away your face like snow

The anger and the pain of the rejections are melting away. But it had to be realized first. If you would have asked me twenty years ago if I was angry about Margaret’s second rejection of me, I would have told you flat out, “no.”   But in reality, I was denying it. I pushed the anger and the confusion deep down. Now I am finally finding answers about who I really am. I can accept that I may never know my story in its entirety—that there may still be gaps and questions in the grand scheme of it all. It’s okay.

I’m more than you know
I’m more than you see here
I’m more than you let me be
I’m more than you know
A body in a soul
You don’t see me but you will
I am not invisible
I am here

Thank you, Bono.

bono roxy

My son, Zach, actually took this photo at the Roxy in Hollywood earlier this year. We were there. Did I mention I’m a huge fan?

Of course, the song really isn’t about my journey–or anyone’s journey–through the adoption maze.  It’s really about how helping others is important.  It is about human dignity and the one human family. The lyrics persuade us to reflect on small movements toward justice, participation in something bigger than ourselves, and solidarity. Bono is a humanitarian of epic proportions.

But in that moment on the plane . . . Corny? Maybe. That’s okay.  I don’t mind being corny.

I’d like to end with another quote.  This one is from Aldous Huxley.  Those  of you that have been following my journey and my quest to get to know my biological father will understand why a quote from Aldous Huxley delights me.

“After silence, that which comes nearest to expressing the inexpressible is music.”
― Aldous Huxley, Music at Night and Other Essays

 

Spit and Image

Four and a half months!  I apologize, but I’ve been in my own head since I met my biological father.  Thoughts and emotions have been swirling around in my noggin . . . just trying to make sense of it all.  It’s all so simple, but also complicated!  Mission accomplished . . . but it’s just the beginning of something new.

The trip up to meet Jackson could not have gone better.  We met, we hugged, we talked for hours.  We cooked together, had a drink or two, shared stories, pictures and laughter. And I met my half-sister, Megan, too.  Megan admitted that she was reluctant when I first contacted her.  I know she was being protective of her father.  But she said that when she finally realized I was actually coming, she started to get excited and was looking forward to meeting me.  We were able to spend some time together, as well, and talk about life over a glass of wine or two.

And what of physical similarities?  Even before I met Jackson, through photos, I could see similarities between Jackson and my son, Garrett.  But try as I may, I could not see any physical similarities between myself and Jackson.  It’s something adoptees are obsessed with.  Even when I met him, I didn’t have an “Aha!” moment.  He does have a full beard, so I couldn’t really see the details of his facial features. I gave up looking for the physical similarities.  That is, until I got home and analyzed some old photos.

Spit and Image!

Spit and Image!

Jackson believes he’s about 18 in this photo.  I’m 17.

Spitting image is the usual modern form of the idiom meaning exact likeness, duplicate, or counterpart. The original phrase, however, is spit and image, perhaps inspired by the Biblical God‘s use of spit and mud to create Adam in his image. There is no evidence that the origin of the phrase goes back to Biblical times, but its usage has been traced back to the 17th century in England. It was used to refer to someone who is so similar to another as to appear to have been spat out of his mouth. Of course, spitting image has been far more common than spit and image for over a century, but I prefer the phrase spit and image. After all, we found each other by spitting into test tubes.

Jackson and Garrett

Jackson and Garrett

Who Are You?

I had lunch recently with a friend of mine who also happens to be adopted.  We hadn’t really talked in quite a long time.  You know the story–we’ve both been busy with our families and all the adventures and complications of raising teens and hustling them off to college and watching them blossom into young adults. But something amazing happened to her recently that changed her life.  Literally, it changed who she was (er . . . is).

My friend (let’s call her Linda) has been following my story here on the blog, but she confessed to me some time ago that she never had the desire to search for her own biological family. She explained that “one family is quite enough.”  Linda’s childhood with her adoptive family was not exactly idyllic, but she’s in a very happy family situation right now with her husband and grown kids–why complicate things?  Because really, who knows what you’ll find?  I get that. The decision to search is a personal one, for sure.

But Linda’s husband is big into genealogy.  He’s done quite a bit of research on his own family tree.  He’s not adopted.  He’s just a guy who’s into his family history.  He even invested in a DNA test to dig deeper into his ancestral history.  Linda did one, too . . . just for the fun of it.

Linda had always been told by her adoptive parents that a big part of her biological ethnicity included ancestors of Mexican heritage.  Well, guess what?  When she received the results of the DNA test (she used AncestryDNA at Ancestry.com) she was shocked and fascinated to find that she has no Mexican blood in her at all! Instead, she found out that a substantial part of her ancestry is actually Native American.

Linda hasn’t changed her mind about actually seeking out her biological parents, but she is definitely interested in defining her family’s biological relationship to Native American heritage. In other words, which tribe?  Were her ancestors here in America before Europeans made their appearance on the continent?  I would find that prospect fascinating, too!

Linda’s husband is helping her build her family tree by reaching out to matches on Ancestry.com.  She still has no real interest in searching for specific people or uncovering her adoption story, per se, but she’s hoping to discover more about her Native American heritage.

While we were sitting there at lunch chatting about the wonders of technology and DNA, an old-fashioned light bulb went on over my head.  Discovering more information about her Native American heritage may be as simple as getting her hands on her non-identifying information! I explained to Linda how she has the right to receive the information. I explained to her how she could request her non-identifying information from the county where she was placed for adoption (she was born and adopted in California).  It is entirely possible that the information would include the name of the tribe.

For some adoptees, the non-identifying information is enough to answer nagging questions. Sometimes it’s a springboard to wanting more details.  Sometimes it’s a can of worms.  But I would encourage all adoptees who have any curiosity at all about their ancestral heritage to request their non-identifying information.  If you’ve been following my blog, you know that when I started my search I had my biological mother’s name.  I thought that was enough information to find her.  Turns out it wasn’t.  But once I had the non-identifying information, I was able to put together certain details and find answers quickly.

So here’s a primer on getting your hands on your non-identifying information.  When I got it some 25 years ago, it was a fairly easy process.  All it took was a phone call and one visit to the County Social Services Department.  Now you must make your request in writing. The information below is specifically for California, but the letter sample below can be adapted for other states that provide non-identifying information.


 

The California Department of Social Services (CDSS), or the licensed public adoption or private adoption agency that handled your adoption can provide non-identifying background information to adoptees. The information provided includes general facts about the birth parents and may include relevant medical information.You must request this information by writing directly to the licensed adoption agency, if known, or to CDSS at the following address:

California Department of Social Services / Adoptions Support Unit
744 “P” Street, MS 8-12-31
Sacramento, CA 95814

Your letter must include your name, birth date, and the full names of both of your adoptive parents. Also, your signature must be notarized by a Notary Public.

Non-identifying information is background information about the circumstances of your adoption.  When it is prepared, the preparer typically (but sometimes not too successfully!) attempts to remove all of the identifying information (first and last names of birth parents, last names of other family members, etc.).  Non-identifying information may include:

  • Age of your birth mother and birth father
  • Education background of your birth mother and birth father
  • Religious affiliations
  • Physical description
  • Medical history of your birth mother
  • Your birth family ethnicity, nationality or heritage
  • Professions of the birth mother and birth father and their birth parents
  • If the birth mother and father were single or married
  • Hobbies
  • Circumstances of the adoption—the reason given by the birth mother for why you were relinquished
  • Ages of the birth grand parents and information regarding other family members
  • First names of grand parents
  • Additional historical information or other information from the file that the social worker or preparer deems relevant

Remember, however, that the information that will be provided to you was originally obtained by a social worker (or other agency worker) from the birth mother (often under difficult circumstances).  The birth mother may or may not have disclosed the information you are looking for.  And it is quite possible that some of the information provided by the birth mother is false or untrue. She may have made up information or certain details out of fear or to protect herself or others.  The bottom line is: BE PREPARED FOR ANYTHING!

Here is a sample letter request:

Ladies and Gentlemen:

My name is ________________________.  I was adopted in _________________ County in [year of adoption] through the [name of county agency or private agency handling adoption].

I am an adult adoptee and find myself in critical need of the non-identifying information contained in my adoption file or other records regarding my birth parents and any other data available regarding my biological family’s history.

Please note that I am not requesting identifying information or an original or amended birth record or certificate.

Name as Adopted:  ________________________

Current Name:  _________________________

Current Address:  __________________________

                              __________________________

Date of Birth:  __________________________

Adoptive Mother’s Maiden Name (if available):  __________________________

Adoptive Father’s Name (if available):  _________________________________

[Provide here any other relevant information you may have regarding your adoption (court case no., date adoption was finalized, etc.)]

Thank you in advance for your assistance in providing this vital information.

Sincerely,

Sign Your Name 

REMEMBER—YOUR SIGNATURE MUST BE NOTARIZED!

It will take a few weeks (or more) before you receive a response from CDSS.  You may get instructions on how to proceed with the local agency where your adoption was finalized. Then, after following their directions, it may take several more weeks or even months before receiving your non-identifying information.

Have you received your non-identifying information?  What surprised you in the information you received?

The Grandfather Clause

… you sometimes had to force people to say things they would rather not articulate, just so they could hear their own words. It was interesting the way people could know things and not know them at the same time. Denial, he said, was like a thick stone wall.– Nell Freudenberger

I used to be a paralegal. I spent twenty years with my nose in legal books–mostly the tax code–researching, analyzing, planning, figuring and writing. One thing is constant about the tax code: change.  Every year there is some sort of tax reform–cuts, new provisions, limit changes, incentives, exemptions, inflation adjustments–and you have to stay on top of it all.  And don’t forget to look out for the grandfather clause.

The good ol’ grandfather clause. The exception to the rule.  Sometimes, when new laws or regulations are enacted and imposed, a grandfather clause is an exception given to individuals (or businesses), allowing them to continue to operate under an old law or regulation. What’s old is new.  What’s new doesn’t apply.

Well, guess what’s new?  It’s confirmed!  Garrett and Zach have a new grandfather!  This is a different kind of grandfather clause, for sure.

The Grandfather Clause

The Grandfather Clause

This is a view from Garrett’s profile.  It clearly shows Zachary as his half brother (no surprise) and Jackson as his grandfather (no surprise again, at least to me).

I shared the news with the boys.  They were nonplussed.  They don’t know Jackson, except for what I have been able to tell them.  I wrote an email to Jackson:

Hi Jackson,

Hope all is well with you. Last time we communicated, you had just turned 71! I hope you’re kicking 71’s ass and keeping busy with your jewelry and art.  . I’d love to see any new work you’ve completed.

We’ve been busy with baseball–Garrett’s team were undefeated for the season–first place! And now he’s on the All-Star team! He also just finished his science project at school and he did his presentation at the Science Fair yesterday. His project was in the top 5 for Life Sciences! Straight A’s this year–we’re so proud! His 8th grade promotion is in a couple of weeks. I can’t believe my baby will be in high school next school year.

Zach has moved back home temporarily. His roommate in Los Angeles flaked on him and he couldn’t afford the rent on his own. He’s looking to get back out to Hollywood or L.A. ASAP. He’s still working on his music and has a lot recorded. It’s a tough business to be in.

I just wanted to check in and let you know that I’m thinking about you. I also wanted to let you know that I got the results of Zachary and Garrett’s 23andme tests. I don’t know if you’re still getting e-mail notices from 23andme, but you’ve definitely got 2 new confirmed grandsons!

By the way, I’d like to plan a trip to the community where you and Margaret and Marian grew up.  I’ll be heading up to Santa Barbara in a couple of weeks to do some research at the library. And to just walk around. I’m going with a girlfriend–we hope to get some wine tasting in, too!

I hope I’m not overwhelming you once again with too much information.  I just need to tie up this journey that I’m on. I’d love to stay in touch and share what I find, if you’re willing.

Yours,

Laureen

I was relieved that it didn’t take Jackson too long to respond:

Hi there, Laureen,

It is good to hear all is well with you and you are able to help Zach. It is a difficult world for the younger ones today; I see so many qualified (in their field of study, talent or interest) who are trying to find work that is fulfilling and will bring in enough for a good life.

Jackson didn’t actually acknowledge or react to the “news” about having two grandsons, but it was comforting to me that he acknowledged Zach’s endeavors and struggles.  He talked about his daughter (my mysterious sister), as well.

I find that having my daughter’s family living nearby to be wonderful. As long as I am not living in the same space it is a joy to have them all part of my life.

*Sigh*

About my plan to make a trip to his old stomping grounds:

I haven’t been there in years. The street and the home where I grew up didn’t look like it does now. Until I was five the street that I lived on was a small dirt road. If you do cruise up there and if Franceschi Park is open, It was my little playground so to speak when I was very young. I remember being able to pick fresh guavas, and other wonderful fruit that at that time where not in the stores.  Mr. Franceschi brought many of the rare trees to Santa Barbara. The park was where he lived and worked. He was a very old man when I lived there as a child.

Things have changed.. A  great deal….. I don’t think I would recognize some of the places now although I just used Google Earth and their “Street View” to take a look at Mission Ridge and Franceschi Rd. I was surprised at what I did remember.There are so many new homes all over the ridge…. I never would have thought it would turn out like that. That area, although there were some big houses…. it looks so covered with buildings. Yet I am sure it is heaven for those living there now.  I hope you enjoy your trip. You have my cell number, so if you want to call about anything about the area when you are there, I am happy to tell you what I can.

I love hearing about his memories; his history.  My history.

Jackson told me he’s spending more time with his art and has actually found a venue to sell it. He sold several pieces, which gave him a boost to get back to creating.

That’s what it’s all about, isn’t it?  Doing what you love and making the most of each day.

I know I am exactly where I belong in this world. So why do I struggle with this weird feeling that there is more?  More of something. Maybe this is the struggle that I’ve been dealing with all these years.  More of what?

Legalized Fraud?

My birth certificate bears the words: Certificate of Live Birth, under the two separate, official-looking headers:

State of California

Certification of Vital Records

and

State of California

Department of Public Health

california-sealIt also bears  “The Great Seal of the State of California,” on the left bottom corner, as well as a funky, more modern looking “CDPH” (California Department of Public Health) seal on the bottom right corner.  The paper itself is really official and fancy, too–pretty even–shades of red, white and blue–with a serious blue border with the somber words “Any Alteration or Erasure Voids this Certificate” on the bottom.  When you hold up the certificate to the light, you can see a watermark: “OFFICIAL VITAL RECORD.”logo_CDPH_v.1_color

A birth certificate.  Big deal.  Well, the one I have in my possession is a fraud.  Officially, it’s called an amended birth certificate. And there is actually a legitimate reason for it (although I have a problem with the form of it being the same as an original birth certificate).

Adoption files (usually held by the state department of health or social services and the courts) and original birth certificates of adoptees were sealed to all parties in most states starting in the early 1930’s (open adoption records were the norm prior to this time). Historically, there are a number of reasons cited for the sealing of the records. Basically, birth records were amended and sealed based on ideas of the shame of adoption, the stigma of illegitimacy, and the attempt to hide the adoptive family from the socially scorned birth mother.  I won’t go into the details here because there has been so much written on the subject of anonymity in adoptions and there are so many opinions out there.  If you want to read about it in more depth, you can go here: Bastard Nation; or here: California Open (related specifically to California adoptions); or just Google “sealed adoption records” and you’ll get all kinds of articles and all kinds of opinions on the subject.

I understand the need for privacy when a child is placed for adoption.  The adoptive family needs to bond with the child and eventually tell the story of their family (including the adoption) in their own way.  But the story needs to be told.  Families that don’t tell their adopted children that they were adopted really scare me.   But that’s another blog–not mine.  I always knew I was adopted.  It was a happy story.

Back to sealed records. There is just one argument on the side of sealed records that I don’t like.  It’s not just that I don’t agree with it–it’s that it’s just plain wrong.  And I want to be clear about it so it doesn’t clog up any argument you may want to have with me about sealed records and any so-called right to privacy.  Plain and simple: there is no right to privacy in adoption that extends to a birth parent.  Anonymity may have been promised and may have been desired by a birth parent, but there is nothing in any adoption law or even in the official relinquishment papers signed by the birth parent(s), that guarantees anonymity.  It’s a funny idea  to me–like wanting to be in the witness protection program. I just don’t get it.  You gave birth to a person. A thinking person. 

The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals said it quite simply when it upheld a Tennessee law granting adult adoptees access to their original birth certificates:

“A birth is simultaneously an intimate occasion and a public event — the government has long kept records of when, where, and by whom babies are born. Such records have myriad purposes, such as furthering the interest of children in knowing the circumstances of their birth.

The judges of the Sixth Circuit Court also wrote: “if there is a federal constitutional right of familial privacy, it does not extend [to birth parents who have relinquished children to adoption]” and cited  a 1981 decision in which the appeals court found that

[T]he Constitution does not encompass a general right to nondisclosure of private information.

Interestingly, the Court went a little further and dealt with the emotion of it all and found that the interest of an adoptee to know who his or her birth parents are is

an interest entitled to a good deal of respect and sympathy.

[106 F.3d 703 (6th Cir. 1997)]

The U.S. Supreme Court declined to overrule the Appeals Court ruling in favor of open records.

Remember that I am talking about information and identity and the documentation that can provide this information.  I am not talking about relationships.  If you’ve been reading my blog, you probably know that I gave up my idea of ever having any kind of relationship with my biological mother.  She refuses even to communicate in any meaningful way, so it’s a non-issue for me.  It has become an issue for others, though, namely Jackson, my biological father, who cannot remember anything about his apparently fleeting relationship with Margaret.  He’d like to communicate with her. But we cannot legislate communication, relationships, or emotions.  So there you have it.

My record of identity–my amended birth certificate (the only one I have)–is fraught with obvious inaccuracies.  For starters, I think it would be helpful if adopted persons were provided with a document with a different title, such as, Amended Birth Certificate or Certificate of Adoption.  It’s quite confusing to see the words “Certificate of Live Birth” showing “Mother of Child” as my adoptive mother and “Father of Child” as my adoptive father.  “Informant’s Certification” lists my adoptive mother’s name (typewritten in where there is supposed to be a signature) and dashes (—–) in the blank for “Date Signed By Informant.”

Even weirder, for “Place of Birth,” the “City or Town” is listed as Corona; however, the “County” is listed as “San Bernardino.”  The City of Corona is actually located in Riverside County, not San Bernardino County.  But the Chino Institute for Women is actually located in Chino, in the County of San Bernardino (I’m not sure what hospital facilities were used when I was born).  You’d think if my birth parents wanted to “hide” the fact that I was born in prison by changing the city from Chino to Corona, you’d think they’d figure out that they’d need to change the County to Riverside, as well.  In addition, the “Place of Birth – Name of Hospital” and “Street Address” spots are left completely blank.  Like I just appeared into thin air into the arms of my adoptive parents. It’s a fill-in-the-blanks-who-cares-it-does’t-matter nightmare.  Okay, so it’s not a nightmare–it’s just a fraud.  A fake. It makes me feel like a phony.journey

I’m working on my Petition for Authorization to Inspect Adoption and Birth Record Information, which I will file with the Superior Court.  California law provides that I must show good cause and state the reasons that I need to see my own birth record. It’s up to the judge to decide whether my reasons are compelling enough. If my petition is successful, I will be able to view my original sealed birth certificate.  It will remain sealed–not open to public inspection.  I would also gain access to view my adoption :”file,” which contains all of the information and documentation provided by the Department of Social Services to the Court and the Court documents relating to my adoption.  Some counties have simple petition “forms” to complete and file.  The county that I need to file in does not, so I am drafting it from scratch.  There aren’t many useful “samples” out there, so I am struggling to get it just right.  I’ll post a copy when I’m finished with it. After all, it’s public record.

Wish me luck!

Scars and Chain Link Fences

Scars fade with time. And the ones that never go away, well, they build character, maturity, caution. — Erin McCarthy

Relationships develop slowly.  Because they have to.  Adults, with their character, reasoning, actions and reactions having been molded by a lifetime of individual (and sometimes solitary) experience, are often cautious.  Sometimes the lifetime of experience builds walls, causing unintended isolation and a kind of numbness to what’s real and what matters. The walls can not only separate you from other people, they can separate you from your true self–making relationships difficult, or even impossible.fence flowers 1

I like to think that I have no walls.  But I know that is not entirely true.  I would characterize them more as fences, rather than walls. Something like a chain-link fence that I can see through and past. It’s easy for me to let people in . . . most of the time.  It’s super easy for me to go outside of my fence and do whatever it is I need to do. But there are times when I don’t let anyone in. And there are times I just hang out . . . alone. But doesn’t everyone have walls or fences?

Writing this blog is a big deal for me.  I’ve let all of you in.  You know my reality–I’ve told it exactly like it is.  The truth–except for changing some of the names.  My reality.  As much as I know.  As much as I allow myself to feel.

I know that my reality, or my adoption truth, is different from anyone else’s.  It’s even different for those who are directly involved in my story.  A person’s reality, whether or not adoption is part of the picture, is a obviously a product of many subjective perceptions, filtered through a personal and unique emotional, psychological and sometimes spiritual lens. But without the truth, reality is skewed.  It’s wrong.

Everyone is entitled to know the facts or learn their own truth. If an individual does not know his or her truth, the lies become the story.  The lies become the history.  The lies become the untruth. It’s unfair.

Why can’t we all be on the right side of history?  The correct and only reality: the truth . An adoptee’s experience as he or she grows should be affirmed with the truth–the story of what really happened.  It’s understood that as a child she is told only small parts of the truth.  As much as a child’s brain can handle and still allow love and trust to enter the picture.  But as an adult, she should be given the opportunity to hear the truths from those that lived it, and to be offered context in order to process and to own that truth. With that truth, an adoptee can build a sense of trust and openness, as well as a willingness to share. Intimacy.

I am thankful that Jackson is open and honest.  He and I are learning about each other.  I am happy that he is open to learning more about himself by letting me be a part of his truth. It’s amazing, really. He’s still grappling with the idea of having a “new” 50-year-old daughter and he has many questions himself.  Questions that I can’t answer.  His truth, like mine, depends on context and answers that can be provided by only one person: Margaret.

Talk about walls. As you know, I was not able to break down Margaret’s walls.  I believe she’s happy content oblivious numb living inside those walls. She feels protected–from what, I do not know. Jackson still toys with the idea of writing to Margaret.  He’s even mentioned wanting to “see” her.

He asked me recently about how I felt about Margaret today. My response:

I want to be as clear as possible about how I feel about Margaret. I know enough about her (her situation 50 years ago, as well as her life as an adult, which includes a successful career and fierce independence as a woman), and while I would have loved to have had some sort of open communication with her over the years, I understand that I won’t. Frankly, the person that I am today doesn’t want to meet her. In my heart I believe that she would disappoint me if I ever did meet her in person–she was not meant to be a mother and she absolutely did the right thing in relinquishing me for adoption. That being said, I am not angry or resentful. Disappointed–yes. But not angry. And definitely not longing for some motherly relationship I never had.

I loved his response.

Laureen, I like you very much…. you are honest and straight forward. I am more and more inclined to write your mom and tell her exactly what has happened here. She needs to understand that whatever has happened is old business. Life is what it is about right now. Making things better on this planet is what it is about. I just don’t want to cause her trouble.

Warm Fuzzy

Warm Fuzzy

I especially liked the “I like you very much” part. [warm fuzzies]

Gettin’ My Sleuth On . . .

I’m no Nancy Drew, but what the heck?  I sent this e-mail today.
nancy drew
To: Public Library
From: Laureen Pittman
Date: January 26, 2014
Hello,
My name is Laureen Pittman and I live in Riverside, CA.  I am doing some genealogy research and will be traveling to the library next week to do research and track down some information.  One piece of information I am looking for involves an incident that happened in 1963 (probably sometime in September).  The incident was an arrest (drug related charges) possibly at the junior college.  One of the arrestees was Margaret Michaels. I believe she was arrested with another individual—a male.  Margaret would have been 18 at the time of her arrest and the male individual would have been 20. Margaret was the step-daughter of a fairly well-known local tv news editor, broadcaster or anchor, Joseph Michaels.  Margaret was sentenced to 10 years in prison for drug related charges.  But what I am looking for is the identity of the male that was arrested with Margaret. 
Am I correct in assuming that the Community News-Press was in existence at that time?  Would they have published or reported on local arrests, or would there be an “arrest log” that I could review in the newspaper from that time?  I’m hoping that the newspapers from 1963 might be archived on microfilm?  Would I be able to access the newspaper archives from September 1963 if I make a personal visit to the library?  Which branch should I visit?  Do I need to make an appointment to have these old archives located/pulled for review?
Any help or assistance would be greatly appreciated.
Thank you in advance.  I can be reached at the e-mail address shown above, or on my cell phone at XXX-XXX-0515.
Laureen Pittman

Rewriting The Past

Anyone who isn’t confused really doesn’t understand the situation. — Edward R. Murrow

I had answers to some of the most basic, vital questions.  I knew the identity of my biological mother: Margaret Michaels.

I knew the identity of my biological father (thanks to DNA): Jackson Summer.

As you know, I have never actually spoken to Margaret.  The last “contact” I had with her was the self-bloated letter I received from her over 20 years ago.  She has no desire to meet me or to even carry on a conversation via letter or e-mail.  I have respected that.  She never disclosed to anyone, including her mother, my biological father, or her siblings (4 of them) that she was ever pregnant.  The only people in her “world” who knew she was pregnant and relinquished a child were the prison personnel (and presumably other inmates), social workers and hospital personnel.  It is also possible that her stepfather knew.  According to the story from the social worker (my non-identifying story), he was the one who turned Margaret in to the authorities, which resulted in her arrest.

So was it true that none of Margaret’s family came to visit her during her stay at the Greybar Inn?  She was there for 3 1/2 years (sentenced to 10).  If anyone came to see her during the first 3 months of her incarceration, they would have surely guessed she was pregnant (or she really liked the prison food).  I guess they could have come to visit after December (she was arrested in September) and not known she was ever pregnant. That makes a little bit of sense.  Margaret’s mother (my grandmother) was actually pregnant at the same time as Margaret (let’s get all the complicated details together, here). Remember this tidbit from my non-identifying story?

Baby Christopher is the 3-month old half brother.

Margaret’s mother (my maternal grandmother) gave birth to Baby Christopher (my uncle) about the same time that Margaret was arrested.  And it was Baby Christopher’s father (Margaret’s stepfather) who turned Margaret in. Margaret’s mother was busy raising 4 young children while Margaret was out partying, getting pregnant and getting arrested.  You follow?

Jackson Summer didn’t know Margaret was pregnant.  Jackson claims he doesn’t even know who Margaret Michaels is. More likely, he doesn’t remember. There were drugs involved. Drugs can alter memories, for sure. But Jackson does remember Marion Michaels. His first love. He’s still in touch with her.  Jackson even told Marion about me and our curious DNA match and about this mysterious Margaret person who has the same last name as Marion.  According to Jackson, Marion was not able to provide any information that would be helpful to us.

If you’ll recall, I mentioned that I have been in touch with one of Margaret’s siblings.  We even talked about getting together to meet and talk.  I was hopeful that she could fill in some of the odd-shaped blanks hanging out there.  She was very clear that Margaret did not want to discuss the matter and did not want to be involved in any contact with me. She also confirmed that their mother (my maternal grandmother) still did not know about me.

Well, our meeting has not happened (yet).  Real life and busy schedules got in the way.  In the meanwhile, I started this blog to help me sort through it all.  My aunt read the blog.  She expressed her disappointment with the information I was putting “out there” in the cyber-world for anyone to see (even though I’ve changed the names of the key players).  We had an e-mail exchange about it.  She asked me to “Please stop.”

And you know what’s ironic?  Before the blog, this aunt had asked me to share the information I had discovered about my biological father through the DNA match. She wanted to know what I had learned about my biological father.  I believed she was sympathetic to my plight and genuinely interested.  Without hesitation I told her about the DNA match and gave details that Jackson had shared with me, in the hopes that sharing the information may lead to more sharing on her side of the family.  Absolutely not.  I’ve since asked my aunt specific questions about Margaret and their mother, and I’ve made a request for some specific health information that would aid me in making a decision about my future. She never answered any of my questions.

Don’t get me wrong.  I understand that she owes me nothing.  I’m beginning to see a pattern.

I think perhaps Margaret is “bullying” her siblings. Maybe not in a schoolyard, overt kind of way, but definitely subliminally.  From what I can figure out, they are worried that the knowledge of my existence will “crush” their mother (my grandmother).  What information exactly, I wonder, is going to crush my grandmother?  The fact that Margaret had a child?  No . . . that can’t be. Seriously, I haven’t lived the kind of life that can be deemed a disappointment to anyone, in my own humble opinion. It’s gotta be the 50 year old lie. That her daughter, Margaret, never told her she had a child. Surely, she knew that Margaret had been in prison. That “disappointment” had already been felt, processed, and dealt with.  I would think. Perhaps there is more to the story that I don’t know. Margaret’s sibling wrote:

We do not know the circumstances leading to her pregnancy; it may have been quite traumatic.

She also mentioned several times that some of the information I’ve published wasn’t even true.  What!?  Not true?  You mean the story that I know and live every day about my identity and how I came into this world is riddled with untruths, cover-ups, and lies? Imagine that.  No seriously, why don’t you try to imagine that? I’ve lived this way my entire life.

So tell me something new.  Like the truth. There are people that actually know the truth, but won’t tell me.  Imagine that!  

So here are some theories.  These theories, of course, include questions or lead to more questions.  They were either drummed up by me, or by friends and relatives of mine in an attempt to fill the odd-shaped holes. Anyone out there good at solving mysteries?

About Marian

  • Is Marian is somehow related to Margaret?  A half-sister?  Remember–they have the same last name, and Margaret never really knew her biological father.  Her mother and father were separated and/or divorced (perhaps she wasn’t even married when she gave birth to Margaret at age 18!) when she was just an infant.  Marian and Margaret grew up in the same town.  Marian claims she knows nothing about Margaret or me.  It is unclear whether Margaret knows Marian.

About Margaret

  • It’s clear the story she gave the social workers about my biological father was not true.  It could have been an outright lie to mislead, or she could have simply not known exactly who the father was, so she described several individuals.
  • Why did Margaret’s stepfather “turn her in” and have her arrested?  How and why was he involved to the degree of having her arrested?  I have not mentioned this before, but Margaret’s stepfather was a well-known and recognizable figure in the community where they lived.  He was probably in his late 30’s at the time of Margaret’s pregnancy and arrest–and his wife (Margaret’s mother) was pregnant and about to give birth).  Did he know Margaret was pregnant?  Perhaps he suspected she was pregnant and knew about the drugs and didn’t want Margaret to continue with the drugs while pregnant? I wish I could contact him.  He passed away in 2006.

About Jackson

  • Jackson says he was never arrested.  So who was the man who was arrested with Margaret?  Was that made up, too?  I suppose that was something that Margaret could have told the social workers, but I assumed that they would have checked that fact–the arrest records would have been easy to find and confirm. If they knew his identity, wouldn’t he have to sign the relinquishment papers?  Apparently not.  The information I have simply states, “We have no information about your birthfather following his arrest.”

About “The Deed”

  • How did Jackson and Margaret come to meet and get together?  They lived in the same town, but went to different schools.  Both were obviously exploring the counterculture of the 1960’s via drug use. They most likely knew some of the same people. Obviously, Jackson doesn’t remember knowing her, let alone having some sort of relationship with her (even if it was only a one night stand).  Perhaps there was some sort of coincidental meeting “up North” when Margaret claims to have gone to San Francisco for a short time and Jackson was living and working up in Big Sur (hibernating up in the mountains to detox).
  • Perhaps my aunt was right about there being some sort of traumatic experience that led to Margaret’s pregnancy.  Rape?  Yikes.  I don’t even want to consider that.  I don’t know Jackson very well (hardly at all, actually), but it just doesn’t add up. Of course, Margaret was most likely involved with more than one man (who was she talking about when she described my biological father to the social worker?). Perhaps there was a traumatic incident of some sort and Margaret thought I could possibly be the product of it, and she made up a good portion of the information to hide the awfulness?

I suppose that’s enough conjecture.  Do you have any ideas?

The self is not something one finds, it is something one creates.  ~Thomas Szasz, “Personal Conduct,” The Second Sin, 1973

Next up: Something interesting about Margaret.