Closure . . . or Peace?

I’ve read quite a few things written by adoptees (and others) where their end goal is some sort of “closure.” Whether adoptees are searching for bio family, or trying to end a toxic relationship with an adoptive family or bio, or trying to figure out how all of the complicated emotional layers inherent in adoption fit into a normal or well-adjusted life, adoptees are looking for closure.

For me, closure is a complex, elusive, and even somewhat scary, monster. And I’m not sure I want it.padlock-690286_1920

I believe life is a journey. Every point of interaction with another human being, and every bit of knowledge I seek, along with all the stumbling and bumbling along the way, come together to form who I am and what I believe. My truth, if you will. The journey, along with the growth and the pain and the learning—the highs and lows–never ends . . . until I end. Which I hope isn’t any time soon.

Closure” or the need for closure is defined from a psychological standpoint as “an individual’s desire for a firm answer to a question and an aversion toward ambiguity. The term “need” here denotes a motivated tendency to seek out information.”
Closure means finality. I don’t think that’s necessarily a good thing. I’ve definitely experienced failures in this life, as well as regrets and terrible disappointments. My life, like everyone else’s, is complicated. But those perceived negatives make me who I am! I’ve accepted my past, but there will never be closure while I’m still living.

open armsI’m open, and I hope I remain open, to new experiences, ideas, friendships and people. People change their minds about things, too. People evolve. The way I felt about something yesterday (or ten years ago) may not be the way I will feel about it tomorrow (or five years from now).

Take, for example, the rejection (at birth and later in life) from my birth mother. It was a crushing disappointment at the time. I was in my early twenties the first time she rejected me as an adult. The second time was in my late twenties after I had my first child. I naively thought the photo I sent of myself sitting on my white picket fence in front of my little starter home holding my newborn baby boy might melt her heart a little. It didn’t. How does one put “closure” on something like that? You don’t.

The rejection and sadness I felt was like an open wound. But it didn’t last forever. I grew and I learned and I healed. I dealt with the pain and eventually, the sadness was lifted. I moved forward. Counseling, friends, and family helped. I also met other bio family members. I met my aunts (my bio mother’s sisters) and spoke to other family members who helped me to understand where my bio mother came from and who she really is today. I’ve decided I’m better off not knowing her. That’s a decision for now. But who knows how I’ll feel five years from now?

path moorFor some, finding closure implies a complete acceptance of what has happened and an honoring of the transition away from what’s finished to something new. I guess in that sense, I agree with closure, in theory. I still like to think of my life as a journey—a windy road with all kinds of pitstops, detours, forks, and even potholes. Hang on, it’s a bumpy ride!

 

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Buy Laureen Pittman’s memoir here:

THE LIES THAT BIND

An Adoptee’s Journey Through Rejection, Redirection, DNA, and Discovery

What Are You Looking For?

“What we see depends mainly on what we look for.” This quote is credited to John Lubbock, who lived in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. He was an English aristocrat, banker, Liberal politician, philanthropist, scientist, polymath, archaeologist, and writer. Basically, this guy was an over-achiever. I bet he was a positive thinker, too.

glass half fullI don’t  usually make New Year’s Resolutions (okay, I make them, but I never keep them), but for 2020, I’ve decided to be more positive. I’ve made a pledge to myself to be a “glass half full” kind of gal. Don’t laugh.

It’s not going to be easy, I know. I’m a worrier. Seriously, I worry about everything. Constantly. I worry about fleas on my cats, the leaky faucet (which makes me worry about whether there are leaks somewhere I cannot see), money, my son in college, the loose pavers in the walkway out front, weeds, ants taking over my orange tree, the health of friends and family, getting old . . . etc. Worries are the first things to pop into my mind when I wake. They’re the things that keep me awake at night. I even worry that I worry too much. Duh.

Medication helps. I’m not embarrassed to say that I have been taking medication for anxiety for years now. It takes the edge off and I am able to be more aware of when I might be starting out on a crushing worry-spiral. If it’s a serious worry, I’ll give it its due and sit with it, worry about it, and force myself to think of solutions. Sometimes there are none. Sometimes the solution is out of my reach or beyond my control. I am learning to let some things go. It’s not easy.

I’ve discovered, too, that worrying is not always a bad thing. In fact, worrying may be good for your health, if it is understood correctly. There are studies that suggest that “worry is associated with recovery from traumatic events, adaptive preparation and planning, recovery from depression, and uptake of health-promoting behaviors.” (Kate Sweeney,  Professor of Psychology, University of California, Riverside.) This is a great article to read if you want to remind yourself that worrying is not always a bad thing.

I believe that thinking positively goes hand-in-hand with filtering out the worries. I just need to do it more. I don’t know how I’m going to succeed with this, but I will. I’ll start with reviewing just a few of the positive vibes and events of the last decade.

positivityI have a friend who beat Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma in the last decade. He and his wife could not have gotten through it without positive thinking. It was a life-changing battle for both of them, their families, and friends. I’ve watched in awe as he and his wife faced challenge after challenge with poise and positivity. He had a bone-marrow transplant in 2011. It was successful, but brought with it a host of other complications. He has basically been fighting for his life for the entire last decade. 2019 ended with a double lung transplant, and this, too, has been a success! We had dinner with this couple recently, and I was nearly in tears just watching our friend as he was more animated, engaged, and happier than I’ve seen him in years. Garrett, my now 19-year-old, wants to get a tattoo of a pair of lungs to commemorate our friend’s success in this battle and as a tribute to him as a positive role model. He is an inspiration to us all. The power of positivity. 

JonathanAnother good thing that happened: thanks to DNA, I discovered my biological father! He’s alive and well and I’m so thankful that I’ve been able to meet him and have a relationship with this extraordinary, talented, and smart man. He didn’t even know that I existed. And I gained a sister and a niece and a whole new extended family. It’s been a weird and oddly satisfying journey. Our relationship has evolved in a way I could never have imagined. We have been working together for the last 5 years to seek out hidden truths about his life and (our) family.

Writing and publishing my book, The Lies That Bind, was another positive for me. By writing, I was able to share my truth–my adoption story. Writing helped me to make sense of my world and the people in it. It also helped me to understand, to a certain degree, the people who are not in my world. If you’re adopted, you know what I mean.3d mock1

So, I’m going to be more positive about who’s in my world and appreciate everyone for who they are and what they contribute. And here are some of the things I’m going to try to do to radiate positivity in myself:

  • Look for the best in others.
  • Forgive easily.
  • Be thankful for all blessings, big and small.
  • Treat myself with kindness.
  • Be optimistic; expect good things to happen.
  • Avoid complaining.
  • Smile more.
  • Compliment others more. 
  • Be more tolerant.

I’m sure there are more positive things I can be or try–feel free to leave me suggestions in the comments!

HAPPY NEW YEAR!

Secrets, Lies, and DNA

I read an article today on Huffpost.com titled: The Death of the Family Secret. In a nutshell, the article is about how, with the use of commercial DNA testing, people are uncovering secrets, lies, and hidden truths about their families. The article discusses the ethics involved in exposing such secrets AND questions where privacy fits into the equation for those who desperately want to keep such secrets. Ethics? 

If you’ve read my book, THE LIES THAT BIND, you’d know that I believe that a secret or a lie that covers up the core of another person’s identity is not okay. Never. Ever.

My story deals with the secrets and lies that go hand in hand with closed records adoption. Other scenarios that cause people to keep secrets include the use of sperm donors, egg donors, surrogacy, or even just flat out lies to cover up an affair. No matter what the reason, lies about a person’s biological origins–heritage, medical history, family legacy, relatives . . . are not OKAY!

This is the quote from the article that got me going:

“Where do your rights to learn these secrets end and the rights of others to keep them begin? What makes a family? What role should your DNA play in your sense of self or identity?”

A right to keep a secret about another person’s identity? I don’t get it. That’s not a right.

What role should DNA play? Well, no one can answer that. DNA plays the role it plays. It’s science. Human body systems, organs, tissues, and cells play roles in identity. It’s the nature vs. nurture argument all over again. To understand where one comes from is to begin to understand one’s identity.

DNA has been, and continues to be, a lifesaver (literally and figuratively) for adoptees. And it’s not going away. Funny thing is, a majority of the states (California included!) are keeping the closed records rules in place, despite the increasing popularity in commercial DNA testing. DNA testing, combined with the growing trend (and big business of) genealogy, are blowing apart the archaic rules and legalities behind closed records adoptions. It’s about time.

By the way, Happy Father’s Day! Thanks to DNA, I found my biological father. Read more about my story in my book, THE LIES THAT BIND. And, I’m celebrating by having a sale  for both the paperback and ebook at Amazon! It’s a shameless plug, I know. But, I would like to know your thoughts on the article and about DNA uncovering our truths.

Happy Father’s Day!

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Admission: I Was More Scared Than He Was

My youngest son is home for the summer from his freshman college year. It went well. He enjoyed his nine months away and succeeded academically. He also played football (minor concussion, but recovered fully, thankfully) and rugby (scraped up just about every inch of his body, including his lovely face!), made a lot of new friends, and learned to live in a small space (in relative harmony) with two other young men. The whole college experience.

It’s been a year since he graduated from high school and I was faced with the fact that my last child would be leaving soon to go off on his own to start “adulting.” I worried about so much. Would he be homesick? Would he make friends? Have I done enough to prepare him for being on his own?

Yesterday, I came across a letter that I wrote to him after he graduated. Apparently, I was worried about a lot of things. I also realize, after rereading the letter, that I had nothing to worry about. He was prepared. I think I was worried more about myself than about him. I made this human–he’s my flesh and blood! Now he’s leaving? How will I cope? I’m being abandoned . . . again . . .

Of course, the abandonment part wasn’t true. My son was prepared and ready to go out on his own and live the college life. And I knew and supported it one hundred percent. But I must admit, I felt a little empty inside.

As it turns out, I had no reason to worry. I wasn’t abandoned (he’s back!). And I’ve discovered that life can be pretty good for empty-nesters. I finished some projects (my  book is finally finished and published–BTW: you can find it here), visited my bio-dad, Jonathan, again (and my husband, Guy, finally got to meet him), and even communed with some fellow-adoptees (loved meeting everyone at the Indiana Adoptee Network Conference).  The hubs recently retired, too, so we’re in the thick of it!

But if you’re getting ready to send of your kid out into the big bad world, and you’re as worried as I was, I share here my advice to my son:

 

April 26, 2018

Dear Son,

As your graduation day approaches, we want to say “Happy graduation.” Son, you are on the cusp of your adult life (you’re 18 now!) and we are so proud of you. Your Dad and I have so much love and respect for you—you are smart, talented, thoughtful and kind.

I’m writing this letter to you because sometimes it’s difficult for me to articulate what is in my heart. I always do better to write things down. I want to express to you my pride and my hopes for your life ahead. Also, one day I may not be here to help you deal with pain, to help you be strong, to give you comfort, and to see you win and succeed. I hope that you’ll keep this letter for future reference and think of me when you need encouragement and support.

I wrote this letter to pass on the best of what I am, and the best of what I have learned – even if like most parents, I haven’t always been able to follow all of this advice myself.

These words are from my heart and rooted in my firm belief that you will be better than I am, and that you will be successful in whatever you decide to pursue in your life ahead.

On Maturity

Age is not a measure of maturity, unfortunately. You have grown up, but you will continue to mature, for years and years to come.

Maturity means taking responsibility for your own life and the choices you make. Keep in mind that every choice you make from this point on can and will affect you for the rest of your life. Decisions like whether to get in the car with that friend that has had maybe too much to drink, or whether to ditch a lecture, whether to stay the night in someone else’s bed . . . there are so many decisions that may seem trivial at the time, but the consequences of even what seems like an insignificant choice may change your life forever. Be smart.

You will make mistakes. Know and understand that you don’t have all the answers. You should not feel shame or hesitate to ask for help or advice.

Don’t feel threatened when people disagree with you. And most importantly, be open to allowing people to change your mind. Sometimes another person’s way is the better way.

Appreciate when others compliment or praise you. Say “thank you” a lot. Manners and courtesy matter and go a long way in commanding respect.

On Humility

Don’t ever think that you’re superior to anyone. Or that you’re above rules or laws. It’s ugly to be arrogant. Apologize when you’re wrong, or when you’ve hurt someone. Remember that other people’s emotions and feelings are valid and important—even if you don’t agree or understand.

On Learning

Never stop being curious. Be adventurous. Try new things. Keep learning—it will make you a richer person. Pick up a good book once in a while. Read for pleasure. It will enlighten you. Life is large.

Challenge yourself—don’t be afraid to fail. Failure is one of the best ways to learn.

While you’re embracing adventure and new hobbies, remember to finish what you start. I’m know I’m guilty of not following this rule all the time. Remember that productivity and success are about finishing and a job well done. You won’t do everything perfectly, or even right, but finish it. Be proud of your work.

On Emotions

In your short 18 years, I know that you’ve felt many emotions. Happiness, joy, contentment, impatience, sadness, anger, and frustration. These are all simple emotions and have and will continue to come easily to you. It’s how you deal with them that is important. You must give every emotion its due—feel it fully and let it sit. For example, sit with your anger before you react. Consider how your reaction will affect others. Sometimes the only reaction you will need is an internal one. That is not to say that you shouldn’t feel angry or react some of the time, but anger shouldn’t be the reaction that rules you. It shouldn’t be the emotion that others know you by.

On the other hand, don’t be afraid to express your emotions. Don’t let controlling people make you think you shouldn’t feel a certain way. Trust your emotions. Because you will have sat with and processed your emotions, you can, and should trust them. Fear and anger serve a purpose, and you should recognize that. Trust yourself.

I haven’t really talked to you about two of the biggest emotions—grief and love. I’ll talk about love later separately—it’s very complicated. But grief deserves a mention here.

I think, somehow, you know a little about grief—more than most boys your age. When you were a little boy, grief confused you and you were very sensitive to it. Your father and I were often at a loss on how to comfort you. When you were just a toddler, we often found you in tears inconsolable, thinking about grandpa or grandma, and what happened to them and why they were gone. You felt deeply also when you lost your pets—you were hysterical when we had to euthanize Hey Arnold (the rat) and when we lost Soxie (the cat). You wanted explanations that just didn’t exist.

So I believe you know grief—I witnessed it—and I trust that your maturity will allow you to process your grief, but understand that losing someone or something you love may never make sense. You must put logic aside when you’re dealing with grief and just let it flow. Don’t be afraid to cry. It shows that you are vulnerable and understand your emotions. In the end, it makes you stronger. Remember that your grief is about you, and not the person you lost. The person that is gone is no longer suffering, or in pain . . . your sorrow is about how you deal with your loss.

People and Relationships

Grandpa Hank told me once that if you open your eyes and your mind, you can learn something from every single person you meet in life. He was right. Be open. In your life you will meet people who inspire you to do well and to do the right thing. I hope that these are the people you keep close to you.

You will also meet people who are not such a good influence. I don’t want you to shun these people—learn from them. Help them if you can. Be generous with your kindness. Perhaps you can be an inspiration to them. I’ve seen you already be generous with your kindness and empathy. Continue this path.

Remember that your family is your “safe place.” Home is where ever you feel comfortable—where ever you have family and/or friends to comfort you.

Friends, too, have a huge impact on your happiness. Good friends relieve stress, provide comfort and joy, prevent loneliness and isolation, and even strengthen your health. But close friendships don’t just happen. They take work and perseverance. Show interest in your friends when they are down, when they need help, and when they are struggling. Even if you just “stand there” next to them. It matters. Just show up.

Nurture and hold on to true friendships. Keep in touch with people that matter to you.

In a new place, like college or a new job, it may seem difficult to meet new people and develop quality connections. Be confident and open—you will attract the right people naturally with your warm personality and attitude if you let them see you for who you are.

Of course, technology has shifted the definition of friendship in recent years. With the click of a button, we can “add a friend” or make a new connection. But having hundreds of online friends is not the same as having a close friend you can be with in person. Online friends can’t hug you when a crisis hits, visit you when you’re sick, or celebrate a happy occasion with you. Remember that our most important and powerful connections happen when we’re face-to-face. So, make it a priority to really stay in touch with friends that are important to you.

On Love and Marriage

I’m not going to tell you much about falling in love or falling out of love. Love is something that you will figure out on your own, like everyone else. Love will sneak up on you and hit you when you least expect it. Sometimes, you will only think you’re in love, when in actuality, the emotion you are feeling is something different—lust, infatuation, admiration, extreme like. But when real love hits, you’ll know it. Maybe not right away, but you’ll figure it out. And that’s just it, my dear son, it is something that needs to be figured out. Again, it’s one of those emotions that you need to sit with and process. Don’t resist it, but please, oh please, take it slow.

You will get your heart broken, too. Maybe even more than once (probably more than once). Love is a risky thing, but it is the best feeling in the world when you are in it and the person you love loves you back. Remember that to be truly in love two people must also respect each other, trust each other and be kind to each other. If one element isn’t there, or if something doesn’t feel right, love isn’t there.

Now we come to the part about marriage. I’m no expert, but as far as I know, there is no such thing as the perfect marriage. Here’s my advice—don’t get married because your partner is pressuring you. Don’t get married because it seems like it’s the right time—you’ve been dating long enough and you feel like you’re the right age. Don’t get married because she seems like the perfect woman or she’d be the perfect wife or mother. Son, you’re probably going to want to get married for all the wrong reasons. We all do. In fact, the most common reason to get married also happens to be the most dangerous: we get married because we think it will make us happy. Getting married in order to be happy is the surest way to be unhappy and get divorced.

More simple advice:

Opposites may attract initially, but they don’t make great marriage partners. Marry someone who is more like you than not like you.

Pay attention to what your friends and family say. Consider that if nobody close to you seems to like your partner, there may be good reason for it.

Just know that you are worthy of real love. Wait for it and it will come to you. Know that you deserve a life of love, inspiration, and passion. Also know that there will be ups and downs and to expect and embrace them.

There are beautiful marriages. But marriages don’t become beautiful by seeking happiness; they become beautiful by seeking something else. Marry someone that you enjoy spending time with. Someone who truly loves you and makes an effort to make you happy.

One last word of advice—take time out once in a while to unplug and listen to the birds sing, watch a sunset, or go someplace quiet and beautiful to reset your mind and remember what is important. I know you love sunsets like your mama! That makes me happy.

What kind of man will you be? That’s up to you. Completely. Being a man, as I see it, is being your own man. It’s claiming your place in the world. Being your own man means not taking someone else’s path. I am proud of your journey so far and I know your path will lead to your own personal success and greatness.

We love you, Son.

Love,

Mom

P.S. You once asked me about how to live, be responsible, and have “fun” in college. I found this quote from the late, great Tom Petty about college that seems to sum it up. I hope you understand that it doesn’t mean that you should just forget responsibilities while at college, but it does mean that you should go easy on yourself once in a while.

“I’ve learned one thing, and that’s to quit worrying about stupid things. You have four years to be irresponsible here, relax. Work is for people with jobs. You’ll never remember class time, but you’ll remember the time you wasted hanging out with your friends. So stay out late. Go out with your friends on a Tuesday when you have a paper due on Wednesday. Spend money you don’t have. Drink ’til sunrise. The work never ends, but college does…”
― Tom Petty

Hey Bro . . .

Me and TomSo, after many years of denial, my a-brother has shown an interest in his bio-fam. His DNA failed. Twice. It’s really weird  . . . and rare. He submitted his saliva sample to 23andMe. But it was a failure. Jeezus. My poor brother. We tease him that it means he’s got alien DNA in him. Weirdo. I like this analysis. He doesn’t.

This was the explanation: “If necessary, the lab will make multiple attempts at all stages of the process in order to provide results; however, due to biological variability some people simply don’t have a high enough concentration of DNA in their saliva for our technology to process.”worlds_okayest_brother_t_shirt_textual_tees

So . . . he’s considering submitting his  saliva to Ancestry DNA. In the meanwhile, I decided to help him try to find his bio fam. He knew his bio mom’s last name: Traxler. Thanks to the California Birth Index, we were able to confirm the name Traxler and find his bio father’s name: Noble.

After some research, I think I found his bio mom. it’s not my story to share, and we’re not sure we’ve struck gold at this point. We believe his bio mom may have passed several years ago, but we were able to find several potential half-siblings. I drafted a letter to them. Here it is. Comments are encouraged and welcomed!

Dear __________________,

My name is Laureen Pittman (Laureen Hubachek). You don’t know me, nor do you have any reason to know me, but I have a story that may interest you and I hope that you will continue to read.

I am an adoptee. I was born in December 1963 and raised by two wonderful adoptive parents. I also had (and still have!) an adoptive sibling. Thomas Allen Hubachek (I call him Tommy, or Tom) is two years older than me, born November 19, 1961. He was born in Los Angeles County. His biological mother’s last name is Traxler. His biological father’s last name is Noble. He’s an amazing man—a good brother, husband, and father of 7 children—all now grown and successful. He has 7 grandchildren.

Tom is a mature, well-adjusted man, but he still has questions about his identity and his origins. It took Tom a long time to decide whether or not he should make an attempt at discovering his roots. When he decided to search, I offered to help him. I have helped several other adoptees find their biological family—most with good results and happy endings. I do understand, however, that not all findings result in “happy endings” and that even mistakes can be made in the process of search and discovery. I hope that you can assist Tom in finding the truth.

We have reason to believe that your mother, ________________ Traxler (born in San Diego and attended high school at West Covina High School) is Tom’s biological mother.

We provide this information in an attempt to reach out and make contact with family. Tom only hopes that, if the relationship can be confirmed, information can be shared, and perhaps relationships can be built. It is quite a conundrum being an adoptee—coming from two families: having one biology, but two familial connections. It results in an infinite wondering of how nature and nurture really work.

I understand that this may be a lot to take in and it may be quite a surprise—I have no idea what your mother may have told you about her past. But please understand that we would not be presenting this information to total strangers without a good amount of research that points to your family as relatives of Thomas Hubachek.

I hope that you feel compelled to contact me to discuss your thoughts. If we can confirm that Tom is the son of ________, we would be happy to take the contact as far or as limited as you desire. Tom would love to have some information about the family. He would enjoy building sibling relationships, as well, but he understands that the family must make this decision.

Please take some time to think about this and feel free to call or email me. You can also find me on Facebook and you can message me there, if you prefer.

Yours in love and understanding,

Laureen Pittman
laureenwrites@gmail.com

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.

Dear Adoption, You Are Everywhere

Diving deep into the thoughts of one adoptee.

unnamed-2Dear Adoption, You Are Everywhere

I grew up with the idea I could blame you for nothing. Because you didn’t exist in the minds of my parents who adopted me, you didn’t exist in mine.

Hold on, those aren’t the right words.

Because you didn’t exist in the minds of my parents who adopted me, I learned to keep you hidden and to only occasionally take you out, as a kid might pull a pocket knife out in front of friends and strangers.

“You look just like your mother.”

I pull out the pocket knife, open the blade. You think you know me, but you can’t because even I have no idea who I am. This is my greatest power. I’m like mercury: you can’t pin me down. Because if you did somehow get me trapped, you would see the terrifying truth I run from 24/7: There is nothing to…

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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?

Write what you know…but not everything you know…

I’m currently struggling with the concept of “truth” — who owns it? It’s comforting to know I’m not the only one.

Being the Blog of Rebecca Kuder

There was a lot of discussion at the Antioch Writers’ Workshop (AWW) about the chestnut, “write what you know.” Zakes Mda gave a lovely keynote speech, and talked about the idea of writing what you don’t know, or maybe more accurately, writing what you want to know.

I think that the idea of writing what you know is too often taken too literally. People write fiction which is autobiography, veiled by the sheerest curtain: so that setting, plot, characters, dialogue, and just about everything else is (to borrow a phrase from the ubiquitous Law and Order TV shows) “ripped from the headlines” of their lives. When I talk to other writers about this, the more savvy people agree that yes, it behooves a writer to write from a basis of emotional or psychological truth. The idea of authenticity is everywhere these days, and the word is overused, but it fits…

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The Lies That Bind . . . and Other Truths

“People think that a liar gains a victory over his victim. What I’ve learned is that a lie is an act of self-abdication, because one surrenders one’s reality to the person to whom one lies, making that person one’s master, condemning oneself from then on to faking the sort of reality that person’s view requires to be faked…The man who lies to the world, is the world’s slave from then on…There are no white lies, there is only the blackest of destruction, and a white lie is the blackest of all.”
― Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged

My story so far, provided to me by the great Mr. Witt, San Bernardino County Social Services, was my truth.  I clung to it.  It was mine.  I believed that it was all true.  Margaret, a beatnik wanna-be hippie, started experimenting with drugs at age 17 or 18.  She had a boyfriend, a couple of years older than her, who also dabbled in drugs.  It was the 60’s, after all.  Hell, it was her own mother who introduced Margaret to smoking pot.  But the party didn’t last long.  She was arrested, along with her boyfriend, on felony drug charges. And this was an interesting tidbit: it was Margaret’s stepfather who “turned them in.” Margaret’s mother had been married to Joe since Margaret was very young.  She respected Joe and considered him to be a fine father figure.  According to my truth.

Now I have a new truth. The truth as told to me by Jackson Summer, my biological father. The DNA evidence can’t lie–he’s definitely my father.  Unless he has a twin that shares his DNA, which he doesn’t.  Of course, with that DNA match, he could be my son.  He’s 70 years old–he’s my father.

But here is the troubling part:  I’ve been in contact with Jackson for months now via e-mail. We’ve been taking things slowly.  He admits that he’s an “old hippie” and dabbled in drugs back in the 60’s (some pretty powerful drugs, at that).  Yes, he lived in the same town as Margaret and her family (just a few blocks away).  Yes, he’s the right age, exactly.  But the description of my biological father and the information provided to me in my “non-identifying information did not describe Jackson (according to Jackson) at all.

In high school, your birth father was the editor of a literary magazine.  He was also on the debate team and participated in political groups.  He and your birth mother enjoyed talking about literature, intellectual subjects and and attended classes together at the city college in their community. . . Your birth father was also working at a pet hospital . . . and had access to narcotic drugs. . . .  Both of your parents were arrested on drug-related charges. . . . We have no record of your birth father after his arrest.

That’s the birth father I knew from my non-identifying information.  Consider, however, that all of this information was taken directly from the social services file on Margaret.  All of the descriptive information about what happened and who was involved is based on what Margaret told the social worker(s). Remember, Margaret told no one in her family she was pregnant, plus, she was in prison at the time, so no one spoke to social workers or prison personnel about Margaret except Margaret.  Margaret could have said anything.  She was 18, ashamed, up against a wall (4 prison walls, actually), and being questioned and pressured for information, and also to make a life-changing decision about the baby growing inside of her.  She didn’t name my birth father.  She said he “didn’t know [I] was pregnant, for sure.”  The information indicated that Margaret “signed sole custody relinquishments on December 20, 1963.”  Sole custody. My birth father did not know.

Or . . . perhaps Margaret didn’t know the identity of my biological father.  Maybe it could have been one of several?  Or maybe she didn’t remember the encounter.  Or maybe she knew, but she decided to describe something different in order to throw off the authorities. The fact is . . . the information provided to me in the non-identifying information did not describe Jackson Summer.  And not just by my comparison.  By his own.

I sent Jackson copies of the photos I have of Margaret. I also sent him copies of the letters we exchanged some 20 years ago (which were really no help at all, since Margaret said nothing at all about the time surrounding her pregnancy, except that it was a handicap that needed to be fixed). He contacted several of his long-time friends, including Marian Michaels, and told them about my contact and the “odd coincidences” (as he called them) of my story.  No one recalled a Margaret Michaels.

Jackson did not back away; rather, he opened up considerably and told me everything he could remember.  I believe what he told me. He has absolutely no reason to hide anything.  If he had a secret to hide, why would he continue to tell me his story?  The odd part was that Margaret Michaels was not a part of his story.  He was also never arrested, as claimed by Margaret. He was not interested in literature or politics and he did not attend any classes at the jr. college. Jackson and Margaret didn’t even attend the same high school!  Margaret had claimed that my birth father was the editor of a literary magazine in high school.  Nope.

Jackson's Art . . .

Jackson’s Art . . .

Jackson was known for his art.  He was a jewelry maker and metal worker.  He used to sell his art and jewelry at the beach every weekend. He had a small studio/shop on the corner near the beach and hung out with other artists and “creative minds,” as he called them.  He told me stories about how his community was a great artist mecca back in the 1960’s and there were even some artists who traded their art for real estate and other valuable items.  He never worked at a pet hospital. That’s not where he got his drugs.

Jackson has been very open with me about the drugs.  He admitted that from about age 15 to 23 he went through a period of rebellion against his mother (his mother raised him alone; his father had died when he was very young), exploration, and searching for the “truth,” or meaning of life. He told me stories of experimentation with mescaline and LSD, inspired by his reading of Alex Huxley’s The Doors of Perception.  He was, and still is, great friends with Dale Pendell, a contemporary poet, author and expert on pharmacology, ethnobotany and neuroscience.

The 1960’s.  What a decade, right?  The pharmaceutical industry exploded with research into new drugs. Drugs were legally developed for every ailment.  Thanks to the industry’s aggressive media campaigns, every medicine cabinet filled up with drugs for every sort of ailment. The phrase “better living through chemistry” actually came from a legit DuPont advertisement. Drugs were portrayed as wonders of modern technology. In the early 60’s, drugs were not seen as evil. So, of course, young people, as young people are want to do, experimented. Jackson wrote to me about his drug use and experimentation with mescaline and LSD. For him (luckily), it was all a positive experience.  Except for one thing: he believed his drug use was the reason he lost the love of his life: Marian Michaels.

He and Marian went to the same private high school (not the same high school as Margaret). They met when she was 14 and he was 16.  She was 1 grade below him in school.  They fell in love as teenagers–Jackson tells a sweet story of their young love. Jackson’s drug use continued into his late teens (and escalated) and this is where the problem started between Jackson and Marian. I believe that Jackson was being completely honest with me when he wrote:

The sad part to all this was that because of my drug use I broke the trust which I had built between Marian and I.  I was no longer the person she had grown to love.

Jackson explained to me that at that point he “went into the mountains” and stayed there for several months until he was “no longer addicted.”  But when he returned home it was too  late.  Marian had moved on.  She eventually married and had 2 children. Jackson also eventually married and had a daughter.

Later communication with Jackson revealed what “into the mountains” may have meant:

You were born when I was 20 and looking back at that time I was in Big Sur living and working at Deetchen’s Big Sur Inn. I think I had started working there sometime in 1962…… at least I have a few photos of me there which are dated 62.

My math indicates that I was conceived in April 1963 (born mid-December, one month premature), so perhaps it was a fleeting encounter (possibly drug-fueled) with Margaret in the Big Sur area.  My “non-identifying” information indicates that Margaret “moved to San Francisco for awhile, and then returned to her parents home to finish high school.” There is no further detail about her move or visit to “San Francisco,” but remember, the information in that report was put together from the interviews the social worker(s) had with Margaret while she was incarcerated.  She could have said anything, true or not.

Jackson and I are still communicating, although it has slowed down a bit.  He had indicated a desire to submit DNA to another company (or resubmit to 23andMe under another name) and to ask his daughter (who is 37 years old) to also submit a sample to see what kind of a match is revealed between the 3 of us.  I understand his trepidation.  But DNA doesn’t lie.  I believe he is my biological father.  He’s not so sure.

Laureen . . . I want you to know that I would be proud to have you as my daughter… I have no negative feelings but I am very confused about all of this.  It seems so unlikely that our DNA would be so close and then the connection to the community where I grew up . . .
What I would really like to do is talk to Margaret . . .  That would settle things . . .

Even back then I doubt I would have been drawn to someone like that. All of the women that I had any relationships with (there were not many) I still know and we are still  friends, including Marian.

I provided him with the address I have for Margaret.  He told me not too long ago that he started to write several times, but started over.  He wanted to say just the right thing.  I know the feeling.  I don’t think he has written to her yet.  I don’t even know whether he still intends to.

Next: We’ll explore the crazy possibilities . . .