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

Layers

First, I have news.  It’s FINALLY happening!  I’m finally going to meet a member of my biological family–my father!

I know my blog and the stories about my journey that I have been sharing with you have pretty much come to a halt.  I apologize for that, but a lot has been happening behind the scenes.  A great amount of it has been very personal and difficult for me to process emotionally; hence, I have not been able to share it here. But I am happy to report that I’ll be meeting Jackson soon.  I’ll also get to meet my half-sister and my niece. It’s a big triumph for me! I will share more about the emotional journey it took to get to this point very soon. For now I’ll tell you that I’m nervous, but Jackson has assured me that he has “open arms” and is looking forward to meeting me, as well.  I will not call it a “reunion,” though, because we never even knew about each other. He didn’t even know I existed, for Pete’s sake! This will simply be a meeting of common hearts and souls.

Sadly, there has been no new news on my bio mom’s side (as expected), although I am still in contact with my aunt (my bio mom’s half-sister) and she has expressed interest in meeting and sharing information with me in the past.  I need to take the initiative to contact her again–I know that I can’t let these opportunities drift by.  Life is too short.

Now about the layers!  Since I’ve been in contact with Jackson, together we have discovered so much about ourselves and our extended family! I recently wrote an article for Secret Sons and Daughters on the importance of sharing stories and contacting everyone and anyone that may have a connection (DNA or otherwise) in order to uncover long lost or forgotten details, secrets and even deception. If you keep sharing, you will eventually come up with something.  Sometimes it’s a big deal (I found my 70-year old father that didn’t even know I existed!) and sometimes it’s just a great little tidbit of history that adds color to your story.

Beach Blanket Bingo!

Beach Blanket Bingo!

For example, with the help of a second cousin (found through a DNA match on 23andMe), and the helpful hints and extensive document library on Ancestry.com, we discovered that Jackson had a nephew (they didn’t know about each other) who was a handsome up-and-coming folk-singer in the early 1960’s, who married a young beauty queen and Hollywood starlet who made appearances in all of the great “Beach Party” movies of the 1960’s (including Beach Party, Beach Blanket Bingo, Muscle Beach Party and Bikini Beach). Unfortunately, Jackson’s nephew (my first cousin!) was killed at age 26 in a tragic airplane crash off the beach in San Diego while he was flying a small plane with his friend (both experienced pilots).  The beautiful starlet never remarried, but went on to be a successful photographer who hobnobbed with the rock and roll crowd in the late 60’s and 70’s (she toured with Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young for a couple of years as their official photographer) and artist.

I think that’s pretty neato. What’s also neato is that I am still discovering new things about my family.  My friend, Nancy, who has been super supportive and helpful with my search and journey, gave me a copy of a small blurb from a magazine that she cut out.  She doesn’t remember where it came from [Nancy remembered: it came from Parade magazine, but we’re still not sure of the date], but it was in the form of a multiple choice question/statement:

When a team of psychologists measured children’s resilience, they found that the kids who were best able to handle stress:

a) knew the most about their family’s history;

b) played team sports;

c) attended regular religious services.

Answer: (a). The more children know about their family’s history, the stronger their sense of control over their lives and the higher their self-esteem.  the reason: These children have a stronger sense of “intergenerational self”–they understand that they belong to something bigger than themselves, and that families naturally experience both highs and lows.

So keep learning.  And keep peeling away the layers.

We Are Warriors

Personal history must be constantly renewed by telling parents, relatives, and friends everything one does. On the other hand, for the warrior who has no personal history, no explanations are needed; nobody is angry or disillusioned with his acts. And above all, no one pins him down with their thoughts and their expectations. — Carlos Castaneda

For adoptees, personal histories change. You learn little bits of truth and you start to imagine the rest.  Then you learn more, and you rewrite.  It’s kind of like getting to know a new person . . . but it’s you.

All this time I’ve been working on unraveling my own story.  But you know . . .  it’s not only adoptees that  sometimes have to fill in the blanks or rewrite the past.  Take my biological father, for instance.  Remember when I “found” Jackson through our DNA match on 23andMe?  He knew nothing about me–didn’t even know I existed until I contacted him–and he didn’t remember my biological mother (still doesn’t!).  I had asked him why he had submitted his DNA to 23andMe.  He explained that he wanted to try to learn more about his father’s side of the family.  His father died when he was quite young and he was raised by his mother.  His mother was older than his friends’ mothers (she was 41 when he was born).  They were never close. His mother never spoke much about his father.  Even as Jackson grew older and would ask questions, she never gave him any meaningful details about his dad.

As Jackson approached the age of 70, he thought it would be a good idea to at least invest in the DNA test to get a heads up on any potential health concerns (this was prior to the FDA’s directive to 23andMe to stop offering consumers health-related genetic testing results in December 2013). He had a daughter (well, two, actually, if you count yours truly) and a granddaughter (and two grandsons hiding in the shadows!) to think about. Jackson spit into the tube to find out whether he had any health concerns and to fill in some blanks about the family he already knew.

I’m here to tell you, even if you don’t get a “jackpot” match immediately–like I did when I found Jackson (mind blown!)–if you’re looking for someone specific or a specific connection, stay the course with the DNA testing and make contact with those 1st, 2nd and even distant cousins because you never know what will evolve.  Someone out there knows your truth.  They may not know they know, and you may not think that these distant relatives can provide you with any useful information, but you never know when you will get that little piece of information that makes all the other random information come together and make sense.  You can only put together the whole puzzle when you have all of the little pieces.

Of course, we’re talking about the family puzzle.  Families are the cornerstone of life in this great country, providing biological (for most) and social continuity for individuals as they also shape and are shaped by the larger society as a whole.  I’ve experienced first-hand how a society’s larger agenda or values, such as society’s attitudes toward unwed mothers and children born out of wedlock, can affect the family.  Adoption itself was shaped by these values and continues to evolve as society and the American family change with the social and economic ebbs and tides of the past, present and future.

There were and are other factors shaping American families, of course. These days, families come in all shapes and sizes.  Single moms, single dads, two moms, two dads, children being raised by grandparents, aunts, uncles, etc.  The possibilities are really endless.  And for the most part, families today are not bending over backwards to force the appearance of a traditional, nuclear family (mom, dad and a couple of kiddos).  That was part of the problem with families back in the 1940’s, 1950’s, 1960’s and even into the 1970’s and 80’s.  Often there was what may have been considered an “oops” in a family (pre-marital sex and pregnancy, an extramarital affair that resulted in a pregnancy, etc.) and a scramble to cover it up, deny it, or re-shape it into something more acceptable. 

Cover-ups, lies, re-shaping.  Let’s just call it what it is.  Let’s face it.  We lie to protect ourselves; we lie to promote ourselves.  We lie to elevate ourselves; we lie to excuse ourselves. I’ve said it before and I’ve said it again, when a lie is told or a truth is hidden about the identity of another human being, that lie, cover up or informational void should not follow that person for his or her entire life.  It’s just not fair.  It’s not right.

About 7 months ago, I got one of those initial contact e-mails from a 2nd-3rd cousin through 23andMe. He asked the usual questions, using a template provided by 23andMe:

Hi,

Through our shared DNA, 23andMe has identified us as relatives. Our predicted relationship is 2nd Cousin. Would you like to compare our genomes? By sharing genomes we can compare our DNA using ancestry features and discover clues about how we are related. Surnames in my family: Mann, Bailey, Schmidt.  I live in Northern California now, and I’m in my late 50’s. This is my first experience with 23andMe—interesting!  Andy Mann

Well, none of those names meant anything to me, but, then again, I simply don’t know. So I shared my story with Andy.  Who knows?  Maybe something would click with him.

Hi Andy!

23andMe is most definitely “interesting!” Here is the information I have about my biological family–maybe you can help me put some of the puzzle pieces together and see how we may be related. Unfortunately, the surnames you provided don’t mean anything to me, but there is a reason for that.  Perhaps they will mean something to me after we exchange information (I am hopeful!).

Mine is an interesting story. I was adopted as an infant. Pittman is my adopted name, so it won’t help you with your relative search. But I do have some information that may be able to help you.

I was able to locate my biological mother 25 years ago. Her name is Margaret Michaels, born in Chicago in 1945. Her mother’s name is Eve (maiden name Beryl). I do not know her father’s first name, but I assume his last name was Michaels (I was born “Baby Girl Michaels”).

Margaret never told me who my biological father is (she has refused contact with me–it’s a complicated story), but I was able to find him through 23andMe! His name is Jackson Summer and he currently lives in Washington state. He was born in 1943–I’m not sure where, but he grew up in Santa Barbara, CA (as did Margaret). Perhaps you are a match with Jackson?

I started blogging about my adoption story a few months back.  If you’re interested in reading, you can find it at https://adoptionmytruth.wordpress.com/.

If there is any other information I can give to you, I’d be happy to. Perhaps the surnames I’ve listed here mean something to you. That would be fabulous!

Looking forward to hearing from you again.

Laureen

 

Andy wrote back right away to inform me that none of the surnames or locations rang a bell with him.  I didn’t hear from Andy for 6 months.  And then, this:

Hi Laureen,
Have you been in touch with  Jackson Summer?  My 88 year old mom, who lives in Northern California, recently wrote me this (below).  Can you forward it to him? Hope you’re doing well. – Andy Mann

 

* * * * * *

From my mom:
Jackson is the son of my Uncle Richard, your grandfather’s older brother who had come to this country before your grandfather. Richard Schmidt was married to Katherine and had 2 children: Franz and Marybeth.  The family lived in Fallbrook and every Christmas would send a large box of goodies to our family: oranges, grapefruit and avocados, and always a lovely gift for me and my sister. Living in those days many miles apart, I believe I only saw him once when the family drove to Southern California when I was very young.
I do remember attending the World’s Fair in San Francisco in 1915 with Uncle Richard and the rest of my family.  I next spent time with Uncle Richard during WWII when I was a secretary in the Bay Area.  He had an apartment on Telegraph Hill near Coit Tower because he traveled to the Bay Area for work quite often.  He also maintained his home in Southern California where he would go on the weekends.

After the war, I lost track of what Uncle Richard was doing.  I know he was summoned to Washington, D.C. by President Truman and made several trips to the capitol to help with post-war reparations in Europe and rebuilding. It wasn’t until I was married that I learned that Uncle Richard had had an affair while married to his first wife, Katherine.  Of course, everything was very hush hush. He and Katherine were divorced and the “other woman,” whose name was Mollie Summer, had a child.

Heide

 

Whoa!  Jackson and I now realize we have much more in common!  Isn’t the truth a lovely thing?  And Heide?  What a woman!  88 years old!  She’s helping us both uncover our true personal histories.  Jackson is amazed at what is unfolding and it’s actually helping to bring us closer.

Once again, we have to thank science–along with the generous heart of another human being, for connecting us with family.

 

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]

Real Life Unfolding . . . Be Patient

We should not be so taken up in the search for truth, as to neglect the duties of active life; for it is only action that gives a true value and commendation to virtue. — Marcus Tullius Cicero

I’ve neglected this blog.  I apologize.  “Real life” has kind of taken over.  Wait . . . that’s not accurate. Or fair. It’s all real. What I mean is, some things going on in my life have taken a priority over other things. I haven’t been able to keep you properly updated on everything that’s been going on. Nothing earth shattering . . . but that’s okay.  After all, it’s just real life.

I’m currently re-reading Richard Hill’s book, Finding Family.  I devoured it quickly several months ago, at that time I was mostly interested in how DNA testing fit into the search for his biological family. It’s a fascinating story that begins before the internet even existed and continues through the evolution of science and technology. I won’t spoil the story for you (you should read it!), but I keep thinking about how patient he was.  His search over the decades was methodical and creative at times.  Before the internet appeared on the scene, “research” was done with a lot of legwork (especially difficult if you are researching something that happened in another state or another even another country), hit and miss telephone calls, and dogged determination.  Understandably, there were periods over the nearly 3-decade time period when nothing happened.  No progress was made. Sometimes years  went by with his search just sitting on the back burner.  He got busy with “real life.”

Real life includes it all: your health and the health of your family members, your marriage (or your relationship with your significant other), family, friends, kids in school, kids in sports, adult kids moving back home, aging parents that need help more and more, career, hobbies, etc.  At any moment, the juggling act to keep it all going can be thrown out of whack. Throw in a search for biological family members and all of the emotional ups and downs that go with it.  Something has to give.

Needless to say, my real life has gotten a little crazy lately.  I know I don’t need to explain it to you because I know that each and every one of you have experienced some sort of personal crisis or something that seemed to suddenly throw your life into chaos or elevated stress mode. So I apologize for the lag in between posts.  Enough said about that.

There is good news.  I’m happy to report that Jackson and I are communicating again. Apparently the communication “breakdown” was caused by a new e-mail address and a problem with e-mail servers not accepting mail from certain domains. We’ve figured it out and all is well.  He’s still the open-hearted, sweet man he always has been.  We even video chatted!  It was totally by accident (my son just pushed the button and handed me the phone and there he was!) and I was totally unprepared, but it was really fantastic to talk to him “face-to-face.”  He still has questions and still wants to know more about Margaret. I wish I knew more.  He’s written a few letters to Margaret, but hasn’t sent any.  He’d rather talk to her in person (he’s brave).  I told him I’d help him out however I can.  Who knows . . . maybe a road trip is in our future!  Okay, that’s a long shot.  I still haven’t even met Jackson.  I hope to soon.

Jackson does want to go ahead and re-submit DNA to another company to confirm our father/daughter match.  I’m fine with that, so hopefully we’ll be doing that soon.  I think I will also submit samples from both of my sons at the same time.  Perhaps a double dose of an instant grandson matches might convince him beyond a reasonable doubt that he is my biological father.

If you’ll recall, a few months ago when Jackson suggested sending in another sample he thought it would also be a good idea to have his other daughter submit a sample, too.  I thought that would be cool–a sister.  But apparently she’s not interested.  I don’t know exactly how she feels about my arrival on the scene, but she is not interested in sending in a DNA sample to help her father out.  It’s also apparent that she isn’t interested in developing a relationship with her biological half-sister.  At least not yet.  That’s okay . . . remember Richard Hill’s story?  These things take time.  And I know from past experience you just can’t rush (or force) these things.

The two hardest tests on the spiritual road are the patience to wait for the right moment and the courage not to be disappointed with what we encounter. — Paulo Coelho, Veronika Decides to Die

 

Invisible

All living souls welcome whatever they are ready to cope with; all else they ignore, or pronounce to be monstrous and wrong, or deny to be possible. –George Santayana

I am used to being on the outside looking in.  It’s not a new feeling.  What was new to me was the openness of a complete stranger that happened to share enough mitochondrial autosomal DNA with me to be my biological father.

When I received the results from 23andMe indicating that my biological father was a fellow client, I was stunned.  I knew that it was likely that my biological father didn’t even know I existed.  I also knew nothing about him.  I didn’t know if he had a family–whether or not I had siblings, aunts, uncles, nieces or nephews.  I didn’t know how I would be received. Would he ignore me?  Would he even respond to my message?  Would he deny our relationship (unlikely, I thought, with the DNA being what it was).

I was surprised at his initial response.  He was certainly open and willing to communicate via e-mail.  He eventually even suggested several times that we try to Skype so that we could talk “in person.”  We exchanged photos.  We “friended” each other on Facebook, allowing each other an insight into each other’s “virtual” lives and photos of family and friends.  He was eager to “show me” his art studio and the museum via video.  I was so happy to be allowed into his world.

He was confused about the DNA match, however, and wondered whether there could be a mistake.  He had (and still has) no memory of Margaret.  In his mind, he had never met her, let alone had sex with her.  I gave him every spec of information I had– all the details about my “story.” I even gave him copies of the photos I had of Margaret, hoping that the images would help him remember.

He talked to old friends and looked at old yearbooks and photos . . . still nothing in his memory connected him to Margaret.  In the meanwhile we exchanged e-mails.  We talked about everything–cooking (he loves to experiment with exotic ingredients), his art (handmade gold and silver jewelry and masks, etc.), his daughter and grand daughter, my boys and husband and his love and fascination with antique radios.  I was excited about his jewelry and told him about Etsy and suggested he could try to sell some of his jewelry and art on-line.  Guess what?  He now has an Etsy store!

I think he knows in his heart that I am his daughter. So I’m sure you can understand my confusion now. Our communication has stopped. Completely.  For some reason, I’ve been shut down.  The last meaningful message I received from him was before Thanksgiving.  I told him of my plans to travel to Texas to visit a nephew and his family.  I wished him a Happy Thanksgiving and asked whether he had any big plans with family.  I didn’t hear from him before Thanksgiving, but I assumed that he was busy with work and getting ready for the holiday.  I e-mailed when I returned from Texas.  No response. Finally, before Christmas, I sent a simple message telling him I was worried (he’s 70 years old and although his health is good, I could not fathom why I wasn’t hearing from him) and to please just let me know he’s well.  I also apologized for feeling a little paranoid about our “relationship,” I was worried that I had somehow offended him or scared him off.  I didn’t want to be an intrusion.

I got a short e-mail from him with no real explanation–just that he’s been busy and that all is well.  That’s it.  Nothing else.  I e-mailed him before the New Year and told him I hoped he had a nice Christmas and Happy New Year.  No response.

I have a hunch that maybe he saw his daughter, who is 37, over the holidays and perhaps he shared our correspondence with her.  I don’t know–maybe she was shocked at his openness with me.  She got protective.  Maybe jealous.  She has no idea who I am.  Who is this person claiming to be a daughter–just appearing out of thin air?  She could be scamming you! What does she want from you?  He had written to me about some pretty intimate details about his past.  Perhaps his daughter felt violated somehow.

I’m disappointed.  And sad.  Really sad.  Don’t get me wrong . . . I know I have many wonderful friends and family in my life that know me and love me.  I appreciate all of you! It’s difficult to explain.  It’s a familiar feeling, but I honestly did not think I would feel this way again.

I am not sure of my next move.  I never made it to the library in Santa Barbara.  They never responded to my e-mail, but I still plan on trying to get information and details about Margaret’s arrest when I can get up there again.  But I think my next move will be to send a letter to my sister–Jackson’s daughter.  I should introduce myself.

It’s a Good Thing. Why do People Think It’s So Bad?

I’m tired.  Emotionally and physically.  I have a guest post today written by one of my best friends . . . she’s lived an exemplary life and want to be her when I grow up. A beautiful soul and a great writer.  We’ve been friends for a very long time.  We know each other’s stories.  She’s been following my blog.  Thank you, Catherine, for your kind and wise words.  

But first, as I usually like to do, I want to start with a quote:

“The baby explodes into an unknown world that is only knowable through some kind of a story – of course that is how we all live, it’s the narrative of our lives, but adoption drops you into the story after it has started. It’s like reading a book with the first few pages missing. It’s like arriving after curtain up. The feeling that something is missing never, ever leaves you – and it can’t, and it shouldn’t, because something IS missing. That isn’t of its nature negative. The missing part, the missing past, can be an opening, not a void. It can be an entry as well as an exit. It is the fossil record, the imprint of another life, and although you can never have that life, your fingers trace the space where it might have been, and your fingers learn a kind of Braille.”
― Jeanette WintersonWhy Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?

Adoptive Moms Know

By: Catherine Wilkinson

I have a few things to say about adoption and Laureen’s emotional and frustrating journey toward honest answers about herself and her birth family. Answers she deserves.
I am an adoptive Mom to two “kids”, now 26 and 29 years old. I gained two more children, ages 28 and 30, through my husband, when they were very small. I also am a Grandmother to 8, soon to be 9, two of whom I “inherited” through my son-in-law, who brought his two little ones into our family. So, I am familiar with the idea that families come together in many ways. Through adoption, surrogacy, inheritance and sometimes we gain family members by surprise, after many years of not even knowing they were there.

I do know that if either one of my adoptive children chose to pursue finding their birth parents or decided to include them in their lives, I would be the first one in line to welcome them. I would get down ON MY KNEES and thank them for my two precious kids, regardless of how they arrived at the hard and painful decision to give them up for adoption. I would never look upon their decision as anything other than a GIFT TO ME. There is no room for shame, guilt, regret, or anger. How can that even be? My kids are extraordinary and they are loved and lovable. That’s my gift TO THE BIRTH PARENTS. In my mind, if I was a birth parent who gave the opportunity to raise my child to another, I would feel such peace and relief knowing I did the right thing.

I have encouraged my kids (at appropriate times) throughout their lives to pursue a birth family search. One is interested, one is not. It’s their choice and their journey….I’m just there to help. They were born in Taiwan, and there are adequate records and it would be a fairly easy search. I’m as curious as Laureen….I want to know more about my children’s’ birth parents. And I selfishly want the opportunity to thank them. To tell them how wonderful their birth children turned out to be and what joy they have brought me.

Laureen’s adoptive parents have both passed on. But I know in my heart that they too would feel as I do even though I never met them. How do I know? Because I know Laureen and what kind of woman she is and they are the ones who raised her – a strong, compassionate, funny, talented, generous, intelligent person. They would thank her birth parents for giving them the opportunity to raise such a wonderful daughter. I would hope that every adoptive parent wants that chance. Sometimes they get it, sometimes not. It’s up to their child. Laureen is searching alone (well, her husband, her two sons, and her many friends are with her on this journey!) and my heart breaks that her Mom and Dad can’t be here for her, because I know they loved her so much, they would want her to find the answers, the peace, and the acceptance from her birth family. I know it.

So this brings me to addressing her birth family directly: there is no downside to being honest and helpful. If you think you are “protecting” those who have no idea that Laureen even exists, you are just denying an absolute and wonderful truth. If you think you are “protecting” those who don’t know they have two great-grandsons, or nephews, or niece, or whatever the relationship is, you are perpetuating the idea that adoption is shameful and a legacy that needs to remain secret. If you are afraid, ashamed or embarrassed, let me tell you, unreservedly, those are fearful reactions to a miracle. If you think are “protecting” someone, have you considered you are robbing them of a wonderful opportunity to at least acknowledge that something quite extraordinary came out of a difficult situation?

truth (1)“The truth shall set you free”. Truth ALWAYS trumps secrets and fear. It’s time for truth for Laureen. Since I have a lot of experience with “blending” families and Laureen and I are so close, I feel comfortable appointing myself as Laureen’s surrogate Mom during her journey.  I’m standing in for her loving parents and waiting for the chance to thank the birth family for Laureen. It may sting a few fearful people at first, but I promise every single one of you, there will be no regrets.

I mean, have you tasted her cooking?