About Orphans

My mother-in-law, Aster:  I get what you are saying about adoption, but we have a responsibility to take care of orphans.  We always have.  Think about Emma Smith and the Murdock twins.  {More info on the Murdock Twins}

GP:  You are right. We do have a Christian responsibility to take care of orphans.  I personally don’t think that a baby with two unwed parents is automatically an orphan but for the sake of this discussion let’s say that all babies placed for adoption are “orphans”.  

Why is it that after more than 150 years we still know that Julia was a Murdock?

People adopted from closed adoptions are expected to forget that they are genetically related to another family. I don’t know, but I assume that Julia’s father checked on her, and he knew where she was at all times. Julia didn’t have to wonder where she came from.  Everyone knew her has Julia Murdock Smith, one of the twins that Emma and Joseph Smith adopted. 

Aster:  So you think that’s the problem that adoptees don’t know their… what would you call it… genetic genealogy?

GP:  I don’t think that’s “the problem”  I think it is one of several difficulties that adopted people face. 

Aster: I never thought of it that way.  I just figured you needed a mother, and you got one. And you got a really good one.

GP: I did.  My mom was one of the best ones out.  She deserved Mother of the Year every single year.  Emma Smith was a great woman and mother too, but Julia didn’t have to pretend that Emma gave birth to her to have a close relationship with Emma. 

Aster: You are right.  Wow… I just never really thought about adoption that way before. When I was growing up it seemed like it was better to pretend that that baby was born to the adoptive parents but when you stop and think about it — it must be hard to not know who your biological family is.

GP: Yep.

 

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“Burger King Baby” and Assumptions About Birthmothers

When I first read the story about Katheryn Deprill trying to find her mother I was shocked and disgusted to read some of the comments at the end of the article. Most were hateful towards her mother. As the story public unfolds, many wrong assumptions were made about what kind of woman would leave a baby in a fast food restaurant bathroom.

The more I learn about adoption the more I learn that those wrong assumptions about birthmothers seem to be universal. A few weeks ago, after sharing that I had recently met my mother for the first time, I had a conversation with a intelligent, educated and cosmopolitan friend:

Iris: What an interesting story! I don’t know if you knew this, but I’m a grandmother of two adopted grandchildren. One of them will probably never know her mother because she was left in a town square in China with her umbilical cord still attached. She spent her first ten months in an orphanage. [said with a disapproving shake of her head]

Giant Petunia: I know it is hard to understand why someone would leave your sweet, little granddaughter all alone. I’m sure that breaks your heart to even think about it.

Since I’ve found my mom I’ve thought a lot about when I taught school in China. I watched as many excited American parents pick up their newly adopted children and wait for their official paperwork in the lobby of the White Swan Hotel in Guangzhou. I really loved seeing how nervous those parents were and yet at the same time how much love the already had for those children.

I’ve also thought a lot about the little family that ran the supply hut next my school compound. They had two sons. One son went to school. The other stayed at home and worked in the “store” because the government would only allow one son to go to school and the couple didn’t have enough money to pay for the other son’s education. The western teachers at the school thought this was a tragedy but the Chinese teachers had no sympathy for the boy and thought it was shameful that the store owners had dared to have two children.

I don’t know your granddaughter’s situation, but I’m sure your granddaughter’s biological mother felt like she didn’t have the option to keep her much like how my mother felt. I want to believe that her mother was putting her in a public area where she would be found. If she didn’t want her to be found she could have left her somewhere else. Maybe her mother was hiding in a place with her baby in view to make sure that someone would help her daughter. As I’ve come to understand my mother’s intentions, your granddaughter’s mother wasn’t giving her away but giving her a gift of a life with all the opportunities that she wanted her to have.

Iris: I’ve always thought that was an act of cowardice to leave a little baby all alone in a town square. This gives me a little different perspective…

 

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at Church

Church Friend 1 (aka Fuchsia) – “Giant Petunia, I hear you are adopted? We found out last year that there is no chance that we will have children of our own.  I was wondering, would you mind if I asked you what it is like being adopted?”

Giant Petunia – “Wow, I’ve NEVER been asked that by a Church member before.  Most people just assume being adopted is like not being adopted, unless an adoptee “acts up” and then suddenly all of their problems stem from being a bad seed.”

I continued to explain that as a child I was told and believed that I was “Special” and “Chosen” but as I grew up and struggled with my own fertility I understood that I wasn’t really “chosen” but second best and an unwanted baby.  It wasn’t until I was reunited with my natural family that I understood the gravity of my lack of “Genetic Mirroring” had on me and my relationship with my children.  I continued to explain how much I loved my parents and family that raised me but there was always something missing.  

THEN another Church Friend (aka Lavender) joined the conversation.

Lavender– “You know Fuchsia, not everyone feels like Giant Petunia.  Most people are happy that they are adopted.  Don’t let her experience change your mind about adopting.”

GP to Lavender – “I understand that most LDS adoptees never voice how they feel about being adopted.  We are rarely given the opportunity to be anything BUT grateful. Fuchsia asked ME how it felt being adopted and what I’ve shared is not my opinion it is how many adoptees, if asked in a safe environment, will answer.  Please do not dismissed my experience as unique because you’ve never heard others speak their Truth.”

Lavender [turns to talk just to Fuchsia] – “Don’t base your decision on what she is saying.  I’ll send you an email with a Church support group for adoptive parents.  It is so hard to adopted a baby domestically now.  Most of these parents can help you with an international adoption.  Talk to you later!”

GP to Fuchsia – “Thanks again for asking about what it feels like to be adopted.  I know from experience that not being able to have babies feels like Heavenly Father doesn’t think you’ll be a good mother.  That is not the case.  I know you’ll be a great mother.  I know you can love a child that isn’t biologically your child.

Continue to seek information about what it feels like to be adopted.  I’m not trying to discourage you from adoption but you need to understand that raising an adopted child isn’t the same as raising a biological child.  

Also, I hesitate opening another can of worms – but be careful with international adoptions.  I know it seems like you are helping the orphans of the world but that “Genetic Mirroring” I was talking about is even harder when you separate a child from their culture. There are also child traffickers — some of those “orphans” are actually kidnapped children from poorer regions of the country.  There are PLENTY of orphans in the US.

One more thing, I know this is a heavy conversation and maybe not what you wanted to hear, but just as you mourn the loss of not being able to have your own child understand that every adoption has a mother and child mourning the loss of each other.

Fuchsia – “Thank you so much for sharing, really. I know that everyone says adoption is a great option for us but knowing that a woman would have to have a baby and give that baby to me to care for has been the “thing” that makes me wonder about adoption.  I actually can imagine how hard that would be and I don’t know if I couldn’t live with myself knowing that my happiness came at the expense of someone else’s pain”

GP [tears welling in my eyes] – “There are children that legitimately need a good mom like you.  For someone that does not have experience with adoption you understand the complexities of adoption better than many first mothers, adoptive parents and adoptees.  This conversation means more to me than you’ll ever know.  Thank you. Please know that I will answer any questions you have with complete honesty. I hope we’ll talk more about this.”

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With Grandmother-In-Law

Grandmother-In-Law: What did you do today?

GiantPetunia: I went to lunch with my mother, aunts, and sisters.

GIL: Now was that with you “real” mom?

GP: By “real” mom do you mean the woman that carried me in her womb for 9 months and went through labor or the woman that raised me and supported me my entire life?

GIL: Well, I mean your “real” mom.

GP: I went to lunch with the mother with whom I share DNA. Is that “real” enough?

GIL: Yes, that seems “real” enough.

 

I find it so interesting that my entire life I was asked “Do you want to find your “real” mother?” and I always responded “No, I have a mother.”  Now that I’ve found my “real” mother most people are quick to remind me that the mother that raised me is my “real” mother.  

One of the hardest things I’ve had to internalize during my reunion is that I have two mothers.  Acknowledging that the woman that gave birth to me is my mother and that I feel love for her was not a betrayal of my other mother was difficult yet liberating at the same time.  A mother can love more than child and a daughter can love more than one mother. 

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Things are Different

Homework Assignment

Six months ago the beginning of this conversation would have made me sad and caused quiet, internal anxiety. But things are different now.

Conversation this morning:

Lily: Oh Mom! I forgot to give this to you yesterday.  It is due Friday!
Giant Petunia: What is it?
L: We are learning about our family origins for social studies.  I need to list one or more places in the world that are important to my family. You know, like countries our grandparents are from.
GP: Great!  We’ll have lots of fun with this when you get home from school today!

Six months ago I would have only been able to give information about my husband’s family.  I would have debated with myself if I should tell her the origins of my adoptive family or not. Then I would feel heartache that my daughter was inheriting the same sense uncertainty that I loathed when I had school assignments about my genealogy since my genetic origins had always been a mystery to me.

Now I can proudly tell her that her father’s family is Danish/German/English and her mother’s family is Norwegian/Swedish/German/English.

This is a joyful day!

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