Wednesday, November 05, 2008


Illinois Adoption Reform and IlOpen are having a great media event. Write a letter to Santa and ask for your original birth certificate. All the letters will be hand delivered personally by Santa to the Vital Stats Department in Springfield, Illinois.

My husband and I wrote letters and I asked both of my adult children to write too.

Our oldest granddaughter is 8 years old. She is such a good writer and I thought, “Hey, this would be a great experience. Ella can write a special letter to Santa for her Nana.”

My very next thought was, “ Oh No! I don’t want to tell Ella anything about her Nana being adopted. I don’t want Ella to know that Nana’s mother gave her away.”

There! It’s out. I’ve said it. And it’s true.

Years of psychological counseling were flushed down the drain in that one instant. Decades of being an outspoken advocate for adoptee rights flew right out the window as feelings I didn’t know I still had swept over me. For one moment, I was that little adopted kid again - the one who thought she was the bad seed.

The one who thought that there must be something wrong with her because her mother didn’t want to keep her.

Someone else will have to tell the grandkids much later on about their Nana – probably when they have a school assignment to make a Family Tree. For now, I’m remaining mum.


Mary Lynn Fuller said...

I do understand since a granddaughter Ella's age might know children who have a single mother and begin to question why did her great-grandmother not keep her little girl. It would be hard to explain to a child Ella's age that back when we were born unwed mothers just did not keep their children. They were a disgrace to their families so went away to hide and part with a child that they were to forget about and just go on with their lives. Then add to that it is against the IL law for adult adoptees to have their original birth certificate. I can't help but think that to a young child it would not be a story anywhere similar to any that they have just been reading for a school assignment. It could be enough to give them a nightmare.

Anonymous said...

As you know Anita, I also have a granddaughter who has just turned one. I have not ever thought of whether or not I would tell her. I can understand why you would hesitate and I wonder if it isn't a combination of factors rather than just one. She is young and it might be a better idea for her to hear about it when she is a little older. There is a good chance that someone will mention it in an off hand way that will not make it seem too strange to her. Another reason you may hesitate could be because you are just plain worn out with the unknowing of it all. There are times when I say nothing rather than go through all of that explaining again. It tires me out. And I think that it is harder for you when you are not able to explain much and you don't have that sense of knowing your starting point. So don't be so hard on yourself. You are allowed to remain mum. She loves you for the perfect nana that you are, not for your birth certificate.
Nana Janet

Anonymous said...

Our circumstances are very different, Anita. I do understand how you are held back from free explanation to your grandchild. Please take comfort in knowing that your own activism helps others. Be strong in that ackomplishment.

As Mary Lynn said above, it could be a nightmare, but, as I've seen with my own children, kids bounce back. This is your just is this way...I don't have all the answers, but this is my answer at this moment...this is my understanding of what happened...

And if you don't know your starting point, say so. It will be a hole in the story, but you are not a hole. You are real and beleivable and loveable.

While I do not yet have grandchildren, I can project safely what I'll say. My explanation will be the same as how I explained to my children who was who and why. My daughter and son were born into a family that had a variety of relationships from their mother, so they adapted well. (My reunion with natural family members took place 9 years before my first child was born.)

Grandparents on their father's side were more complex as we had to explain their divorce and new marriages for both paternal grandparents, which meant new spouses who became additional grandparents.

And then their own parents' divorce...

On my side, however, it was much easier to explain who Nana is - my adoptive mother, who Grandpa and Grandpa S are -- my natural father and stepmother, and that I have no siblings within my adoptive family, but have 4 older full-blood siblings, 2 stepbrothers, 2 stepsisters and a younger half brother. I also told my children, from birth and toddlerhood, that my mother had died shortly after my birth. My father was backed into a corner with no help to keep the family together. I explained everything. And the kids were very receptive and not judgemental at all. They did not see their grandfather as a bad person who gave away his newborn. They saw him as someone caught in a situation that had no answers.

They also "played house" reinacting how one mother died and another mother raised the baby. No, I didn't tell them to play that way, I was surprised to accidentally overhear this version they invented, based upon their mother's reality. My kids also "played house" with the simpler version of a father and a mother. This gave my kids a wider view of what is a family - so they accepted, from a young age, single motherhood, divorce and remarriage and step siblings of their own with their father, they accepted same-sex couples, and mixed-racial coules. And they are both skeptical of adoption, sperm and egg "donation" and embryo "adoption". I've raised my kids to "Keep your genes to yourself!"

My kids were raised by a mother who talked daily about adoptees' rights and women's rights. I brought home stories of adoption conferences I went to, and, a few reformers came to visit us. I played Australian aboriginal music about stolen babies and reunited families, and Irish folk songs about sailors leaving behind "bouncing babies." I talked about responcibility and misfortune. I even took my children to 2 or 3 Marches on Washington. They came with me, and a group of adoptees and natural parents and adoptive parents, to speak with senators. They heard other people speak at the Lincoln Memorial, and they saw the picket signs and took part in the chants for Open Records. They also sat in on group discussions afterwards in the hotel --- adults and other children speaking openly (for shame!) about how adoption affected all of us. They met the Movements's big names at the time: Joe Soll, Sandy Musser, etc. This wasn't just their mother's fight.

Growing up the children of an outspoken activist adoptee helped my children see injustice in other areas of life, so they are now clearer thinking, politically aware young adults in their twenties.

Oh, and yes, we've discussed legalities, too, in that the law only recognizes my adoptive parents and my adoptive name. Kids can see the truth with their own eyes. Divorce doesn't cause relatives to become legally non-existant, and heredity is quite obvious, even when the law of adoption doesn't acknowledge the obvious. Incongruities are observed and children draw their own conclusions, just as we adoptees did.

The problems about adoption came in when my children witnessed their mother crumble under pressure from other relatives and people outside the family. As a social reformer, I was a target of hate; misunderstood for standing up publicly. I became depressed, suicidal, and often took it out on my children. I will be appologizing for the rest of my life for this.

Please Anita, no more shame. If you explain your birth and adoption clearly, and answer questions clearly, your grandchild will accept explanations. It is, after all, a part of her life history, too.

Joan Wheeler born as Doris Sippel

Triona Guidry said...

Anita, thank you for your post, and Joan, for your poignant comments.

I went through this about a year and a half ago, when I was in the middle of my short-lived anonymous correspondence with my birth mom. My daughter, aged 3, wanted to know who I was writing, which segued into wanting to know who this other "grammy" was (her Grammy being her Dad's Mom) and why we never see her. My heart went pitter-pat as I tried to come up with an explanation that wasn't going to make my daughter think I was going to give her up like I was given up. Best I could do was say that I haven't seen my mom in a really long time because she wasn't able to take care of me when I was little. As she gets older, Joan, I hope she and her brother have the same experiences your kids did, watching my adoption activism and seeing how they can make a difference against injustice.

I suppose the politically correct thing would have been to tell her about my adoptive family... but I have annulled my adoption, in my own mind if not legally. I have not seen them in decades and they have never met my children. I also don't want my kids to think all adoptions are like mine, because they are bound to encounter adopted kids in school.