The following chapter was intentionally omitted in the final edition of Forbidden Family. It is reprinted here for further information.
How Did This Generational Legacy Lead to Mistaken Belief in Adoptive Parent Entitlement?
As I looked through partially written family histories that have been un-read for many years, phrases popped out— “his father died when he was eleven years old” and “her mother died when she was two.” Even my own description of how I became an adoptee was the phrase, “our mother died.” When I replaced those phrases with the words “half-orphan,” a whole new meaning came to light. I counted how many individuals from my families were half-orphans. The results were shocking. There were, and are, a total of 39 half-orphans in my natural mother’s family, my adoptive mother’s family, and my adoptive father’s family, spanning several generations, including remarriage and death of stepparents. My own siblings experienced the death of our mother, and then a few years later, the death of their stepmother.
I was the only half-orphan treated differently. I was given up by a father who had no family history of orphan-hood other than his experiencing the death of his wife leaving him to figure out what to do with five children he could not take care of by himself. Being an infant of four months, I was adopted, not by complete strangers, but by distant relatives of my deceased mother. This was a set-up for disaster. Proper intervention, had it existed when it was needed, could have avoided, or at least softened, the tragic chain of events in my life, and that of my first nuclear family, my second nuclear family, and my subsequent nuclear family with my husband and children.
The Wheeler family and the Herr family were related and happily so, long before I was born, and before I disappeared from the Herr Family, and before I was adopted into the Wheeler family. My adoption changed the dynamics between these two families for the worst. Both families became secretive, deceptive, and cruel, playing into the stereotypes of the “bastard adopted child” who must never know the truth. Fortunately, not all felt this way.
In my adoption, openness was a choice for many individuals and families who deemed themselves worthy of that openness. My father, siblings, and I, however, were forbidden to know each other. Had I stayed a half-orphan, like my siblings, I would have had equal rights to them, to our father, and to my birth certificate. But I was segregated, set apart from my siblings, adopted out, and adopted into a different family, an extended family who did not like, nor respect, my natural father. The scorn directed at me was not because of the shame of an illegitimate birth; it was because I was the half-orphan who was “not wanted by her own father”, a man who “killed your mother.” My adoptive parents wanted me, but then I “stabbed them in the back by openly carrying on a reunion with the father who gave me away.”
Mine was a relative adoption. The relationship was distant enough to be almost a clean break, but close enough that the older generation held onto family relationships and issues from a little over one hundred years ago down through several generations. When my natural father relinquished me, he was unaware of the complete truth.
If ever there were families to be observed and studied for the family dynamics of negativity and social assumption in adoption, my extended adoptive family, my natural mother’s family, and my own nuclear families, would be the collective families to study.
As therapist and adoptive mother, Nancy Verrier, states in her books The Primal Wound, and, Coming Home to Self: The Adopted Child Grows Up, the concept of adoption is corrupt, not the adoptee, and not the relinquishing parent. Pathology lies in adoption itself by denying an adoptee’s birth and dual reality. Adoptees are treated as children without personal identity or family connections that pre-date adoptive family life.
By taking a look at several generations of all four of my families, one can then see patterns.
Before my adoptive father was born, his father had a wife and 2 children, born in 1898 and 1906. His wife died in 1908, leaving behind her husband and 2 children, age 9 ½ and 1 ½ years. The two brothers were raised together and knew their deceased mother’s extended family. (That family line is directly related to my natural mother.) Their father remarried. He and his second wife had 8 children, the oldest born in 1914. When the eldest of these children was 11 years old in 1925, their father died. The eldest child quit school, became the “man” of the house, scavenged the streets for scrap metal, picked up broken furniture and radios, and repaired them to earn money to support his mother and keep his siblings together. The 2 older half-brothers were in the military service and sent money home, too. The younger 8 siblings were raised together as adoption was not an option; they did not lose each other because their father died. They were also allowed contact with their father’s extended family. The 11 year old who became a half-orphan and scavenged the streets to support his mother and his 7 siblings became my adoptive father.
During the 24 years that he was my adoptive father, Dad never once spoke of his father’s death or how that affected him. Perhaps he did not want to think about it because then he would have to think about the death of my mother and the internal conflict that would create in him. My adoptive father quit school and took on the role of father to keep his 7 younger siblings together with their mother, yet, his actions much later in life contradicted his desire, as a boy, to keep his family intact.
When he grew up and married, he and his wife were childless for 18 years. Because they so desperately wanted a child, he participated in the removal of an infant (it was his sister who approached my father in the funeral parlor just 24-48 hours after my mother’s death, saying, “I know someone who will take your baby”) from her family so he and his wife could have a child. Losing a child to adoption was what his family of origin fought very hard to avoid. They were successful because he sacrificed his own childhood to become “the man of the house,” the “breadwinner,” at age 11.
Now that he was an adult, the desire to fulfill his and his wife’s goal to have a child in their marriage was stronger than the importance of keeping someone else’s family together. My natural father gave me up. It was assumed I was unwanted, so adopting someone else’s newborn became morally acceptable. Since he is long ago deceased, I can’t ask Daddy if these thoughts ever crossed his mind—this is my assessment.
My adoptive mother’s mother died in 1918. She left behind a husband and 4 children, ages 6, 4 ½, 2 ½, and 5 months. Their father worked six days a week, paid for their keep in an orphanage, and visited his children every Sunday. The siblings grew up knowing each other, and were free to associate with their deceased mother’s family. Their father did not allow any of his children to be adopted out. After many years, he went back to Italy, married a second wife who moved here, and had a daughter who was the half-sister to the other siblings. They remained close all of their lives.
My adoptive father did not discuss my adoption with me at any point in my life. It was my adoptive mother who awkwardly told me when I was a child that I was adopted. She did not tell me I had sisters and a brother, but she knew, as did my adoptive father, and so did all of my adoptive family. Whether Mom meant to or not, she seemed to rub my nose in the fact that her father kept her, but mine did not keep me. Mom told me, over and over again, how her father did not want his children permanently separated by adoption. It was okay, though, for her to take me from my family because my father did not want me.
Additionally, Mom’s steadfast opinion that adoptees should never be told the truth, and her viewing me as solely her child, is how many adoptive parents feel: entitled to have a child.
My natural mother was the 10th of 11 children, seven of whom lived to adulthood. When she was 13 years old and her 4 older siblings were grown, and her older brother was 19 and her younger brother was 10, their mother died. The three children under the age of 21 were not adopted out. My natural mother’s father remarried six years later. All the siblings were allowed contact with each other and their deceased mother’s family.
There were other incidences of half-orphan-hood in these families as children grew up and had children, and some of their children, too, lost a parent by early death. With all of these 39 half-orphans combined in three out of four of my families, I am the only one who was relinquished and then adopted into a closed and secret adoption. If it was acceptable for all the others to be kept by the remaining parent and allowed sibling contact, and extended family contact, why was I deprived of the same rights? I was treated as an outcast, as someone who didn’t fit in, and as a “chosen” child. All of the adults, except my natural father, knew the family connections and they allowed themselves to visit between my blood family and my adoptive family, conveniently leaving out my natural father, my siblings, and myself.
I should have been kept by my father, just as all the other half-orphans in these families were kept by their remaining parent. They had the luxury of family connectedness but prevented me from having those same connections. Hypocrites. My natural father was used. He didn’t know about this ongoing contact. Had he been told, he would have made other plans for me. According to what he told me toward the end of his life, he would have kept me. He wanted to keep me but was pressured to give me up.
I finally figured out at age 53 that my adoptive parents, two half-orphans who were not adopted nor deprived of their siblings and their remaining parent, and who were not deprived of their deceased parent’s extended family, and who were not deprived of knowledge of the deceased parent as a person, and who were not deprived of knowledge of that parent’s death, dictated over the life of the half-orphan they adopted, and deprived her of her siblings and her father, cousins, aunts and uncles, and deprived her of any knowledge about her mother and her death, deprived her of a timely, honest, age-appropriate grieving process of her deceased mother, and then, the adoptive mother and not the adoptive father, became outraged when their adopted daughter was found by siblings she was “never” supposed to know.
When asked a few years before her death, Mom said flatly, “Nobody thought about it. We just wanted a child.”
Statistical Breakdown of My Families of Origin
The total numbers include direct lines and some collateral lines of descent. This is an approximate number of the relatives known to me.
Total Relatives: 390
Natural Mother’s Family: 126
Natural Father’s Family: 35
Adoptive Mother’s Family: 20
Adoptive Father’s Family: 209
Illegitimates: within my generation, and one up, and one down (not identifying which family)
Total: 6 or 8
Illegitimates not acknowledged or kept by their fathers, and possibly adopted out by their mothers: 2
Illegitimates kept by their mothers: 2 to 4, estimate
Illegitimates relinquished for adoption to strangers: 2
Adoptees: Total: 12
- “Full adoptee” or “complete adoptee” is a person adopted by strangers and who has no contact with either natural parent during childhood.
Stepparent adoptee, or “half-adoptee”, or “adoptee-lite” is a person who is raised by one natural parent and adopted by a stepparent.
“Full adoptees” adopted into my natural family from a stranger’s family: 0
“Full adoptees” adopted into my adoptive family from a stranger’s family: 2
Stepparent or “half-adoptees” or “adoptee-lite” adopted into my natural family: 6, estimate
Stepparent or “half-adoptees” or “adoptee-lite” adopted into my adoptive family: 4, estimate
Full-Orphans: Total: 3, not adopted out to strangers or other relatives
Adoptive mother’s father and his brother immigrated to America as teens, circa 1898. They kept family ties in Italy, even after the death of their parents.
One of my adoptive aunts (by marriage) was a full orphan. She advocated for my rights when I was a child, advising my adoptive parents that they should tell me the whole truth, but she was drowned out by the dominant discourse of cover-up. This aunt is the grandmother of the illegitimate adoptee returned into the Wheeler family. She has always been open in discussing adoption with me, and her children, even attending local adoption support group meetings in the late 1980s.
Half-Orphans (under age 21): Total: 39
Natural Mother’s Family: 12
3 in 1938, 1 in 1973, 3 in 1976, 3 in 1990, 1 in 2003, 1
Natural Father’s Family: 0
Nuclear Natural Family: 7
5 in 1956 (myself and 4 siblings)
2 in 1962 (step brothers to my siblings lost their mother)
Adoptive Mother’s Family: 4 in 1918
Adoptive Father’s Family: 16
2 in 1908, 8 in 1925, 1 in 1967, 1 in 1969, 2 in 2004, 1
in 2007, 1 in 2012
Half-Orphans Prior to 1956: 18
Natural Mother’s Family: 3
Natural Father’s Family: 0
Adoptive Mother’s Family: 4
Adoptive Father’s Family: 10
Half-Orphans After and Including 1956: 22
My Nuclear Natural Family: 7
Natural Father’s Family: 0
Natural Mother’s Family: 9
Adoptive Father’s Family: 6
Half-Orphans kept by their families: 38
Half-Orphans relinquished to adoption by strangers: 0
Half-Orphans relinquished to adoption by a distant relative of deceased mother’s family: 1 in 1956: me.
This indicates an unusually high prevalence of half-orphans in three out of my four families of origin. Statistically, this is 10% of my total number of relatives.
Update, October 2012
The extended Wheeler family was dealt another blow. One of my cherished same-age cousins lost his adult son to sudden death at age 32. This young man left behind a 2 year old daughter who lives with her mother. This little girl is now a half-orphan.
There was too much grief in the funeral parlor for the mother of that 2 year old child to ever prevent her young daughter from knowing and loving her deceased father’s family: her grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousin, grand aunts and uncles, great grandparents, and her father’s cousins. We won’t let that happen. And, no one — NO ONE — approached this child’s mother saying, “I know someone who will take your baby.”
In 1956, that statement was uttered to my natural father at his wife’s wake by a woman looking for an available baby for her brother and his wife to adopt. Strangely coincidental, 48 years later in 2004, that woman’s youngest adult daughter lost her husband to sudden death, leaving behind two daughters in their mid-teens. That woman grieved the loss of her son-in-law and never once thought that her younger granddaughter should be given up for adoption because someone else wanted a child.
What is the 10th Commandment?
“You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife”?
What about coveting your neighbor’s child?
Update, January 2013
Tragically, my extended natural mother’s family lost a young father in a car accident. My first cousin’s daughter lost her husband. She became a widow and her four year old daughter lost her father. Sadly, this little girl is the latest statistic in the whole line of half-orphans in three of my four families. She will not be given up for adoption.