Here is the main article that offended my adoptive family and natural family because I went public — I put my face and name in the newspaper. Though I had been interviewed for newspaper and radio and public television on and off since 1976, and had been writing Letters to the Editor since 1975 (paid articles didn’t come along for a few more years at this time), this article with a larger-than-the-others photo of me really annoyed my relatives. This wasn’t my idea – the photo – it was the newspaper reporter’s idea. My natural family and my adoptive family would have much preferred that I kept quiet. I was labeled as conceited. I had been reunited and the secret outed ten years earlier, but certain people in both my adoptive family and natural family were angry for me putting my face and name in the public’s eye. But this was not the first time I had done so. I had been writing in the newspaper, and have been interviewed in the paper, since 1975, at the age of 19. I had been interviewed on radio and TV for several interviews beginning in 1976. Those tapes have long ago disapeared as they warped with age. If they hadn’t, I’d print transcripts of those 2 and 4-hour interviews.
In the nearly-full-page photo and article posted here, please note that the reporter misquoted me several times. That will be discussed following the article itself. Two other adoptees, one age 19 and the other age 18, were interviewed as well.
Though the author of the article, newspaper reporter Paula Voell, gave a good overview of the plight of adoptees in search, she misquoted me. I did not search for my natural family, rather, I was found by my natural family.
My natural and adoptive relatives who read the first few paragraphs were upset when they read, “To obscure their true origins, some were told their mothers died in childbirth…the false information…” Both of my families were devastated by this statement which linked me to the two other adoptees who were lied to about their natural mothers’ deaths. For days after this newspaper article’s publication, I received numerous angry phone calls and hate mail from relatives wanting to know why I had told the reporter these lies. Fact is, I didn’t lie. It was the interpretation of the readers that led to their reactions to me and to the article. Also, even though I had been told (during my childhood) that my natural mother died, HOW and WHEN she died was not told to me while I was growing up. MANY stories were told to me by many people after I was found at age 18 and many of these stories conflicted with each other.
My relatives were also upset over this paragraph: “While family members and neighbors knew that her mother had been ill, she had been advised not to become pregnant and had subsequently died while giving birth to her…” Both of my families were angry that I relayed distorted information to the reporter. Relatives telephone me and angrily yelled: “That’s not what happened! We told you what happened, you can’t get it straight that your mother did not die in childbirth! She died two or three months after your birth and she died of cancer and not because she was pregnant with you!”
The constant yelling at me about my mother’s death further eroded my emotional state. Grief at having lost my mother and having that knowledge denied to me for the first 18 years of my life in the true aspects and facts of her death were overshadowed because of the constant bombardment from relatives telling me their versions of the truth.
What I told the reporter was the collective “truths” told to me by many relatives (both natural family and adoptive family). The reporter shortened the stories to suit the length of the newspaper article.
The article had some accurate passages, however, which angered my relatives even more than the misquotes: “Why should one group know everything and the adoptee not know anything?” and “Adoptive parents are confused. We adult adoptees are coming out and saying ‘You did it all wrong.’ They need guidance, too.”
Both adoptive and natural relatives attacked me because of key phrases like “you did it all wrong”. Many aspects of my adoption were wrong. Over and above my own adoption, the system of adoption has people tied up. The SYSTEM needs to change. That was my message then, as well as now. Change the system, and eventually people’s attitudes will change, too. And yes, my adoptive parents lied to me and prevented me from knowing key truths about my life, and for that, they, and other relatives who kept their secrets, were wrong.
Today, it seems that many members of both my extended adopted family and natural family are still upset that I have gone public.
I wrote my memoir, Forbidden Family, with falsified names. Names of dead people are used but names of the living are changed. This still upsets people. I wrote the truth of what happened to me, the adoptee, and my adoptive family and my ex-husband and my children as a result of other people’s misinterpretations and judgments of me. I cannot be responsible for other people’s opinions of me, I can only be responsible for myself. I wrote a book of truth. I wouldn’t have written a book of lies. Every page was carefully vetted by editors, counselors, a literary attorney. Trafford Publishing’s legal division also approved of the content of the book.
My purpose then — when I began writing about my adoption publicly in 1975 in Erie, Pa and in Buffalo, New York in 1976, and in this interviewed newspaper article in 1984 — and now in 2010 — is to write my truth and to promote adoption reform.
~ ~ ~ Joan M Wheeler, BA, BSW, born Doris M Sippel, author of Forbidden Family: A Half Orphan’s Account of Her Adoption, Reunion and Social Activism,Trafford Publishing, Nov 2009.