There is No Rational Explanation for Coercion to Give up a Baby for Adoption

This blog entry is a response to reading Cedar’s blog post: Adoption Practice: “What is coercion?”

Many years ago I was the only adoptee rooming with a half dozen mothers-of-adoption-loss in a hotel room. They were surprised at my support for them, saying that adoptees were hostile to them because of being given away, but I wasn’t hostile to them.

Maybe it was because I before I entered into adoption awareness in 1974 I was introduced to feminist thought in 1971. I was 15 at the time. Womanhood came first and with that came the understanding of what it means to be able to carry life within and the struggle to gain independence from men. So, I understood womanhood long before I was thrown into shock at being found by siblings I was never supposed to know.

So, when I hear of women’s voices telling of what actually took place for them, I believe them.

It is a great burden to have reunion thrust upon an 18 year old who was raised in a sheltered life. My upbringing lead me into believing that sex before marriage was a sin, and was bad, that pregnant teens were, well, you know. That was what I was forced-fed in home and at school and at church. The cognitive dissonance really hit me in 1971 when Canada Jane came into my life. She was a beautiful traveler who had a perspective that was so unlike what I had been taught. Her freedom of self lifted me out of the holds of suppression. And she did it through poetry and photography.

So I am female first and adoptee second. And, the experience of being a real bastard is not mine so when I hear (rather heard in the past) adoptees speak of rage at being abandoned or given away, I did not experience abandonment in the same way. I knew my mother was not a teenage mother. She was not a “tramp”. She was not a seductress nor was she seduced. She was a wife and mother of four other children at the time of my conception, gestation and birth. My mother was nothing less than my mother in the full sense of the word. My father was nothing less than my father in the full sense of the word.

I knew these points instinctively at the moment I was found and heard my sister’s voice on the other end of the phone. When I met my father for the first time and developed a relationship with him, he was my father, he was not some sperm donor or a cad or a womanizer or a creep. He was my father.

My father was talked into giving me up for adoption. His experience in relinquishment is different from that of a mother. Mothers and pregnancy and giving birth are a different experience. But from his perspective as the husband of a pregnant wife, and the father of four children expecting the fifth in the mid 1950s, well, he was the breadwinner, the paycheck, the head of the household. It was his responsibility to take care of us all, to pay for us to provide for us. We were all dependent upon him.

When my father was faced with a pregnant wife who was violently ill, he was frightened. He did not think that the baby has to go, he thought that this was his family and he had to figure out how to fix it all. Illness made his wife go into pre-term labor. She delivered her infant two months too soon on the hospital bed before the nurses could get there. A few weeks before that, she was X-rayed to determine why she was so sick. A massive tumor filled her abdomen along side of the “fetus” who was guessed to be five months at that time. The tumor was real but the age of the “fetus” was wrong. When I was born the doctor determined I was 32 weeks of gestational age; a real feat of birth and survival in those primitive days of 1956.

I survived my mother’s cancer. I survived a premature birth. I survived six weeks in an incubator. My mother died. My father was stressed. Instead of help all he got was talk. The baby needs two parents. The baby? The baby was part of the whole family. The five children needed two parents, but the reality was that the mother died and the whole family needed help to cope with that loss. But no help was given. Just convince the father that the baby, alone, needed two parents. Make him believe he was not worthy to be the real father of his own daughter… make him believe that the only solution was to give her up permanently to another couple so she could lead a better life without him or her siblings.

I say that my widowed father was coerced into giving up his youngest child to adoption. And for that, he was crucified and his given-up daughter was both smothered in love by her adoptive parents and isolated by them. Stockholm syndrome is the better name for what I feel for my adoptive parents for I have those 18 years of a bliss or happiness of childhood gooiness. Yeah right. How do I justify the sad feelings I have for the father who died in 1982 when I see his picture playing with me as a one year old on the floor with the reality that he knowingly and willfully kept me apart from my own siblings for his sake of raising a child of his own? How do I justify the sad feelings I have to recall those happy times when Mom sewed those matching mother-daughter-doll dresses when she wanted me to grow up as she dreamed I would to fulfill her visions of the daughter she called her own? Did I have any rights or feelings? How did these two people justify within themselves what they were doing to me and to my siblings and to my father? How did they justify taking a child away from her family so they could call me their own?

Coercion is just that. There is no rational explanation.  

~ ~ ~ Joan M Wheeler, BA, BSW, author of Forbidden Family: A Half Orphan’s Account of Her Adoption, Reunion and Social Activism, Trafford Publishing, Nov 2009.

Happy Adoption Day 53 Years Ago Today

Happy Adoption Day, my eyeball. The only ones happy were my adoptive parents.

Fifty three years ago, today, at age 1 year, I lost my legal right to be a part of the family I was born into. I lost my legal right to have the birth certificate that documents my birth. I won the legal right to own a birth certificate that says I was born to a woman who factually adopted me: that is misrepresentation of material facts, which is fraud.

Fifty three years ago, today, my dead mother lost her right to be my legal mother. Bad enough she faced dying knowing that she’d leave behind five children, one of whom was a newborn, but she did not know that adoption would not  only take away that newborn, but adoption would prevent her from forever being named on her child’s legal birth certificate.

Fifty three years ago, today, my father walked away from Surrogate’s Court in Erie County Hall, Buffalo, New York, a defeated man. He did what was told to him. He gave away his newborn because a Catholic priest said these words to him at his wife’s funeral ten months previously: “The baby needs two parents.” On top of that, a woman whom he did not know came up to him at his wife’s funeral and said, “I know a couple who will take your baby.”

And to this day, there are members of my dead mother’s family who believe that my father “didn’t want” me.

My father gave me up because he believed I would have a better life with two parents. At the time he relinquished me, he was a single father of five children. There was no help to keep his family together, only vultures swarming to descend and take away the children. “I’ll take the boy”, said one brother of my dead mother. But my father said no. My mother’s brothers got mad at him. My father was an only child. He had his sickly aging parents to help him. His own cousins had children of their own and did not help him keep his family together. Relinquishing me, letting me go, was his only option to save the rest of his family, and himself.

To expect a man in deep, profound grief to make life-altering decisions for his child and himself at a point of personal crisis is cruel. If he had been told the truth: that his dead wife’s family would hold this against him for eternity, that they would spread filthy rumors about him, that the adoptive family into which he relinquished his child would continue ongoing relationships with select members of his dead wife’s family and continue the gossipy rumors, all the while HE was told to stay away, he would never had agreed to relinquish his child to such an adoption. If my father were told that relinquishing his daughter to this permanent adoption would result in the utter destruction of his daughter’s personal papers, personal identity, emotional and psychological well-being, and that adoption would destroy her birth certificate, he would never have agreed to relinquishment and the adoption of his child. My father does not understand the true depth of destruction that adoption has caused me: he does not want to know because the pain is too deep.

That pain is what the adoptee experiences. That pain is not worth the benefits of Happy Adoption Day.

I am a defeated person, a shell of what I could have been. To live my life each day knowing that the very people who professed their love for me, who devoted their lives to me as my adoptive parents, loved me so much that they willfully and knowingly kept me apart from my own father and my own sisters and brother, kept me apart from my own cousins and from even knowing where my dead mother was buried, just so that they could have the luxury of raising a child “of their own”, knowing that my adoptive parents told so many lies to me for the first 18 years of my life, to know all of this was done “for my benefit” makes me so sick I want to vomit.

My adoption wasn’t love. It was possession.

I am supposed to feel grateful. I am supposed to feel happy that I wasn’t raised with my father and my siblings because “what kind of life would you have had with them?” This is the indoctrination said to me, the adoptee, by my adoptive parents and believed by extended adoptive family and the general public’s accumlated “knowledge” of adoption.

The adoptive cousins with whom I have had meaningful relationships in childhood have been what I cling to. Though we are not blood, we know each other as cousins. There are blood cousins with whom  I share closeness also.

But there is also this pervasive undertow of deception, rumor and gossip. What was it that my adoptive mother said to me just a few weeks ago as she lay in her nursing room bed? “Oh, by the way, there are people who believe that you had affairs with two of your adoptive cousins.” What? Who the hell is spreading this filth around? Again? Still? Many people in my extended adoptive family and natural mother’s family, that’s who. They are the ones who are sick. Manipulative. I want no part of perverted minds. I am tired of being the brunt of their jokes.

While Jaycee Duggard has had the unfortunate experience of having been raped repeatedly by her abductor, having two children by him, she is not alone in her captivity. How can I possibly cope with the misinformation and gossip that is said for decades among family members because they “think” or “believe” something is true?

I was raised in a beautiful middle class home in the suburbs of Buffalo, an only child, with all the attention my adoptive parents could give me. It was conditional love: I was never supposed to know my own siblings and certainly not my own father and I should never know about the truth of how my mother died. My happy childhood memories come with a price: no childhood with my own siblings. Yet my adoptive parents had theirs. I loved my parents. I loved my extended adoptive family. Only to find out at age 18 that my life was one lie built upon another. After my Reunion, a shock that sent me into oblivion for years, I was expected to bounce back, to recover, to build my life as an adult as if this shock did not “bother” me. I was accused of “living in the past” and “being obsessed with adoption” and “pulling that stunt” and “knowing my siblings all along”. The ones who “pulled that stunt” were my adoptive parents and extended adoptive family. The ones who were mad that I “was living in the past” had the luxury of knowing their own personal histories while growing up. The ones who accused me of “knowing my siblings all along” were guilty of preventing me from knowing my own flesh and blood: my adoptive parents and all who backed them in their secrecy and deception.

What is it that the psychologists say that Jaycee Dugard must undo? Is it called “Stockholm Syndrome”? Perhaps other adoptees have not had a life so entrenched with turmoil as I have had, but other adoptees sure do have sealed and falsified birth certificates. Many adoptees and adoptive parents will be screaming: “What? She can’t be comparing adoption to what Jaycee Dugard experienced!”

Oh, yes, I can.

I was held prisoner in my sheltered home for 18 years in an idyllic life away from the “crappy” life my siblings lived on the opposite side of the city. (again, indoctination from my adoptive parents against my own family of birth). I should feel grateful I didn’t live with them because they had rags for clothes, or so I was told by my adoptive mother after I was found by siblings she so intensely did not want to me ever know.  Who gets to torture an adoptee like that? I feel very much that Stockholm Syndrome fits my life, too. I was abducted from my own family by adoptive parents who selfishly kept me to themselves, knowingly and willfully depriving me of relationships with my own siblings. That is nothing less than child abuse. Beyond the mixed feelings of love for adoptive parents who “took care of me”, there are a myriad of conflicts I must cope with on a daily basis: the circulating rumors of sexual misconduct, feelings of being tricked by so many people whom I am supposed to love, feelings of wondering what other misconceptions people built up around me because they knew my blood family and I did not, feelings of shame and guilt because other relatives do not approve of my life.

There was a definite rift in my life when I was found by siblings I never knew. Certain members of my adoptive family sank away from me as if I were a leper. I am one person, people. If I am as bad as my relatives say I am, then I surely do deserve the hate mail and the obscene phone calls that have permeated my life since 1974 because I dared to accept a reunion with my father and my siblings. Form my point of view, this is gang-mentality against one adoptee.

Check out the Page on this blog “My Archives” to see the “dreadful” adoption reform newspaper articles I wrote. These articles are my way of defending the rights of adoptees, the rights of the donor-conceived, and the rights of our natural parents. I stuck up for Mary Beth Whitehead, the infamous surrogate mother, and her daughter. I got hell for that from my family members, people who are not in my direct social circle. I wrote against sperm donation. I got hell for that, too, again from family members who did not approve of my public statements against procedures that harm the chidlren created by these means. The general public’s stupidity is to be expected, but to be mistreated by my own families in the form of hate mail and hate phone calls and whispers behind my back and dirty looks and snide comments — all from my own families because I did what was right for me. This is the life of an adoptee well hated for being who she is: an adoptee advocating for humane change in the restrictive, discriminatory and de-humanizing adoption practices in America.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: for all the hate and disrespect I have been given because I was born to a woman who died and then relinquished to adoption, was found by siblings I never knew and was hated for that, endured criticism because I was slow to recover or did not do what other people wanted me to do: get over being adopted, I would have rather been born a bastard. Bastards get more respect than this adopted half orphan has ever received.

Happy Adoption Day — Fifty-three years of hell.

Are you catching the drift as to why I am anti-adoption?