In my family, including extended, but going no further back than the current and still living generations, there are:
4 adoptees: (3) domestic and (1) international
4 original parents
2 adoptive parents (2 already deceased)
3 spouses of adoptees
3 spouses of original parents
6 kept children of original parents
11 children of adoptees
3 grandchildren of adoptees
11 siblings of adoptees
7 grandparents of adoptive parents, first parents, and their offspring
1 parent of adoptive parents
4 parents of first parents
This does not even include the non-reunited biological families of some of the adoptees. If I tried to count all of those, I don’t think I could keep it all straight. These are people actively in my life today. There is a lot of overlap as some fill more than one role listed, but in all, no less than 20 of the people I love and care for most in my life are represented here. More than 50 years of life experience in adoption is represented by this list.
I include the extended generations because adoption affects all of them, not just the adoptees themselves. Adoption changes the way a person parents, and the way they relate to a spouse. (And by this I mean both the adoptive parents themselves, and the adult adoptees now parenting their own children.) They are different people than they would have been without adoption. There are no less than 10 of these people who likely will never know their full medical history or heritage, or be able to create an accurate historical family tree, or know the entire story of their history or how they came to be in the world through the generations.
As a result, adoption is something very dear to my heart, and something I care deeply about. Unlike some who are very vocal on the matter, I don’t have the luxury of viewing adoption only through philosophical eyes. Along with most members of my family, we live the reality, consequences, and side effects of it every day.
For nearly 20 years, I have been actively involved in adoption issues and advocacy. I have worked off and on as a “search angel” – one who provides adoption search services at no cost. I have been blessed to witness a good number of reunions as a result. Many friendships and a special family of sorts has been formed within the adoption community online, made up of several thousand people touched in one way or another by adoption, and several hundred of those very active. We cry together, laugh together, vent together. It gets tiring and emotional, and we all need breaks now and again, but we keep coming back. No one else quite gets the unique relational dynamics involved, and frankly, most don’t care to get it, so we stick together.
Within this community, there is a very special guy named Jeff. Jeff is what is known as an “LDA” or ‘Late Discovery Adoptee’. Jeff did not discover that he was an adoptee until he was well into middle age. He has been trying ever since he found out (by accident!), for the last nearly six years, to get his information from the State so that he could have some clue as to his history. In New York, because of sealed records laws, that is no easy feat. It’s rarely done. He has been banging his head against the wall and really thinking he would probably never know his story. The secrecy within his family didn’t help matters either.
Jeff didn’t just spend his time trying to solve his own mystery though. No, he threw down in full as part of the adoption family and helped everyone. He went to rallies, conventions, helped others with their searches, listened, propped people up when they needed it, worked on adoptee rights legislation efforts, and was there for anyone that needed him at all times.
One of the things that Jeff has done for the last three years is to go to the Adoptee Rights Convention and coinciding marches, wearing a necklace of tags, bearing the names of those who support adoptee rights. This is his way of taking those who support the cause, to the convention with him if they are unable to attend in person.
You can see both the early and the more current iteration of the names necklace here:
Well, last week, someone was looking through the pictures of all the names on the tags (Jeff spreads them out and photographs them each year), and they came across a name they knew! Not just any name… but the name that research told them was their biological mother!
Everyone knew that if that name was on Jeff’s tags, then either she, or someone very close to her was responsible for her name being on those tags, and there was a community connection somewhere, somehow. A call went out online, and within several hours, a woman, whose name he knew, but he had been unable to locate, was found, matched, and a mother and her first born son were reunited. It was absolutely incredible to watch the whole thing unfold. There were cheers all over the world that the match had been made! Today, that mother and son are getting to know one another and making plans to introduce themselves and their lives and families to one another. Beautiful.
If that weren’t miracle enough, just a couple of days after this happened, Jeff himself got a little green card in the mail summoning him to the Post Office to sign for a package. He tried not to get his hopes up, but couldn’t help but wonder if it was his non-identifying information package from New York State. He had been waiting for 5 and 1/2 years to get his hands on it! (A non-id packet has general information, but no names, addresses, etc. Sometimes that information is omitted, sometimes it is just blacked out. There is a lot to be gained from the information that is there regardless, however.)
The next afternoon, as soon as the doors opened, he went up to the PO and got his envelope. With shaking hands, he quickly took it from the desk clerk and tore it open without even waiting to leave the building. Sure enough, it was his non-id! All the patrons in the building got to witness the tears of joy that he shed. I don’t think most of them had any idea the monumental thing they were witnessing before them.
It turned out to be more information than he ever could have hoped for, which is not too common with non-id packets. The two things that stood out right away:
1) His mother loved him and wanted to keep him so very, very badly, but the times, the circumstances, and family honor would not allow it. He was not unwanted at all, and he was deeply loved.
2) Baby picture! He was able to lay eyes on a picture of himself as a baby for the first time in his life. Most of us take that for granted. Close your eyes for a moment and try to imagine what that moment must have been like for him.
Jeff’s non-id packet filled in a lot of gaps in his personal history, and gave him enough information that he was able to find his biological mother rather quickly.
I wish that I could tell you that his reunion was the 3rd in a week of miracles. Unfortunately, when he found her, she had been deceased for 17 years – 12 years more than he even knew that he was adopted so that he could have looked. Secrets, lies, and sealed files stole them from each other. Still, he has been able to reconnect with other members of his biological family now, and reunion plannings are under way.
He has been blessed to now know her name, her nick name, to hear stories of her and personality traits that she has. It’s a huge blessing, and it is still a miracle given that he was never supposed to have found out that he was adopted. My heart is sad for him though, that it was too late for him to know her personally.
It is hard for most of us to imagine what it feels like to undergo a search like Jeff’s, only to come to the end of the road at a grave stone. Robert Hafetz, author of Not Remembered, Never Forgotten wrote an essay that really tells the story of this kind of experience. It’s a beautiful, but raw and painful read. It is called, “How Can You Cry When You Didn’t Know Her”. It is well worth your time to read. I promise.
There is no way for me to express how privileged I feel to be witness to such beautiful things. I find it shameful that so few states have opened their records in any meaningful way so that adopted persons can know and own their own history and truth. It’s criminal, and it shouldn’t be this way.
If you are interested in finding out more about adoptee rights, and current legislation governing adult adoptees, I encourage you to click on the image below. You probably know your own life story, and have your own original birth certificate as a true and accurate, unaltered legal record of your existence. Shouldn’t everyone have that same right?