Thursday, April 23, 2009

Preparing Yourself For Your First Contact

I want to take a few minutes to talk about the importance of initial contact between YOU (whether you are a birth parent or an adoptee) and the person you seek. This initial contact can be critical and can make all the difference in the world; it can facilitate a wonderful reunion or it can do more damage than most of you realize.

I write this because I have been doing what I'll call "damage control" for the last week with two unrelated individuals. I am not going to name names because confidentiality is important and even though one person did the damage in both cases, the truth is, the possibility of the 3rd party initial contacts doing more harm than good always exists. Everyone searching needs to be keenly aware of this and needs to be exceptionally careful in selecting who makes those initial contacts if you cannot do it yourself which is clearly the best possible option.

When we are searching, we get in an extremely focused mode where all of our energy is poured into the search. In this searching mode, this gathering of information mode we leave no stone unturned and visually I liken it to finding an old trunk in an attic. Very often, we open the trunk and begin to tear through its contents with this deep seated longing to find that one important thing that we "just know is in there." In our search mode we come upon many trunks, often getting to the very bottom and finding nothing.

One day, at the bottom of one of those trunks there is going to be what you are looking for and the minute you see it, the minute you find it, I can only hope that your entire attitude and frame of reference will change; that you will step back in awe as if a radiant glow surrounded this long sought-out treasure and that you will touch it as gently as you would pick up the most delicate and fragile of items, knowing that if you don't handle it with great care it may crumble to dust in your hands.

It's time to stop; time to step back; time to take a good look what you have found and try to imagine and plan how you can best lift it from the bottom of the trunk and hold it close to your heart without doing any damage. You do not know the pain, the shame and the anguish that was sealed in that trunk and the damage it may have done to the one you have just found. The search is over; now you must do whatever it takes for you to get out of search mode and this is rarely done overnight. This requires a new type of energy, one that is much more tender and gentle.

Please don't let anyone convince you otherwise. Yes, the outrage is about YOU (if you are an adoptee) and about all adoptees as a group in our society but the moment you find you need to redirect any outrage you may feel. It is now not only about you, but also about the person you found and anyone else that may occupy space in their heart.

There are CIs (Confidential Intermediaries) out there who (in some states) must make the initial contact -- part of the reason I am opposed to using CIs. There are also search angels who thrive on making the initial contact for a variety of reasons. They may be conducting your research for you for free or a small fee; they may like having control of the situation; they may be someone who has nothing else going on in their life and this "find" and the control of this "find" makes them feel important and needed. The reasons, which I don't have time to analyze, really do not matter; please beware of any "search angel or better stated search person" who is hesitant to give you the information so that you can make the initial contact on your own.

Having said that, there is nothing wrong with working with a search angel who will work with you until you are comfortable enough to make the first contact yourself.

It's time for you to gather and hold on to every ounce of patience you can. Making an initial contact that is not immediately glorious does NOT mean you have failed. If you do not get an immediate response, let it sit a spell -- years have likely passed and another week, while it will seem like forever, isn't going to hurt. You are about to make an emotional revelation to the one you have found; it will bring up feelings in that person that perhaps they never knew existed.

If you find yourself coming up short in the patience department, it does NOT mean you need to let someone else step in and take over. If you have made an attempt to make contact and a response was not immediate, you may hear something like,

"Let me call and talk to her. I am closer to her in age and she will be able to relate to me."

If you haven't waited a reasonable amount of time, another phone call or email from someone else may put entirely too much pressure on the treasure you just found. It will help you to remember how fragile the entire situation may do not know this person, you do not know what is going on in their life, you do not know what they are capable of dealing with -- in fact, you know nothing except that you found them and you want to talk to them.

In the past week, I have worked with one birth mother who was given very poor advice from a search angel (no one I know personally I'm proud to say). This birth mother was advised to send four emails, she was advised to have the half sibling send two messages within a few days. When that didn't work, the search angel (and I really would like to use another word here) suggested that she talk to the adoptee. In
desperation, the birth mother gave her permission which resulted in hourly phone calls at the adoptee's work place and her home. Final result -- 19 contacts in one weeks time to one young woman who was not prepared to deal with any of this and who needed the time to let it all sink in. Every contact pushed her further and further away.

I also worked with one adoptee this week who was given similar advice from the same search angel. The birth mother was initially contacted by a CI five years ago.

This happens to be one birth mother who was promised confidentiality...a rare thing but I believe it in this case. For five years, this woman lived in constant fear that her husband and her children would find out. Once the CI was out of the picture, the adoptee contacted her birth mother several times as she was instructed to do. When the birth mother tried to explain why she couldn't have contact with her, the adoptee was advised to be persistent and to begin to search for the birth father as well. Unfortunately, searching for the birth father in a small town of about 1,000 people resulted in further exposing the birth mother. The adoptee was encouraged to continue to pursue her search for her father and further convinced to allow the search angel to again contact the mother.

I'm going to be very specific here because if you should ever hear this type of question from someone who is about to call your birth mother -- forbid her to make the call! The search angel, in a casual conversation, asked the adoptee,

"Would you contact your half-siblings in the event of the death of the birth mother?"

The adoptee answered that she would. Sadly, that answer translated into the search angel threatening the birth mother by telling her that everyone would know upon her death.

When the threat from the search angel didn't get the expected and hoped for result, the search angel advised the adoptee to call the birth mother's sister. Folks...this is breaking a cardinal rule.

The birth mother's sister knew nothing about the pregnancy, resulting birth and adoption as she is older and was away at college at the time. However, the sister was willing to talk to the adoptee and explain that her birth mother is married to a very prominent figure in the community who also happens to be a very controlling man.

As a crisis intervention specialist, this is where things were when I entered the picture. Damage control doesn't even begin to describe what needed to be done here, and please don't misunderstand me, I am NOT patting myself on the back. The message I am trying to convey is that it is NOT all about you anymore. Others, their lives, the persons in their lives and in fact, their very safety may come into play.

Be ready and willing to respect and honor the person you find regardless of the fears and short-comings they possess. Be ready to be patient and caring. Prepare yourself to make the initial contact on your own with all the help from true angels that you can get. Be prepared to understand that while your actual search may be over, your wait may not be.

Beware of anyone who wants to make that contact for you -- you have no guarantee as to what they will say or the tone of voice they will use. And know that that contact may be the only contact so if you come away with nothing more than having heard your mother's voice, that's something worth cherishing.

Damage control isn't always successful. I'm happy to report that in the case of the birth mother it appears that it was. She has warm and caring email communication going on with her daughter.

In the case of the adoptee, she is meeting her birth mother this week. The birth mother, who by now is visibly trembling most of the time, cannot eat and keep anything down and cannot sleep, along with her sister, agreed to meet the adoptee if the adoptee would agree to cease her search for her birth father. The birth mother had to wait for her husband to be away and had to sneak to another city to have this meeting.

It's about genuine unconditional love, respect and honor. If you don't truly feel those things in your heart once you find, hold off on making contact until you are better prepared to deal with every possible scenario.

One further thought: If you have a successful conversation with your birth mother, please take the time to get to know her before asking about your birth father. Often this makes a birth mother feel as though finding her is not enough and initially she needs to be enough because she likely went through it all alone.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Were You Born in Albany, New York in 1958?

Imagine this. You are a young unmarried woman, deeply in love with a man who swears he loves you and has promised, any number of times, to marry you. You discover you are pregnant. Due to your circumstances, the fact that you are not married to the baby's father, you feel ashamed that you are expecting, you don't have enough money or resources to support a baby, you plan to give this child up for adoption.

As the pregnancy progresses, you are told you are carrying twins. You rethink the adoption plan, fearing that your babies will be separated at birth and will not be raised in the same loving home you were assured they would have.

Against all odds, because we know there is no help or encouragement for single mothers who wish to keep their children, (and there was even less help back in 1958) you leave the hospital with your twin sons, determined to do whatever you must to keep your family together.

The father of the boys is occasionally on the scene; he sees you and the boys, he helps out when he can but still his promises of marriage remain empty.

The twins are only a few months old when you discover you are pregnant again. You know you are not able to support and care for another child and you return to the same agency you used before. Once again, they assure you this baby will be placed in a loving home and will be given all the things you cannot possibly provide for it. You feel pressured. It's not an easy or a comfortable decision, but you tell yourself you will try to keep an open mind about it; after all, everyone is telling you it's in the best interest of the child.

A blizzard of record proportion hits Albany mid February and you worry about getting to the hospital if you go into labor since you are due any day now. Over the next two days, city crews manage to clear the streets and on the 21st day of February you arrive safely at the hospital to deliver this baby.

The stages of your labor are recorded and hospital records do not indicate that you were given anything for pain. Several hours later, the baby is born at precisely 6:09; you probably never heard her cry because precisely at 6:09 you are given demerol and ether which knocks you out. You wake up, well over an hour later, and are told you delivered twin baby girls, both stillborn. You ask to see them and you are denied. You ask for paperwork, death certificates, stillborn birth certificates whatever is provided in cases like this and you are told there is no paperwork for you to see.

Now imagine this: An adoptee is searching for her birth mother. She knows little, which is typical of the information given to adoptees, but she does know she was born on February 21, 1958 to an unmarried woman who already had twin boys about two years of age. She was told she was born with a positional club foot, corrected with massage. She is also told her mother struggled with her surrender and did not turn her over to the authorities until she was several months old, when she finally signed the relinquishment papers.

The adoptee's search is diligent; she and I team up with other search angels. She photographs yearbooks, every woman who even vaguely fits the description of her mother since she was told her mother relocated to Albany from another state to finish high school after her own mother's death. The adoptee is told she is most likely, based on the information they received from her mother, the result of a one night stand, a blind date her mother was talking into.

I could not possibly count the number of places her search information was posted on the internet, the number of city directories searched, the number of obits searched, the number of emails sent to potential classmates and phone calls that were made and the list goes on. Finally, there is a break through. Her twin brothers are located.

Fast forward to today: The adoptee is reunited with her twin brothers via phone and email; a face to face is in the works. Sadly her birth mother passed away a few years ago, but not before this kind and loving woman moved back to her home state, met and married wonderful man who would be totally dedicated to her, her children and their children for thirty years.

The adoptee also learns she has an even bigger family; it's not just the twin boys but also two other children adopted out before her mother's marriage, and two half siblings from the marriage. DNA testing was done and the adoptee is the full sister to the twins and two others, one male, one female; all of whom had found each other a few years ago.

She learns that her mother had wondered all her life if her twin girls were really stillborn. It would be easy for a reader to judge her; please don't. She never lied about her past and her deep love for the man who fathered her children; she was open and honest with all her children, which helped them to find one another, well almost - there is, according to the stories the mother shared before her death, one more child born sometime in 1960 and of course, the other "stillborn" twin girl.

My own outrage: This mother lived all her life being told her twin daughters were stillborn. This adoptee has searched much of her adult life hoping to find her mother. I know this goes on. It has happened to other mothers and other adoptees. And yet, I am outraged! I will continue to be outraged!

Why is a mother knocked out with ether and demerol at the precise moment her baby is born if the physician on the receiving end of that baby is an honorable physician?

This woman's paper trail (same agency) would clearly indicate that she changed her mind once before when she delivered twins, fearing they would be immediately separated. It would also indicate that this woman was gutsy enough (remember we are talking about 1958 here) to initiate a paternity action against the father and win!!!

How long have the adoptive parents been standing in line, waiting for this woman to give birth and how much money did they pay to stand in line? Is there a birth certificate? Does it have the adoptive mother's name on it?

Where is the other twin? Was it really stillborn? Was it really a girl? If she's living, does she even know she is adopted? Nothing in the adoptee's hospital records (which she has since been able to obtain) indicates a positional club foot; maybe in all the bullshit flying around that day while the mother was knocked out,
it was the other twin who had the club foot? Once someone starts playing God and spitting out lies between their teeth (which BTW is something God does not do), I imagine it's difficult to keep it all straight.

I realize this didn't happen to every woman who gave birth in Albany, New York in 1958, but it happened to one and that's one too many.

Call me livid; call me angry and you would be right! We are looking for someone born on February 21, 1958 in Albany, New York. We have no idea how to find you but if that's your date and place of birth, and maybe you've always felt like you didn't quite fit into your family, there may be a reason. We have more information than is posted here. I know TRUTH can be a scary thing. Upon finding the truth, it isn't always honorable, right and just. Still, I prefer to be a seeker of the truth; I don't like walking in the dark, amongst lies, at all.

Peace to you all and those you love,
Aunt Patty

Monday, March 2, 2009

The Adoption Story Board

I'd like to invite every member of the Adoption Triad to participate in The Adoption Story Board. It is your opportunity to put a human face on a situation, an injustice that has existed far too long.

It is an opportunity for everyone to read the words of those touched by adoption in some way and to see their faces. We all look at faces; birth parents and adoptees alike have walked down the street or stood in line at the grocery store wondering if the person near them once belonged to them.

The reader of the Adoption Story Board can see the face of a child, now an adult, that someone had to surrender to adoption and read about their search; they can see the face of a birth mother who has searched for her child for many years and seeing that face will help to erase the stigma associated with unwed mothers and the mindset that so many people had and still have about women who give up their children. I hope it will encourage more birth mothers to search as they read her story.

Birth fathers may write their stories too. Not all of them walked away and left the mother to carry the burden alone. We know many of them were never allowed to participate in the decision; some were never told about the child until years later.

Each person who adds their story to the Adoption Story Board is given an entire webpage to tell their story. It can be as long or as short as you wish. In addition to sharing your search information, I hope some will also talk about the brick walls you have hit along the way and what it feels like to wonder about your heritage, your medical background, where you came from and who you look like. Do you have siblings, grandparents and aunts and uncles? I encourage everyone to include photos - those are the faces people need to see. It is your story and you will not have to share the webpage with anyone else. It can be edited if you find someone you are searching for and are still looking for others.

As a search angel, I have read through thousands of database entries. I have to admit that I am hard pressed to always remember where I saw pieces on information that may be relevant to a search I'm working on now. I do, however, remember a story and where I read it. I remember a face and I always remember the vivid pictures that someone's words create in my mind.

For those who may not have been touched by adoption, it gives them an opportunity to know those who have and to see their faces. These are the folks who phone their congressmen and senators when legislation is in committee; their phone calls and letters can make a difference. They have never had to tell a physician they have no medical background information and they have never been without their original birth certificate. It is an opportunity to share knowledge, to teach.

Readers will also have a chance to see the faces of adoptive parents too. There are many adoptive parents who have helped and supported their grown children in their search. The have seen first hand that in the end, it didn't result in them being set aside and it didn't result in anyone taking their place. Such stories can be an encouragement to other adoptive parents.

I also don't mind if some of you wish to get political as long as you include your basic search information. Very few states support adoptee's rights and it's time the average person hears about the hoops we have to jump through just to get minimal non-identifying information and the medical issues we have to face when knowledge before hand might have prevented them.

Reunion stories are welcome too. Someone's successful search will hold keys that others may well be able to use. It will also give others HOPE!

The Adoption Story Board is not intended to replace any of the other wonderful databases that we use on a regular basis as they are critical and important to all searches. There is no mailing list associated with it and it is not a search and support group. We have many wonderful groups and I hope those who write their stories will include the places where they have registered so that others who are considering a search may join.

The Adoption Story Board is an enhancement, a tool we can all use in seeking the same goal - reuniting our families. It's a place for information and pictures to be located on one page; a place where a human face and the words they write will stick in someone's mind. A reader will know who you are looking for, possibly what you've been through if you wish to write about that and what you look like. They might even think you look like someone they know who gave up a son or daughter years ago and is afraid to search, afraid of being rejected.

The Adoption Story Board is a branch of my genealogy web site which has been on the internet for 11 years and attracts thousands of visitors each day. I anticipate the Adoption Story Board will also get some of that traffic and that can translate into more exposure for everyone's search. Anyone will be able to search it by date or place. They don't have to join a group or a mailing list, they can just look and read. And, it's free!

As to the specifics, you write your story and send it to me along with photos. I have set up an email account for this on aol because it is easier to retrieve pictures using aol. Please send the photos as an attachment in their original size and I will resize them to fit your page. I will format the story and send you the link to it before it is published on the internet. You will have a chance to view the page before it goes public so you can make any changes you want to make.

If you blog or post anywhere on the internet, you are free to use the link to draw people to your story. I will use keywords specific to your search; the keywords are hidden in the html formatting behind the story so no one can see them but the search engines will pick up those keywords within a couple of weeks.

If you are worried about spam, I can take precautions to help eliminate that just as we have done on the genealogy side of the site. Your email address is not visible but is a direct link off your name. If someone clicks on your name, it opens up an email to you. If you want to post confidentially, that link can be set to open an email to me and and correspondence will be forwarded to you.

If you would like to participate, all you need to do is:
Please write your story in notepad not MSWord or you can write it in the email.
Send your story and your photos to Aunt Patty
Send me your contact information in the same email.

For your protection, I will not publish birth certificate numbers, phone numbers or addresses. Your contact information is confidential; just a way for me to reach you and it will never be given out to anyone without your written permission.

This project is in its infancy. I am open to all suggestions and your ideas. I have two stories posted so you can see what your story can look like. You can find them at these two urls:

Birgitta Sjoholm (this story captions the adoptee's birth
name at her request)

Cherie's Continuing Search

If you need more information, please contact me.

Peace to you and those you love,
Aunt Patty

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Birth Mother M. L. Wallace, Albany, New York

I've written many times about Natalie Ann who was born February 21, 1958 in Albany, New York. After a very dedicated search, Natalie has now found her birth mother (who is now deceased) and her twin brothers who were born in Albany, NY, in 1956. Natalie Ann and her twin brothers were born at Brady Hospital.

Here is a new twist to the story which results in yet another search. She also found a brother and a sister born after her, who were looking for her in spite of the fact that they had been told she was half of a set of stillborn twins. Now they all are seeking the missing twin. They are said to have been girls. However, they were also said to have been stillborn; that might suggest we can't trust or rely on hearsay and the missing twin may be male or female.

There is also one more missing child, gender unknown, born in New York in 1960. No other information is available on this child.

Let me give you some information about the mother of these children, before you begin to think ill of her.Aside from the fact that birth control was not readily available, this mother's only fault is that she fell head over heels in love, deeply in love with a man who, in spite of repeated promises to commit to her, never could.

She became pregnant with the first set of twins who were born in 1956. The stigma associated with unwed women having babies would have dictated that she place the boys for adoption. However, when she found out she was carrying twins she kept the boys, not wanting them to be separated from one another.

Then Natalie Ann was born on 02/21/1958 and the story goes that twin girls were born to the mother on that date. They were said to have been stillborn. Since the mother is deceased, we can't ask how or where this story originated. We believe she may have told this story, perhaps as some sort of denial; it almost doesn't matter now. Non-identifying information tells us that the mother cared for Natalie for several months after her birth, but in that non-id there is neither mention of a twin nor mention of other siblings which now have been found...all but the twin plus one born sometime in 1960 in the State of New York and probably in the Albany area.

M. L. Wallace, God Rest Her Soul, finally gave up on this man and found a loving, caring man to marry. They had children, all of whom she could keep and were happily married for 30 years. All her children know about the others and all hope to find the missing twin born February, 1958 and the missing child born May, 1960.

Please contact me if you can help.
Peace to you and those you love,
Aunt Patty