Category Archives: Health

Adoptee Commits Suicide

When I got the tragic news that a sixteen-year-old girl died, I was horrified. Jumping to conclusions, I assumed she had been in a car accident. A victim of a drunk driver. Or perhaps she was drinking behind the wheel. Why are sixteen-year-olds driving anyway? Or drugs. Too many kids use drugs these days. This was not just any sixteen-year-old, however. This girl was the daughter of a man my husband had been friends with many many years ago. A man who also passed away, way too young. We wanted to know why, how, she died. My husband, who hadn’t been in touch with the girl’s mother for years, couldn’t ask. We looked up her name online. Her obituary did not list a cause of death. But it did list her age and her school. She was my granddaughter’s age. She attended my granddaughter’s school.

I called my granddaughter to find out if she knew any details. She was the one who told me it was a suicide. The school was providing counselling for the students. Now that we’ve ruled out driving, drinking and drugs, my mind immediately leaped to another conclusion. “She was adopted,” I said to my husband. That’s all I had to say, as if the word “adopted” covered it all.

Why did I link the suicide to adoption? I don’t know what type of relationship this young girl had with her family. With her adoptive mother. Most teenagers are filled with angst. With existential angst, wondering why they were born. An adoptee has the additional angst of wondering why she was given up. Abandoned. Is that enough to cause someone to commit suicide? There must be more.

When I was a teen, I often thought about committing suicide. I even got as far as holding a razor blade in my hand. Dumping a bottle of aspirins (I know, very lame) on the bathroom vanity. I was brought back to my senses when my mom, my adoptive mom, yelled, “What’s taking you so long in the bathroom?” I stopped my foolishness and reminded myself, if I killed myself, I’d never know how things would turn out. Maybe it gets better.

Since this suicide, I started thinking about how many events in my life revolved around my mother. My mother criticized me. My birthmother might have done the same. My mother hated that I did things differently than her. That I looked so different than she looked. She tried to change me all the time. She even tried to get me to dye my hair like hers when I was 12! We fought over trivial things all the time. I might have fought the same with my bio mother. We also might have been very different. I’ll never know. She passed away before I learned who she was.

I married when I was only eighteen, to get away from mother. Is this common among adoptees? I married an addict. Is this common among adoptees? After my divorce I remarried right away. Was this my fear of being abandoned because I was given away at birth? I only have questions. Not answers. But it still haunts me that I immediately jumped to the conclusion, adopted, when I heard about a suicide.

The point is not that adoptions cause these problems. The point is, how can we avoid potential problems that might be brought on by adoption? First and foremost I believe that adoptive parents must remember that their child is unique. Their child has a different bio-identity. Different blood. Do not try to mold the child to your ways. Teach right from wrong, as you would with any child, but embrace their differences. Embrace their uniqueness. They might be brilliant, creative, talented in ways you’d never had imagined. Ways you’d never have expected. Their DNA might lead them in directions you’d never dreamed of. Enjoy your children. Love them. Let them be the best they can be. If they want to know their heritage, let them. Encourage them to learn who they are. Where they came from. Never feel threatened. If they grew up knowing you loved them, that won’t change.

What were some issues you faced as an adoptee? What would you like to tell adoptive parents?

I discuss my own adoption issues and my twenty-four year search in my memoir, Call Me Ella. This is available in paperback, Kindle, Nook, iBooks and more. I’d love to get your feedback.

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A Sweet Lesson on Patience

Reprinted from  www.elderhelpers.org.

A sweet lesson on patience. A NYC Taxi driver wrote: I arrived at the address and honked the horn. After waiting a few minutes I honked again. Since this was …going to be my last ride of my shift I thought about just driving away, but instead I put the car in park and walked up to the door and knocked.. ‘Just a minute’, answered a frail, elderly voice. I could hear something being dragged across the floor. After a long pause, the door opened. A small woman in her 90’s stood before me. She was wearing a print dress and a pillbox hat with a veil pinned on it, like somebody out of a 1940’s movie. By her side was a small nylon suitcase. The apartment looked as if no one had lived in it for years. All the furniture was covered with sheets. There were no clocks on the walls, no knickknacks or utensils on the counters. In the corner was a cardboard box filled with photos and glassware. ‘Would you carry my bag out to the car?’ she said. I took the suitcase to the cab, then returned to assist the woman. She took my arm and we walked slowly toward the curb. She kept thanking me for my kindness. ‘It’s nothing’, I told her.. ‘I just try to treat my passengers the way I would want my mother to be treated.’ ‘Oh, you’re such a good boy, she said. When we got in the cab, she gave me an address and then asked, ‘Could you drive through downtown?’ ‘It’s not the shortest way,’ I answered quickly.. ‘Oh, I don’t mind,’ she said. ‘I’m in no hurry. I’m on my way to a hospice. I looked in the rear-view mirror. Her eyes were glistening. ‘I don’t have any family left,’ she continued in a soft voice..’The doctor says I don’t have very long.’ I quietly reached over and shut off the meter. ‘What route would you like me to take?’ I asked. For the next two hours, we drove through the city. She showed me the building where she had once worked as an elevator operator. We drove through the neighborhood where she and her husband had lived when they were newlyweds She had me pull up in front of a furniture warehouse that had once been a ballroom where she had gone dancing as a girl. Sometimes she’d ask me to slow in front of a particular building or corner and would sit staring into the darkness, saying nothing. As the first hint of sun was creasing the horizon, she suddenly said, ‘I’m tired. Let’s go now’. We drove in silence to the address she had given me. It was a low building, like a small convalescent home, with a driveway that passed under a portico. Two orderlies came out to the cab as soon as we pulled up. They were solicitous and intent, watching her every move. They must have been expecting her. I opened the trunk and took the small suitcase to the door. The woman was already seated in a wheelchair. ‘How much do I owe you?’ She asked, reaching into her purse. ‘Nothing,’ I said ‘You have to make a living,’ she answered. ‘There are other passengers,’ I responded. Almost without thinking, I bent and gave her a hug.She held onto me tightly. ‘You gave an old woman a little moment of joy,’ she said. ‘Thank you.’ I squeezed her hand, and then walked into the dim morning light.. Behind me, a door shut. It was the sound of the closing of a life.. I didn’t pick up any more passengers that shift. I drove aimlessly lost in thought. For the rest of that day, I could hardly talk.What if that woman had gotten an angry driver,or one who was impatient to end his shift? What if I had refused to take the run, or had honked once, then driven away? On a quick review, I don’t think that I have done anything more important in my life. We’re conditioned to think that our lives revolve around great moments. But great moments often catch us unaware-beautifully wrapped in what others may consider a small one. PLEASE SHARE THIS TOUCHING STORY…

23andMe Has Changed

Now on the 23andMe.com website:

Welcome to 23andMe.

At this time, we have suspended our health-related genetic tests to comply with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s directive to discontinue new consumer access during our regulatory review process.

We are continuing to provide you with both ancestry-related genetic tests and raw genetic data, without 23andMe’s interpretation.

If you are an existing customer please click the button below and then go to the health page for additional information, including information about refunds.

We remain firmly committed to fulfilling our long-term mission to help people everywhere have access to their own genetic data and have the ability to use that information to improve their lives.

Upon entering the site, please confirm you understand the new changes in our services.

I first got interested in the 23andMe DNA testing after hearing about Angelina Jolie having a preventive double mastectomy. Most adoptees don’t have the genetic information of their ancestors that would lead them to go to their doctors and order the specific test required to see if they carried the gene that could lead to breast cancer. We have to rely on regular mammograms and doctors’ visits, hoping that cancer would be caught in time. However, since annual mammograms are not recommended until age fifty, and many cancers start well before fifty, we adoptees could be in added danger without knowing our family history.

I procrastinated. I was a little nervous to get tested. I’d already done a DNA test with Ancestry.com and found many distant relatives. None genetically close. No 1st or 2nd cousins. After seeing so many people “like” the website on Facebook, I finally got the nerve to order the test from 23andMe. The immediate reply I got was that the test was not available in Maryland, where I live. When my daughter moved to Virginia I decided to order the test using her address. That would fool them. They’d never know. I’d finally get a little, long overdue, genetic information. Haha, they fooled me. Again, I waited too long. By the time I went online to order the test, it was too late. The FDA ordered them to stop testing.

I wondered why. Are they afraid we wouldn’t know what to do with the information? Are they afraid we’d all go out and do something rash, like see a doctor, if we learned we had a potentially dangerous gene? Most people who aren’t adopted have an alcoholic uncle who shows up at family gatherings. Do they stop having children because they might have an alcoholic gene? Or if their aunt died from ovarian cancer, do they run out and get a hysterectomy?  What is the FDA afraid of?

I would like to get tested. For $99, I’m sure I wouldn’t get the same info that Angelina Jolie got for $5,000. But this test might lead me to go to my doctor and ask more questions. Perhaps order more tests. Or specific tests. It’s the unknown that scares me. I want to know more. Please.

What do you think? Maybe the government, or the FDA, could offer a basic gene screening with the results going directly to our doctor. That way, when the doctor asks me for the hundredth time, is there anyone in your family…? I don’t have to answer, “I’m adopted. I don’t know.”

What are your thoughts?

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An Adoptee Asks, Where Did I Come From?

Mom never understood why I asked about my birth. Why should she? Most people spend little time thinking about the circumstances of their birth. They take it for granted. But when you’re adopted, you’re constantly reminded. From the first time I was asked, “What was life like in the orphanage?” to my third grade teacher introducing us to the idea of genetics, I thought about how I came to be. Our assignment, to make a family tree and put a star by everyone on the tree who had our eye color, seemed like a waste of time for me. My parents just picked me up at the hospital, I thought. I don’t have anyone’s eyes.

As I grew older, each time I went to a new doctor, they’d ask for my medical history. My answer, “I don’t have one, I’m adopted,” ended that line of questioning. For me, it didn’t matter that my father died of heart failure. That my mother succumbed to cancer. They don’t care if anyone in my family has had diabetes or inflammatory bowel disease. I have no medical history. I’m always starting with a fresh slate.

Mom never understood why I asked about my birth. Why should she? Most people spend little time thinking about the circumstances of their birth. They take it for granted. But when you’re adopted, you’re constantly reminded. From the first time I was asked, “What was life like in the orphanage?” to my third grade teacher introducing us to the idea of genetics, I thought about how I came to be. Our assignment, to make a family tree and put a star by everyone on the tree who had our eye color, seemed like a waste of time for me. My parents just picked me up at the hospital, I thought. I don’t have anyone’s eyes.

As I grew older, each time I went to a new doctor, they’d ask for my medical history. My answer, “I don’t have one, I’m adopted,” ended that line of questioning. For me, it didn’t matter that my father died of heart failure. That my mother succumbed to cancer. They don’t care if anyone in my family has had diabetes or inflammatory bowel disease. I have no medical history. I’m always starting with a fresh slate.

As a child I couldn’t put into words why I was curious about the events that occurred on those days, months, before Mom and Dad mailed out the engraved birth announcements proclaiming: baby girl, 6 pounds.

All I knew about being adopted was my parents weren’t involved in my actual conception and birth. But what about the rest of the story? Where were they when they got the call? Did they pick me up from the hospital? What hospital? Did they want a girl? Were they disappointed I wasn’t a boy? Did they meet my birth mother before she died? Was she pretty? Did a social worker hand me to them? Were they excited? Everyone has a story, don’t they? There’s nothing wrong with wanting my own story.  “You were adopted. We picked you.” That’s not enough information.

Looking back now, I can see where I went wrong. I wasn’t specific enough in my questioning. Instead of asking Mom the general, open ended, question, “Do you know anything about my birth?” I should have sat both my parents down, shone a light in their eyes and said, “What happened on the night of August 30? And please, do not leave out any of the details.”

In the beginning, I guess I just wanted to know if I had actually spent time at an orphanage. So the answer, “We brought you home from the hospital”, was enough. As I got older, I wondered if my parents had tried to start a family for years, planning and praying for a child, saddened to learn they were infertile. It upset me how whenever I’d ask Mom about my birth, she never used the words “love” or “longing” in her: “You were adopted. We picked you,” answer. I wanted to find out if my dad would have had better answers for me but I knew not to bother him. Mom was the one who made decisions, answered questions. Dad, always tired, or busy, was to be left alone. I understood that.

I’m sure my questions must have seemed insensitive to Mom’s feelings. How could I have been so ungrateful for everything she’d done for me? I should have said, “I love you and I’m so glad you are my mother,” before adding, “but I just want to know a little more about the woman who gave me up and why you adopted me. Please help me fill in the blanks.” How should I, as a ten year old, have explained to the woman who cooked my dinner, washed my clothes and schlepped me to piano lessons, why I wanted to know something about another woman who was able to get pregnant when she was not? Having unanswered questions didn’t get easier as I got older. Why couldn’t I have just let it alone?

No, I had the right to ask. All children ask, Why is the sky is blue? Why shouldn’t I touch a hot stove? And definitely, Where did I come from? Always feeling I was missing some important information, I wouldn’t let go.

This is an excerpt from my memoir, Call Me Ella, available on Amazon.