Tag Archives: birth mother

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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Adoptee Gives Thanks During Thanksgiving

pumpkin pieI always made the pumpkin pie. My mom never made a pumpkin pie. But she taught me how to make a great turkey. (I don’t eat turkey anymore, but I still have my memories.)

The first time I ever helped Mom make a turkey, she told me to go ahead and clean the bird. She kept busy doing other work, making stuffing, preparing the vegetables, making the sweet potatoes, while I went into the kitchen, alone, to prepare the bird. At twelve years old, this was a milestone. Being trusted with the bird.

I went into the kitchen, carefully removed the packaging from the frozen turkey, pulled out the neck and the “guts” like I’d seen Mom do many times,  and I washed it. Thoroughly. When I told Mom the bird was ready, Mom told me how to season it. Her secret ingredients were soy sauce and paprika. My dad being Hungarian, Mom used paprika a lot.

The turkey came out beautiful. Mom proudly carried it to the table where Dad was prepared to carve it. Oh, how Norman Rockwell. Everyone watched as my Dad, the butcher, went to work. Until he stopped. It was at this moment that I learned an important lesson. There are two cavities in the bird. Mom pulled out the giant plastic bag from the turkey’s tush and began to laugh. Everyone laughed. They didn’t laugh at me, they laughed with me.

The year after my dad passed away, my mom came to my house for Thanksgiving for the first time. She cooked and carried a turkey on the airplane. Way before 9/11. Both Mom and Dad are gone now. And my birthmother passed away before I ever met her. I like to think she would have also had a good laugh when she found a plastic bag in the Thanksgiving turkey.

Happy Thanksgiving to everyone. Enjoy your loved ones while you have them. By birth, or adoption, family is important.

I can’t wait to see my out of town family soon.

National Adoption Awareness Month

As we begin November, National Adoption Awareness month, I’d like to take a moment to point out something that may not be obvious to everyone.

Yes, adoption is a wonderful thing when it creates a family where there wasn’t one before. A childless couple can share their love with a baby, toddler, or older child who might have otherwise  been homeless.

A child gets a loving family. People to take care of them and meet all their needs, physical and emotional.

I also want to point out that this is the ideal situation. As every family has its own issues, so does an adoptive family. A teen in rebellion may yell, “I did not ask to be born.” An adoptive child might yell, “I did not ask to be adopted.”

This doesn’t mean the adoption failed, or the adoptive parents are bad. This is a normal part of growing up.

Adoptive parents must learn to accept the adoptee as an individual. An individual with a different heritage. This child won’t be a “mini me”. This child will have their own unique characteristics which must be embraced, cherished.

Also, the adoptive parent needs to know that the adoptee has a unique history. A history that is different than your own. They might ask about their ethnicity, as well they should. Their heritage and their medical background are very important. Please, answer their questions as best as you can. If you don’t know an answer, try to find one. Learn about your adopted child. Cherish them for the unique individual they are.

Remember, this child also has a first family. A birth mother/father who might or might not want to know about their child. Who might someday want to be a part of their life. The child might want to know about their birthparents. That’s normal. Let the child ask these questions. Help them find answers. If your adopted child is brought up in a loving environment, there should be nothing to fear. Every child wants to know who they are. Where they came from. Let them ask the questions. Answer their questions with respect for the child and for the child’s first family.

What else should we remember during National Adoption Awareness Month and during the rest of the year?

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.

Call Me Ella – An Adoption Memoir

ellacoverlatestversion

More than just one woman’s search for information about the biological mother she believed had died in childbirth, this book, available now on Kindle, explores the mind and feelings of an adopted child. Call Me Ella is a heartwarming and uplifting story about a young girl who considered her adoptive parents her “real parents,” yet wanted to know more. She wanted to know her roots. Her heritage. With a burning desire to have someone who “looked like her,” she couldn’t wait to marry and have children of her own. She had no idea that her twenty-four year search, which did not begin until after both of her parents had passed away, would involve Sopranos-like tales of organized crime, gambling, and infidelity.

When her friend gushed over how much her son’s graduation picture looked like her dad’s portrait, Joanie smiled. Her friend did not know she was adopted. Then she took another look at the two photos, sitting side by side on her mantel, almost identical. Could her adoptive father have been her birth father? Now, a year after Joanie’s mom had passed away, she set out to discover the truth behind her adoption.

Joanie grew up thinking she killed her mother. As a child, when her adoptive mom answered her question, “Where did I come from?” by saying her birth mother died in childbirth, she believed in her heart she killed the woman who gave her life. She kept asking her mom the same question, hoping to get a different answer. Maybe she’d learn her birth mother had been ill, that it wasn’t her fault she died. When Joanie finally got old enough to figure out it took two people, a man and a woman, to have a child, she asked a new question: “What happened to my birth father? Did he die too?” That’s when her mom shot her foot through the kitchen wall screaming, “Don’t ever ask me that again.” It took her years to realize why that question hit a nerve.

In New Jersey, when a baby is adopted, their original birth certificate is sealed, making it seem as if the child did not exist before the adoption. Joanie never even knew her birth mother’s last name until she discovered her adoption papers a week before her mom passed away. Unfortunately, when her mom died with her secrets intact, she thought she’d never learn about her ethnic background or medical history. She wasn’t ready to give up. She needed to know more. She needed to know the big secret that kept her mom from answering her questions.  With determination and the unexpected help from a self-proclaimed “romantic” stranger, she set out to find her roots.

Call Me Ella is a memoir of love, family, loss and perseverance. It shows how we can work to achieve our happy endings.

Cover Design by Amy Kaufman

Preview

Unsealing Original Birth Certificates

Sometimes I wish I was running for president and, by law, had to produce my original birth certificate. Because now, I can’t. My records are sealed. The date stamped on the New Jersey birth certificate I have is thirteen months after my date of birth. I wonder what happened during that time. And what about the nine months before my birth. Don’t I have a right to know about my own birth? It’s my story.

It breaks my heart to see so many faces of adoptees and birth moms posting their birth dates on Facebook, like families searching for survivors after 9/11 or a devastating hurricane, hoping to find some family member who will recognize them. Who will know their story. Know who they are. Where they came from. Will want to meet them. Hug them. Tell them they were loved. They weren’t a mistake. They were a blessing. Maybe for another family, but a blessing non-the-less.

Wanting to know about our origins does not diminish our love for our adoptive family. The family who raised us. But no one should be denied the opportunity to know everything about themselves.

Hereditary illnesses. Genetic defects. Cancer. Heart attacks. Diabetes. Conditions passed on from one generation to the next. Those unwanted gifts from blood relatives. The questions on every medical questionnaire at every doctor’s office. I don’t know why there isn’t a place to check: adopted, history doesn’t apply.

Sealed records are not fair to the millions of adoptees searching for any information about their past or for the birth moms who want to find the children who’s birthdays they’ve remembered in silence every year. What can we do? I’m not sure. I’d personally like to take this to the Supreme Court. Realistically, I can’t do that alone.

Write to me. Comment. Tell me your feelings. Why you want to know about your origins. Why you would like to have your original birth certificate unsealed. Maybe together we can make a difference.

To My Birth Mother – Thank You

You loved me once
I believe it’s true
From the bottom of my heart
No words will do.

Ripped from your flesh
A moment too soon
You provided my lifeline
You gave me the moon.

And stars and planets
And the earth below my feet
You could have let go sooner
Admitted defeat.

I’ll love you forever
Knowing you were the one
Without your courage
There’d be no sun.

There’d be no universe
In which I would live
I don’t understand why you let go of me
But the greatest gift did you give.

The two I called parents
Who raised me with care
Owe you all their blessings
Deny, they wouldn’t dare.

I’m glad that I found you
Although it’s too late
To thank you in person
Would not be our fate.

I look to your son
Since you’ve passed away
I love my new brother
Yesterday, tomorrow, and today.

Adopted in New Jersey

Having been adopted in New Jersey, I was never able to obtain my original birth certificate. Growing up I begged my adoptive mother over and over for any possible information she might have about my birth mother until one day, shooting her foot through the kitchen wall she screamed, “Don’t ever ask me that again.” I guess that was the end of the story. For years I would go on believing I must have been the product of rape, incest or my birth mother just wanted to get rid of me. I never fantasized about being the daughter of famous celebrities who were unable to raise me fearing an illegitimate birth might ruin their careers. This was a few (?) years ago. At least I thought this was the end of the story until my mother was on her death bed.  Literally.

Mom put much effort into apologizing to me during those weeks I sat at her bedside trying to comfort her after we realized the end to her two year battle with cancer was near. “I know I was a bitch you,” came as a surprise to me.  I smiled, figuring it was probably the morphine talking, allowing her the freedom to let go of her pride for once in her life. “You were a lovable bitch”, I responded, with a wink and a smile, while my heart was breaking inside. Why couldn’t she have apologized years ago?  Why do they always wait until their deathbed?  It’s like the parents who know their children are struggling financially, but refuse them monetary help when they need it saving it instead for “the inheritance.”  By the time the will is read, the family is bitter and torn apart.

We both laughed.  For the first time in years, maybe ever, we talked.  Opened up.  In this dreary hospital room, with its green walls, threadbare divider curtains, IV drip, heartbeat monitor, this same hospital where my son was born, for the first time in my memory my Mom wasn’t judgmental.  Telling me she was proud of me I could only think, why did she wait until she was dying?  No one knew the pain I felt growing up.  I couldn’t tell her how she had hurt me. Not now. She was dying. I let her talk.

A week before she died she told me about a “lock box” that was hidden in the back of the top shelf in her bedroom closet. “There are important papers in there.” She said. Then she gave me the secret code. “Your daddy’s birthday”.

For the first time I was nervous being alone in her house, my childhood home.  Before this trip my only concerns involved the safety of my children as I had left both of them with their alcoholic father, trusting in God to watch over the three of them while I visited my dying mother, and how much longer my mother had to live, praying at this point that her pain would end soon.  As I prepared myself to open “the box, the secret hidden box,” I felt my heart pounding in my throat.

Balancing on a chair pulled up to the bedroom closet, reaching past the stacks of hat boxes, the silk scarves and leather gloves, my hand touched the metal of a small box, like a buried treasure.  I pulled the box down from the closet, placed it on her quilted bedspread and stared at it as I got comfortable in my usual position, legs tucked beneath me.  Memories started flooding into my head like the waters crushing back together after Charlton Heston parted the Red Sea. Like it was yesterday I pictured my Koko, surrounded by her litter of eight poodles, resting on the blood stained blanket right there, in front of this same mirrored closet door.

I looked at the box. After taking a deep breath I rotated the first cylinder to “6”.  The second was already in the correct position.  After easing the third cylinder into place I could feel the lid release and slowly open.  Although I had no idea what was in this treasure chest, I knew it contained something important.  I rifled through lots of papers.  Mostly insurance docs.  Itemized lists assigning values to the jewelry, furs, monogrammed silverware and the China my father shipped over from Hungary during the war.  “My inheritance”.

My parents weren’t wealthy by any means, but they liked their trinkets.

As I worked my way through the documents I came to a sudden halt.  My heart stopped.  “Adoption Papers”.  Oh my God. It listed my birth mother’s last name.  My eyes burned as hot tears flowed down my cheeks into my mouth. I could hardly read the documents my eyes were so filled. After removing my fogged over contact lenses, I was able to examine the hand typed court documents drafted so many years ago.  While I studied the pages, one memory came to mind.

“Don’t ever ask me that again”.  Was she telling me where this box was so I’d find the adoption papers and open a dialog?  Did she want me to ask her about this now?  Was she ready to talk?  She had apologized for being so mean to me all my life. She realized she had been unfair.  But was she ready to talk?  Is this why she told me about the box?

I returned to the hospital the next morning expecting her to ask me about the box. Did you find the box, do you have any questions?  I’m ready now to answer anything.  But no. She never mentioned the lock box and I didn’t have the heart, or guts, to bring it up at this time. She was dying. I wasn’t going to do or say anything that would upset her now. She had to be the one to broach the subject.  I waited. Nothing.

No matter how many disappointments my mother had in her life, she could never bring herself to talk to me about her greatest disappointment of all – that she could not give birth. She said nothing and I said nothing.

She died the following week. Her secret intact.

(This is an excerpt from my new memoir about my twenty-four year search to find out who this mysterious birth mother was. Along the way, I learned who my birth father was as well.)

Mom’s Confession: The Secret Box

Having been adopted in New Jersey, I was never able to obtain my original birth certificate. Growing up I begged my adoptive mother over and over for any possible information she might have about my birth mother until one day, shooting her foot through the kitchen wall she screamed, “Don’t ever ask me that again.” I guess that was the end of the story. For years I would go on believing I must have been the product of rape, incest or my birth mother just wanted to get rid of me. I never fantasized about being the daughter of famous celebrities who were unable to raise me fearing an illegitimate birth might ruin their careers. This was a few (?) years ago. At least I thought this was the end of the story until my mother was on her death bed.  Literally.

Mom put much effort into apologizing to me during those weeks I sat at her bedside trying to comfort her after we realized the end to her two year battle with cancer was near. “I know I was a bitch you,” came as a surprise to me.  I smiled, figuring it was probably the morphine talking, allowing her the freedom to let go of her pride for once in her life. “You were a lovable bitch”, I responded, with a wink and a smile, while my heart was breaking inside. Why couldn’t she have apologized years ago?  Why do they always wait until their deathbed?  It’s like the parents who know their children are struggling financially, but refuse them monetary help when they need it saving it instead for “the inheritance.”  By the time the will is read, the family is bitter and torn apart.

We both laughed.  For the first time in years, maybe ever, we talked.  Opened up.  In this dreary hospital room, with its green walls, threadbare divider curtains, IV drip, heartbeat monitor, this same hospital where my son was born, for the first time in my memory my Mom wasn’t judgmental.  Telling me she was proud of me I could only think, why did she wait until she was dying?  No one knew the pain I felt growing up.  I couldn’t tell her how she had hurt me. Not now. She was dying. I let her talk.

A week before she died she told me about a “lock box” that was hidden in the back of the top shelf in her bedroom closet. “There are important papers in there.” She said. Then she gave me the secret code. “Your daddy’s birthday”.

For the first time I was nervous being alone in her house, my childhood home.  Before this trip my only concerns involved the safety of my children as I had left both of them with their alcoholic father, trusting in God to watch over the three of them while I visited my dying mother, and how much longer my mother had to live, praying at this point that her pain would end soon.  As I prepared myself to open “the box, the secret hidden box,” I felt my heart pounding in my throat.

Balancing on a chair pulled up to the bedroom closet, reaching past the stacks of hat boxes, the silk scarves and leather gloves, my hand touched the metal of a small box, like a buried treasure.  I pulled the box down from the closet, placed it on her quilted bedspread and stared at it as I got comfortable in my usual position, legs tucked beneath me.  Memories started flooding into my head like the waters crushing back together after Charlton Heston parted the Red Sea. Like it was yesterday I pictured my Koko, surrounded by her litter of eight poodles, resting on the blood stained blanket right there, in front of this same mirrored closet door.

I looked at the box. After taking a deep breath I rotated the first cylinder to “6”.  The second was already in the correct position.  After easing the third cylinder into place I could feel the lid release and slowly open.  Although I had no idea what was in this treasure chest, I knew it contained something important.  I rifled through lots of papers.  Mostly insurance docs.  Itemized lists assigning values to the jewelry, furs, monogrammed silverware and the China my father shipped over from Hungary during the war.  “My inheritance”.

My parents weren’t wealthy by any means, but they liked their trinkets.

As I worked my way through the documents I came to a sudden halt.  My heart stopped.  “Adoption Papers”.  Oh my God. It listed my birth name.  My eyes burned as hot tears flowed down my cheeks into my mouth. I could hardly read the documents my eyes were so filled. After removing my fogged over contact lenses, I was able to examine the hand typed court documents drafted so many years ago.  While I studied the pages, one memory came to mind.

“Don’t ever ask me that again”.  Was she telling me where this box was so I’d find the adoption papers and open a dialog?  Did she want me to ask her about this now?  Was she ready to talk?  She had apologized for being so mean to me all my life. She realized she had been unfair.  But was she ready to talk?  Is this why she told me about the box?

I returned to the hospital the next morning expecting her to ask me about the box. Did you find the box, do you have any questions?  I’m ready now to answer anything.  But no. She never mentioned the lock box and I didn’t have the heart, or guts, to bring it up at this time. She was dying. I wasn’t going to do or say anything that would upset her now. She had to be the one to broach the subject.  I waited. Nothing.

No matter how many disappointments my mother had in her life, she could never bring herself to talk to me about her greatest disappointment of all – that she could not give birth. She said nothing and I said nothing.

She died the following week. Her secret intact.