Tag Archives: mother

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.

Angelina Jolie had Mastectomy to Reduce Breast Cancer Risk

Hollywood star Angelina Jolie announced to the world that she had a double mastectomy to reduce her chances of getting breast cancer. She says she hopes her story will inspire other women fighting the life-threatening disease.

Jolie wrote in the New York Times on Tuesday the operation had made it easier for her to reassure her six children that she will not die young from cancer, like her own mother did at 56.

“Like her own mother did.”

Jolie, for whom money is no object, chose to pay the $3,000 to be tested to see if she carried the faulty gene which would put her at a higher risk for both breast and ovarian cancer.

When she tested positive, Jolie said her doctors had estimated she had an 87 percent risk of breast cancer and 50 percent risk of ovarian cancer. “Once I knew this was my reality, I decided to be proactive and to minimize the risk as much as I could. I made a decision to have a preventive double mastectomy,” she said.

As an adoptee, when I go to my doctor and I’m questioned about my family medical history, all I can answer is, “I’m adopted. I don’t know.” For millions of adoptees like me with no medical information, we are at a loss. We don’t know if we are at risk for breast cancer. We don’t know if we should spend $3,000 to see if we carry the faulty gene. We don’t know if we are at risk for heart disease, or diabetes. We just don’t know.

When will adoptees finally be able to get access to their family history, their medical backgrounds, and other vital life-saving information? When will all adoptees be able to have access to their original birth certificates which most likely hold clues to information that could save their lives and the lives of future generations? When will the Federal Government step up to the plate and unseal the birth certificates of all adoptees rather than leave that determination to individual states? I was born in New Jersey. Governor Christie vetoed a ruling that would have allowed adoptees to get their birth certificates saying changes were needed “to avoid any unwanted breaches of privacy, and the potential chilling effect on adoptions.”

What chilling effects? From reading many letters from birth mothers, they want to know that the child they gave birth to is healthy and happy. Many women who gave birth before adoptions were legal also fought to pass the bill saying the adoption agencies never promised confidentiality. If Governor Christie won’t unseal my birth certificate my only other hope is to wait for the Federal Government to unseal my birth certificate.

But I’m tired of waiting. Everyone involved in my adoption has passed away. Will I have to wait until I’m buried to obtain my original birth certificate?

I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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.