Thursday, May 24, 2012

Normal in one family may be seen as abnormal in another

Jane and Lorraine,
Disparate thoughts about adoption creeping in today, based on comments. A adoptive mother writes about the problems her adopted daughter has (ADHD, OCD, god-knows-what-else) and and I immediately remember my daughter whom I relinquished had epilepsy, and the social problems that stem from that. But what I did not expect is that when I met her adoptive parents, her adoptive mother would ask if there was mental illness in my family. This was after I had assured them that there was no history of epilepsy either. Here I am, the "New York Career Woman, "as she told me she had described me to her friends...being asked about mental illness. Heritable mental illness. 

I was like, What? What gave you that idea? And of course it was daughter Jane's epilepsy, and her other mother had wondered then if--since they knew so little about me, nothing other than I was Polish--if maybe...since Jane had seizures...maybe there was a history of mental illness. She said that for a while they thought that I might have been in a mental hospital when I had...our daughter. You just sit there and listen, stunned, but betray nothing. I suppose it's not an unreasonable assumption.

Jane was in special ed classes at the time, or LD for Learning Disabled, when I first met her in 1981, and I came to know how she hated school because of the numerous seizures when she was young,  and she had to wear a hockey helmet to school for years. That alone certainly is going to make anyone feel weird, and prone to social maladjustments, which she was. I know her adoptive family certainly had their hands full--there was an adopted older brother, and then two biological children, but the LD classes...always bothered Jane. She bore them like a crown of thorns. She knew she wasn't stupid, or even slow, even though let's grant that the strong meds (Depakane, and later, Depakote) she took to control her seizures did slow down the brain firings and drop some I.Q. points. I think she hated that as much as anything about her epilepsy. It was something she couldn't do anything about. She had to take the meds to control the seizures. The meds dropped I.Q. points. There are studies, she knew that.

FROM LEARNING DISABLED TO COLLEGE MATERIAL
Later, many years later, after she was married, after she had children, still on the meds, she got an associate's degree with honors from a local community college, and she joined Toastmaster's to learn how to get up in front of a group of people and give a talk. She won a trophy for one of her humorous speeches. It was an amazing turn around for a girl who had once been painfully shy. She was so proud of herself, so pleased to show others what she and I knew--that she was smarter than they thought. That she could do it. College. It meant so much to her, to prove herself. She then took an on-line literature course from another school, had to write a lot of papers, I helped with her grammar, nothing else. She got an A, and the teacher told her that she ought to find a way to get a four-year degree. Jane was elated, thrilled to tell me the news. She was smart.

The point is, Jane never should have been classified as "slow." She never should have been in LD classes to begin with. And that brings me back to: Would she ever have been there if I had raised her? Since seizures are unquestionably neurological, yes, she would have still had seizures, but if there had never been a whiff of my mental incompetence--the proof of which was that I had produced a child with epilepsy--would her parents have done all they could have to keep her out of the LD classes, which further branded her as different? Even with the epilepsy, would I have been able to keep her mainstreamed in school? I sure would have tried. I knew there was no mental incompetence in the family line. I knew her father was an extremely good political reporter, and a graceful writer to boot.
 
We'll never know. But we do know that adoptees are more likely to be diagnosed with all sorts of psychological problems. The eternal argument is whether they are more likely to be diagnosed because their parents are more likely to seek counseling and testing, et cetera, or do they really have the problems because of bad genes like I was suspected of passing along? Or do they not have the problems at all, it's just that they are so unlike the people they are living with, who can't understand why...someone is so forgetful about stuff (like me, like my niece, who visited this weekend) or somewhat dyslexic, also like me, like my brother? What is normal in one family can easily been seen as abnormal in another. When my brother mentioned how one niece always forgets stuff she should have with her as she walks out the door, my husband chimed in immediately about how that was like me; and I said, Yeah, right, that's a Dusky thing. And my typing--what a mess! my fingers don't obey my brain and I transpose letters like nobody's business; my brother has a stronger type of dyslexia. But he's a hell of an art director.

IS THE 'DIAGNOSIS' BASED ON A FLAWED ASSUMPTION?
Inherited traits aside, a singular question remains: Is the diagnosis, and maybe an underlying real problem, the psychological toll of simply being relinquished and adopted into a family of genetic strangers? My daughter had real problems, I know that, but she wasn't stupid, she was a good writer, she had a strong sense of irony, which takes intelligence. And there she was in LD classes.

I'm not writing this to bash Ginger, the adoptive mother whose comment at an earlier post got me thinking along these lines, but to ask adoptive parents to consider the individual talents and foibles of their adopted children when thinking about therapy for this or that. I heard a teenager, the son of a close friend, talk about an adoptee he and his mother knew; the adoptive parents were sending the adoptee to therapy. The teenage observer said: There's nothing wrong with Johnny--he's just not like them. Shared traits may occur in adoptive relationships, but when they occur, they are, for both family and child, a happy accident. But when there is a marked difference, let the individual have some room. Let her be different. And don't assume the worst about her background.

The problem child may not need anything, but for the adoptive parents to see her or him as an individual, different, yes, but just as valid and not outside the norm. Maybe she--and her adoptive mother--just needs to see how she fits into her family of origin, how much she is like someone to whom she is related by blood. She may simply be quite different from the family in which she is growing up. Yes, there may be real issues that need dealing with, but maybe not. Maybe there's just a--difference. 
 --lorraine
_____________________________

See also: The Trauma of Being Adopted  

Adoption Trauma: Real or Not? 

Adoption and Mental Illness: The facts ain't pretty 

The bittersweet reality of being adopted


60 comments :

  1. The teacher or school system would not have been looking for "mental illness". But they would have still been looking for the issues that led her to be classified as an LD student which, by the way, does not mean stupid and does not mean slow. Having a learning disability only means that you process learning information differently---in Jane's case, this could have been primarily caused by the effect of her meds, as you describe. Why do you think LD is such a stigma? I don't understand how Jane living with you would have minimized the particular issues you have referred to in her history since they still would have been there. You're suggesting an entire arc of educational misfortune based on adoption. At the same time you insult so many of the brilliant, quirky, learning-a-different way LD students. As a parent, you would have simply needed to step up to the plate. There is no magic in DNA at such moments.

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  2. I think that we're always going to run into complexities diagnosing mental illnesses because the symptoms are so subjective. I also think our culture as a whole has a tendency to pathologize individual quirks.

    Being with a biologically related family with similar traits isn't always an automatic ticket to understanding one's own mental health, though.

    My family (on both sides) has a strong history of heritable mental illness. I didn't get any sort of treatment for over twenty-six years because I had no idea that being suicidally depressed and paralyzed with anxiety was avoidable. Because it was "normal" in my family, I didn't realize that it was fixable or that my quality of life could be improved.

    Once I finally identified my problem and got help, things improved dramatically for me, but recognizing the same traits in my family actually confused rather than improved my self-analysis in the area of mental health.

    I'm certainly not saying - obviously - that adoption would have made a good solution to that problem. It wouldn't have.

    What I am saying is that family similarity is a factor that very much cuts both ways, so playing the "what if" game isn't all that productive.

    I think what this does speak to is the desperate need for more mental health support and more flexible educational options in the United States.

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  3. Agreeing with Obi Wan, being in an LD class does not imply "stupid" or "slow", but that the child learns differently and needs extra help. Most LD kids go on to succeed in a field where they can used their strengths and work around their weaknesses, often in the arts. They are not stupid, retarded, or mentally ill, and anyone who thinks so is ignorant.

    I worked in the school system with LD kids, also had a child who was classified and in a resource room for some subjects, and this was helpful, not a source of stigma or shame. The LD and even the mentally retarded kids, a different class, were integrated into the general school population for many subjects and were accepted and helped, not stigmatized. It is sad this was not so in Jane's school.

    Asking for family medical background including history of mental illness is not an insult, but a legitimate tool for knowing where problems come from and treating them. Many family ways of being "different" are indeed learning disabilities, and kids with these problems can be helped by knowing the full history. Jane's adoptive mother had every right to ask for full family medical history,including mental illness, substance abuse, other issues that used to be considered stigmatizing but are now seen as illnesses like any other.

    Adoption does not cause learning disabilities, epilepsy, or serious mental illness, although it can contribute to making already existing conditions worse and harder to treat because of no family history and the added issues of being adopted.

    As a parent of an LD child, I do not see writing off his problems as "my whole family is like that" and avoiding getting extra help in an LD class as a good thing or fair to the child. Denial of a problem does not make the problem go away, and many kids flounder and fail in regular classes if not given special help.

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  4. As I was growing up it felt like my adoptive parents were constantly looking for "abnormalities" in me, whether physical or behavioral. I obtained my pediatric records as part of my adoption search and couldn't believe some of the stuff they wanted the doctors to address. I was too quiet. I learned to read too early. (!) I wasn't socializing properly with my peers. My adoptive family was chatty and sociable, whereas I was shy and reserved. And my interests were vastly different than what they were used to. I wasn't girly, I was a tomboy. This was a BIG problem.

    My adoptive mother was especially concerned because she felt I began menstruating "too early" (age 12) and went back repeatedly to the pediatrician over it. She wanted to know if it was because of my "breeding" and if she had to worry that I would be "promiscuous". The subtext is clear: she wanted to know if I was going to turn out like my birth mother who obviously must have been a slut for having a child out of wedlock.

    Later, as a teen, I was sent to a series of psychiatrists and psychologists because of my "attitude." The intent was not to help me, but to get me to conform to my adoptive parents' standards. I know this because the one psychologist who wanted to work with us as a family and criticized some of my adoptive parents' tactics was immediately fired and replaced by another who agreed I was a "troubled teen". Bear in mind, I never did drugs, never drank, never cut school, and was pretty much a disgusting goody-goody. What made me a "troubled teen" was that I wanted to dress up in renfaire costumes for medieval re-enactments at the local library. (Seriously, that was one of the incidents that got me an emergency therapy session. The psychologist said, "So... you don't want her to go to a library on a Saturday afternoon to celebrate the museum's release of illustrated manuscripts? Guys, even I think that's ridiculous.")

    Adoptees should never be considered "abnormal" simply for being themselves. I wonder if the number of adoptees in therapy is elevated because some of them are there simply because they are different and not accepted in their "forever families".

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  5. Obviously those who undertand LD are compassionate towards children who are in these classes. And they certainly can succeed and flourish in adulhood.

    But other children and most adults - not so much understanding there. I never heard someone be congratulated for being in the LD room. They are mostly made fun of or pitied by their peers and even the other parents. I think this is what Lorraine was addressing, the way being in an LD class makes one part of the "other." Add to that being adopted and having epilepsy and any child would surely find these types of differences to brutal on one's self-esteem.

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  6. This whole subject, assuming heritable mental illness, garnered me a very public visit at work by the adoptive mother, admonishing me and asking, "Where did it come from?" because someone told the adoptive mother that neurobiological disorders 'run' in my family. The only good thing that came out of that visit was that I knew my son was alive and finally knew his name (they fell off the face of the earth again for eleven years after that visit).

    I wonder the same, Triona.

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  7. Trina, your comment really resonates with me, as I feel my own child was in a situation very similar to yours with his adopters.

    He, like me, is more reserved and introverted. His teachers told his adopters he was "quiet" and I am sure that raised all sorts of "red flags." for them. I know he was also put on some medication, which one's I am not sure of. I highly suspect it was because he did not conform well enough to what they wanted and expected of him as he got older.

    He is hell bent these days to do exactly what these people want him to do; to appease them at all costs~ most importantly at the cost of himself. It is truly heartbreaking.

    Yes, children of other people have genetics that don't mirror yours, so the children you adopt may have "quirks" and a personality that are nothing like yours. I am not understanding what would be so hard to understand and accept about that fact. Perhaps it goes back to the "blank state" theory, which we all know is a farce.

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  8. Regardless of how anyone defines LD, the fact remains that society associates LD with "stupid and slow," and that anyone who winds up in a LD class or classes will be labeled by society accordingly. Until that changes, anything a parent can do to keep a child mainstreamed will only help the child in the long run. And anyone who'd deny that has got their head in the sand about how society views these things. Note that I am not *agreeing* with society. I am merely pointing out that they can be orifices-where-the-sun-don't-shine about this sort of thing.

    About epilepsy: Evidence is showing that a ketogenic diet either reduces or completely eliminates seizures in a majority of people following such a diet. This has been known for decades, but not popularly known, which means most patients and their families are forced into going on the meds because their doctors either don't know about ketogenic diets or believe them unsafe--an unfounded assumption. I came to a ketogenic diet for other reasons, but have heard about it as a treatment for epilepsy and, from that point of view, I am almost ill to think of Lorraine's daughter going through that much hell. How horribly unfair, when a change in diet could have at least reduced her Depakote dose and allowed her greater functionality.

    I say this in case anyone's lurking out there with a child with similar problems. Depakote's a pretty serious drug and so are the other anti-seizure meds. Ketosis is not ketoacidosis--it's a normal state for the body to be in (most of us go into ketosis, mildly, while we are sleeping), and most of the brain works better on ketones than on glucose. If your neuro has not suggested a ketogenic diet, he or she is falling down on the job--go find one who will.

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  9. I am posting anon for my children's sake.

    First of all, Jane, I'm so sorry about what happened to your daughter. Given that experience, I can see why you're asking if adoption is the problem, but I think the question is too broad to apply to all adoptions.

    I am raising a child who lived in a foreign orphanage for several years, adopted at an older age. She has been to counseling for the sexual abuse she suffered from an older child there. She also remembers her mother leaving her on the street, telling her to wait in a certain spot. She was about 3 yrs old then. We can only presume that mom was desperate and felt out of options, and abandoned her in busy place where she would be found. We have taken steps to verify the story...so my daughter deals with this also, though I honestly feel it's the experiences and memories of the orphanage that did more damage and brought out behaviors that were useful in that setting that become more of a problem in a family. I worry about mental illness because I worry about a lot of things, also because I've seen it in my own family, not really because my child was adopted. Anyway, my point is, for adoptees who've lived in temporary care prior to adoption, the bad care can be traumatizing. I fear that my child will always have to deal with the effects of it, though we see her feeling better and better. She doesn't do counseling at this time because the therapist wisely felt she'd dealt enough with the abuse for her developmental level and didn't want her to keep coming in & feel like something is wrong with her. Nothing is wrong with her, tho some bad things may have happened to her in the past. When she is more mature, if she needs/wants more counseling, we will provide it. But we certainly want her to know there is nothing wrong with her. She is a smart and lovely person.

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  10. The diagnosis of a learning disability is not made by the parents, although they are of course consulted, but by a child study team in most schools, which would include a psychologist, pediatrician, Learning disabilities specialist, and school social worker. Recommendations are then made for an individual instructional plan that best suits that child, whether it be a resource room, extra tutoring, or a special class for learning disabilities. When there is an underlying medical problem like epilepsy, the child's doctor who specializes in that problem would also be consulted about medications etc.

    That a child is very different or very much like his or her family is not a criteria for diagnosis, nor is low IQ a factor. Parents cannot just declare their child learning disabled because of differences and have the school act on that. Also, learning disabilities do tend to run in families, so the child being just like other family members does not necessarily indicate that there is no problem or need for intervention.

    Situations like Triona's where they hire outside "experts" that happen to agree with them are another issue.It must have been very difficult growing up with parents always finding fault and seeing the child's uniqueness as a threat. No parent should treat a child that way.

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  11. The question is valid. Therapists and psychologists struggle with the idea of labeling children or over diagnosing, all of the time. However, the reality is that no matter how a child is labeled or diagnosed, it marks them as different.

    LD classes are supposed to be integrative, at least currently. Sadly it doesn't change the way other children and some teachers respond to students in LD classes.

    One note, while I don't think that adoptees are necessarily labeled as mentally damaged - I can see the validity in the argument that parents do assume "their" children are going to be like them and thus, they find behaviors that the natural parent would view as normal, to be odd. This truly is a normal response. Very human.

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  12. Preventing kids with an LD from learning how to process information in a way that fits their intelligence type, learning style, disability, or all three is just wrong. Keeping kids mainstreamed and ignoring the LD is not the answer. It won't go away.

    Location is not the issue--if you can give kids individualized attention in a regular classroom, fine, but most teachers can't. For many kids with LDs, regular classrooms are actually the most restrictive environment because no consideration is paid to their specific learning needs. Not labelling kids is often done for the parents' benefit anyway, not the kids.

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  13. The very first thing I learned about my daughter from her adoptive mother--even before she knew who I was--was that our daughter was "LD." I had no idea what her amother was talking about, as I was not familiar with the lingo. She explained what LD (ironically, my initials) meant: Learning Disabled.

    What do those those who seem to misunderstand my point about LD think the woman was conveying?

    Maybe has it right: "I think this is what Lorraine was addressing, the way being in an LD class makes one part of the 'other.' Add to that being adopted and having epilepsy and any child would surely find these types of differences to brutal on one's self-esteem."

    Yes. Surely that is what I was attempting to convey, but some reading here seem not to see that that is the point.

    Dana: I believe my daughter's adoptive parents and their doctor tried every known treatment to control her seizures, perhaps including a special diet, as you suggest. They had very good medical care.

    However, by the time I met my daughter at 15, she relished high glycemic foods, such as corn and potatoes. What also worth noting is that when she had her first seizures--at five or six--her doctor tried to my medical history from the agency, Hillside in Rochester, NY; his letter to the agency went unanswered. Around this same time I was writing to the agency to let someone know--such as my daughter's doctor, her parents--that I had taken birth control pills for several months of the pregnancy, with the mistaken belief that I was not pregnant. I got letters telling me my daughter was fine. So goes closed records.

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  14. you've got me in tears, as you so often do. It all comes down to not knowing, doesn't it? And so I, an adoptee with precious little information about my origins(only lately can I claim an English and German ethnicity) watches my own daughter struggle mightily with anxiety and depression and the many additional issues those pose. And I wonder: Is it me? Was it her (or him?)? Is it me that's broken inside? Is there damage I just can't see that I've unwittingly passed on? How can I ever really help my daughter when it's so much poking around in the dark? So many questions, so few answers. So much angst and suffering.

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  15. Triona: Your revealing comment has left me speechless. Thank god you at least encountered some reasonable psychologists along the way.

    And your experience is exactly what I am talking about.

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  16. Lorraine - Unfortunately there was just the one reasonable therapist who did not last long. After that it was back to the same old.

    By that time, however, I was in high school and had started to expand my horizons. I met people with similar interests and began to discover exactly how isolated the world I'd been raised in was. It was a startling experience. When you're young your parents are the universe and to find out the universe isn't what you thought...

    As for mental illness... I have been told there is a history in my bloodline, sometimes severe, but no details and no way to obtain them. As my daughter gets older I see her struggling with some of the same things I did, emotionally speaking. I know where it's coming from but I have no answers as to exactly what anyone in my biological family has been diagnosed with nor what treatments have been effective. It's infuriating and terrifying at the same time.

    I am absolutely irate that we have all been left alone to deal with such things while the adoption industry rests on its laurels.

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  17. Triona:
    I am the mother who posted above, whose teenage daughter is anxious, depressed -- suicidal, in fact. And I can relate to the feelings you write about here. I've struggled with a variety of emotional issues over the years -- and felt many times that I needed to be "fixed."

    I was an early bloomer who got pregnant as a teen, and the unsaid thoughts directed at me were loud and clear: You are just like your birth mother.

    Today as I try to help my daughter cope with her own emotional issues, similar feelings are always in the forefront. Once I tell a doctor that I am an adoptee, without a medical history, I can fairly see the thoughts run across their faces: "Oh, it's YOUR fault, then."

    Problem is that after a fashion, you start to believe you are the second-class, less-than person everyone seems to want you to be.

    Alone, indeed.

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  18. After I found my daughter, she told me that the insult her amom hurled at her--the worst one there could be, since her amom pretty much hated me, was--you are just like X.

    Unfortunately, I have to post as X.

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  19. As Triona said earlier, the number of adoptees in therapy is certainly elevated simply because they are so "different" from their adoptive families. I know that many adoptees stay close to their families after they search, or not, but I personally know many who tell me they grew up with parents who made them feel weird and as if they totally did not belong in their families.

    In particular, I'm thinking of one case where a man grew up in a very straight-laced family in the States; when I met him he was an editor. He later became a writer for David Letterman, before he had his own show. My acquaintance later found his mother and siblings in Canada. His two half siblings are both in the theater--one is an actor, the other runs a supper/theater club. He sees them at least once a year and feels right at home with them.

    He has almost no connection to his adoptive parents today. These stories are rarely told.

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  20. In my adoptive nuclear family of six, three have chronic mental illness, which was untreated during my childhood. My adoptive dad and sister both have BPD (Bi-polar Disorder). My brother has ARND (Alcohol-Related Neurodevelopmental Disorder).

    My husband has ADHD and Asperger's, as does at least one of my children. I've lived most of my life with people that have a cognitive disorder. A diagnosis of "Mental Illness" doesn't scare me any more than Diabetes or Heart Failure. I don't attach any stigma to it.

    I myself have been on anti-depressant meds a couple of times during the Winter months. I believe that there is a strong genetic component to my depressive episodes. If I had a family history of breast cancer I'd want to know about it. Same thing with mental illness.

    I think it is very fair for adoptive parents to ask the Mental Illness question, since many diseases have a strong genetic component. These include BPD, schizophrenia, ADHD, Asperger's, OCD PMS, PMDD (Pre-mentstrual Dysmorphic Disorder) and depression.

    I know from what you have written previously that Jane inherited PMS from you. From the severity of Jane's symptoms, I am wondering if she actually had PMDD which is listed in the DSM-IV as a Mental Illness. I can't diagnose over the Internet though.

    I strongly support organizations such as NAMI which push for more funding and screenings for mental illness. If adoptive parents are educated enough to ask the question about mental illness, then I applaud them. So long as they don't ignore their own mental illness, and as long as they are equally as educated about what "normal" is.

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  21. I think there are several things at play that probably adversely affected your daughter's self esteem.

    Pretending that her adoptive family had information about diets and less invasive drug treatments, etc. as at least one commenter suggests is counter productive since most of that information was not readily available or known at that time. I'm sure her AP's acted on medical advice from their pediatrician and any family would do the same.

    In some ways you are asking a dual question or making a double assumption.

    1. That Adoptive Parents won't fight as hard for their children, especially in an educational setting.

    2. That AP's inherently look for "flaws" or quickly label anything that doesn't resemble their own family history.

    And yet I don't fit in either family; not my adoptive OR biological. HOWEVER I know firsthand that my adoptive family went to bat for me many times over the years, especially when I struggled in school.

    My biological family? The same sense of dissapointment that I didn't more closely resemble them physically or emotionally.

    They even attempted to have me placed in counseling, convinced that was something inherently flawed with me. I'm not quirky or artistic like them. I'm practical, self assured and reliable. Hard to swallow in a family of starving artists! LOL

    And guess what? Plenty of my non adopted friends felt that way in their families too. Misunderstood or that their families looked too hard to find the incongruencies instead of the common ground.

    I think what probably damaged your daughter's self esteem the most was having to wear a helmut to school.

    But did it save her life and is the assumption then that had she not been adopted, her "real" parents might instead have placed her social status above her personal safety? Or shrugged their shoulders and said, "oh, that's just how our family rolls?"

    Sign me Confused

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  22. If you go to a surgeon requesting help you will get surgery.

    If you go to a pychiatrist asking for help you will get a psychiatric diagnosis and treatment.

    Look for problems and you will find them. Very sad for adoptive children.

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  23. Just an observation,I see the same shame-based attitude in some comments about learning disabilities and mental illness here that were in operation about unwed pregnancy when many of us surrendered.

    It is not about what might actually help the child, but "what will people think"? Never mind that it is a fact that a diagnosis of LD does not equate with stupidity. If ignorant people think it does, keep that child out of that class at all costs! If a pregnant daughter reflects badly on family values, send her away and pretend it never happened. It is all about protecting the family image as perfect and covering up rather than dealing with problems, in both cases.

    Believe me, a kid who struggles with LD, mental illness, or a physical disability knows they different and suffers, whether placed in a special class or not. Bullying is not confined to picking on kids in special classes, but is just as likely to target the "different" kid whose parents insist on keeping him in a regular classroom whether that is appropriate or not.

    It is very hard to be a child who is different, no matter what, and adoption is just one factor that may play into the problem, not the only and deciding one in every case. Nor do biological parents always have a better understanding of what their child needs than adoptive parents. It is not that simple.

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  24. Anon 11:57pm wrote: "Plenty of my non adopted friends felt that way in their families too. Misunderstood or that their families looked too hard to find the incongruencies instead of the common ground."

    I never accept the argument that adoption isn't an issue because many bio-kids feel different than their family members. However, they aren't adopted. They don't have any adoption related issues. They know where they come from, who their ancestors are, their ethnicity, their medical history, etc. I don't see how saying that some bio-kids feel out of place in their families has anything to do with being adopted at all. It's really like comparing apples and orangutans.

    As for asking if Lorraine had any mental illness in her family, I would have been taken aback by that, too. Especially being asked that right off the bat. It's also important to remember that this was asked in the early 1980s when the stigma against mental illness was stronger. It sounds too me like it was implying something not very nice about Lorraine and her family. But that's just my take on it.

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  25. From anon:

    "Nor do biological parents always have a better understanding of what their child needs than adoptive parents. It is not that simple."

    Granted that child-rearing is not simple, but your comment implies that the genetic connection which helps families recognize similar traits is a big yawn, and hardly makes any difference at all. You say you are a mother who relinquished, but you sound like someone who denies familial similarities in non-adoptive relationships, aka a whole lot of adoptive parents.

    As for shame related to LD classes or special ed, I have yet to see a bumper sticker on anybody's car proclaiming that his child is in LD classes! the way you might see a "honor student" sticker in some communities. The birth mother who wrote this post didn't say she could have kept her daughter out of LD classes, but questions whether it was easier for the aparents to have the girl there because she might come from a family with "mental illness," as well as seizures, or whatever else they imagined about her obviously defective birth mother.

    I read this blog often and it amazes me how quick some readers are to jump in and heap on the criticism after purposely misinterpreting what the writer is saying.

    BTW, Anon, does mental illness run in your family--are you sure, nobody institutionalized? etc.? Just asking.

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  26. "Nor do biological parents always have a better understanding of what their child needs than adoptive parent."

    I beg to differ. If the child is the genetic and biological child of a natural parent, that parent understands many things that a non genetic related person would.

    No adopter would ever have a better understanding of what my raised son needs than I. This I know. They may think they do, but they don't. It never ceases to amaze me how people think they know what is best for someone else's child...

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  27. There's a huge difference between saying "So-and-so is LD, and saying they have a learning disability. I get the concern over the label, but it is purely a formal designation that allows for access to special types of educational services and shouldn't be regarded as a stigma in itself. Any stigma associated with it is the result of ignorance or misinformation, and the best way to fight it is with open and honest discussion and making sure the child gets lots of encouragement and support.
    It certainly sounds as if the way in which Jane's adoptive parents raised the issue of heritable mental illness with Lorraine was insensitive, but Megan is right that questions like this should not be avoided out of misguided delicacy. Many mental illnesses, like other kinds of illness, are heritable and it does no good to pretend otherwise.

    I'm not at all sure that natural parents invariably understand their children better than adoptive parents do, which is what commentator May 26, 2012 3:25 P.M appears to be implying. They know more know more about their history and origins, but there are plenty of raised children whose parents are quite clueless about what makes them tick.

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  28. "If the child is the genetic and biological child of a natural parent, that parent understands many things that a non genetic related person would."

    That's simply not true. In families genes combine in many ways to produce children that may be unlike their parents and may represent strains (traits, quirks, talents) from previous generations. I was fundamentally misunderstood by my genetic family; my talents were not recognized and if they were but didn't fit into the family mythology (a heavy biological burden), they were given short shrift.

    On the other hand, I had the fortune to adopt a child who shares some of my dominant characteristics but is so different in other respects that those traits were immediately recognizable as both different and superior to mine! You don't have to *understand* those traits. You can just be in awe of them, which I am. The whole notion that only natural family can understand a given child is BS. We have evidence of that everywhere from both natural-born and adopted children.

    Because . . . family is tyranny. Your goal is to get out in one piece before someone starts dictating to you who you are and who you must be. Ick.

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  29. Lorraine - very interesting topic - thank you.

    When studies would show adoptees as teenagers etc., had a higher percentage of being helped by mental health professionals, adoptive parents would explain to me that it was because they were more hands on and aware than the average parent of a biological child. That was the way they negated any associated impact being adopted can have. They cared more - adoption causes no harm to any child.

    Now days sometimes it seems like they want a diagnosis or 3 or 4, and that bothers me just as bad as the flippant dismissal that being adopted is different and for some it is really hard, and that they aren't being helped by the parents (or worse it is exacerbated).

    Getting back to the search for the diagnosis - for some children I wonder if it isn't the fact that so many are also day care children. A lot of us have abandonment issues and putting them in day care from a young age I do wonder if that doesn't add to the problem. That although we didn't get over the terrible twos until almost four (whatever) - that something the adoptive parent might have accepted as normal variation - but throw day care in as well - that behavior has as been ratched up by the exisiting insecurity.

    I am rambling now but I completely understood what your intent of the post was - we come without a road map of relatives that will be similar in nature and manner or who acted just like we did at 4 or 7 - we are different and adoptive parents need to be prepared for different - some are - some aren't.

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  30. Did all of you raised by biological parents have perfect parents who understood you completely, anticipated all your needs, read your mind, and supported you in everything you did and wanted to do? If so, you are very lucky, as I know few people who had that experience, whether they were adopted or raised by natural parents.

    Most parents have their own agenda for their children. Sometimes the children fit in and go along, sometimes not. Great parents, adoptive or natural, see their children as individuals with their own path in life, not as extensions of themselves who are there to fill their needs. Many parents fall short of greatness and of course that includes some adoptive parents as well.

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  31. "...we come without a road map of relatives that will be similar in nature and manner or who acted just like we did at 4 or 7 - we are different and adoptive parents need to be prepared for different - some are - some aren't."

    May 26, 2012 7:07 PM

    Thank you AdoptedOnes, you did get the meaning of the post. I certainly did not condemn all adoptive parents, particularly my daughter's, as they certainly lived through hard times with our daughter and gave her, from what I know, the best medical care available. I was merely saying that how they saw her, and reacted to me, and thus her--did I have bad genes, did my daughter carry them--certainly were part of the psychological oleo she grew up in.

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  32. All parents need to be prepared for a child who is different, and many are not. This is not unique to adoption and there is no road map for every child. My parents had no road map for me, a very different child. This discussion has gone beyond the specifics of Jane's disability and how it was dealt with, and I am not implying criticism of either of her families and how they dealt with her tragic illness here.

    Why is it assumed that anyone saying that adoption does not cause all problems is saying that adoption causes no problems? Of course it does, adoptees have a unique set of issues to deal with on top of the "ills the flesh is heir to" that we all have.

    Heredity is important, so is environment, the two interact to make us who we are. Sealed record adoption places an extra burden on adoptees, and adoptive parents who do not deal with those issues can make it worse for the child. None of us are denying that.

    Both heredity and environment contribute positive and negative things to every one of us. There is no point in being insulted about being asked about "bad" genes, as a natural parent, yet taking credit for the "good" ones. It is all a mix. We all have skeletons in our family closets, who will only rest in peace and cease to haunt us once they are exposed to the clear light of day.

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  33. @ Obi-Wan Kenobi:
    "That's simply not true."

    And that is simply your opinion.

    No, I don't know every thing that makes MY child tick, but I understand a lot of what does because he came from ME and that simply is true. Thanks.

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  34. @Obi-Wan Kenobi

    My child lost to adoption is so like me in so many ways it is uncanny. Don't tell me that I would not have understood him better than his adopter because that is "simply not true".

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  35. My son lost to adoption is like me and some ways that I find delightful, and unlike me in others. This is also true of the kids I raised. Nothing uncanny about it, just heredity. But I value him for the person he is, including the talents and abilities and tastes I do not share, not just for how much he resembles me or other family members.

    I honestly do not feel being related gives special insight
    into all your children, and while my son's adoptive mother was a horror, his father valued his inborn talents even though they were not anything found in the adoptive family (or me either for that matter, they had to do with math and computers which are a mystery to me). His adoptive Dad bought him a home computer in the early 80s when they were very expensive and almost nobody had them, although the adoptive dad knew nothing about computers and they were not wealthy.

    Of course some of us find our surrendered kids very much like us, but this is not true for everyone, and the differences some find are just as real as the resemblances those like me see. One experience does not invalidate the other, when speaking of individuals very little is true for everyone.

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  36. It's odd, my own experience was that I was very much like my father and his family growing up--and looked like his sister instead of my mother--but as I got older I recognized in myself many of my mother's traits--not all ones that I admired! But there they were.

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  37. Maryanne I was using the term "uncanny" because it was surprising to me how much we are alike after I got to know him. Moreover, thanks to adoption, I used uncanny because I find the whole getting to know your own flesh and blood when they are an adult bizarre. I know it is heredity and I do happen to think being genetically related gives one insight others may not have, though I know it does not make us EXPERTS on another human being. Thanks.

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  38. I guess it is all in how you view your experience. I did not find getting to know my son as an adult bizarre or uncanny. Not even unusual, given the number of reunited people I have known over the years. I feel incredibly grateful and amazed that I got to know my son at all, and that he is the fine man that he is. He and the sons I raised are similar in some ways, different in others. I think I expected that so was not shocked.

    I recognize that my experience and my reaction to it is different from some, because we are all different people, and some of us are dealing with very different circumstances.

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  39. Anonymous and Anonymous, you haven't provided any evidence for your opinion. I would wager that a huge percentage of natural parents do not understand their children. In fact, it is "genes producing genes" tht leads to the ill-informed idea that "Junior will be just like me". You want to believe it but you are wrong. It is just one of so many ideas about biology, environment, and culture--and the way they interact--that screw up kids and disappoint parents.

    Family is tyranny. Get over it.

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  40. It's kind of sad that a discussion about providing mental health help and appropriate educational support to adoptees seems to have turned into a bragging competition about who is the more important mommy.

    Really, is there any point to that?

    It is obvious that genetics, family history, and heritage are a major source of connection, and an important source of knowledge about a person.

    It is also obvious that raising a child, spending time with them, talking and listening to the child, and seeing each other on a regular basis is also a major source of connection, and an important source of knowledge about a person.

    To me, it just seems to defy logic to attempt to negate either relationship - and acknowledging one doesn't mean denying the other.

    I think the focus here needs to be on making sure adoptees get the help they need without being pathologized when they don't need help, rather than on trying to demonstrate one's own parental superiority.

    It isn't a contest, and the adoptee shouldn't be treated as the score card to determine which side "won."

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  41. And, sorry--Anonymouses, one of you said:

    "If the child is the genetic and biological child of a natural parent, that parent understands many things that a non genetic related person would."

    I said that genetics does not guarantee understanding. I never said that YOU did not understand your child. Big diff.

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  42. When I met my daughter she was 15 going on 16. I didn't have any expectations one way or the other; as I got to know her over the years, we found more similarities over time. Our shared traits seemed normal, and we both enjoyed them in a way that you don't think about when you are raised by your natural parents. Considering the realities, I also did not find it weird to get to know my daughter when I did. It was the natural occurance of my relinquishing her.

    Her parents (adoptive) were also middle-class people of the same religious background (Catholic) and they were practicing Catholics, as was my mother. I am not. In many ways, her upbringing on certain levels was not unlike what it might have been if I had been married at the time of my daughter's birth and brought her up. She commented on this one time when she noticed I had a magazine subscription to one of the same magazines her mother did. Yes, there were differences in talents and interests between the two families, but many practical matters were the same. My original post here was about their lack of background on our daughter when she had seizures, and how this might have affected how they reacted to those seizures and the resultant side effects.

    Interestingly, her (adoptive) parents much prefer my brother's wife to me; she's a practical, non-artistic person in a medical field. But of course what she also has going for her is that she was not biologically related to "our" daughter. Yes, her amom would sometimes refer to Jane that way; I was always quietly thrilled when she did. It felt generous, and right.

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  43. Thanks for the dispassionate and sound good sense, Zan.

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  44. Ageeing with Zan, she says it all and says it clearly and well.

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  45. An adoptee here, very happy with what Zan said to take us back to the salient points. I greatly dislike feeling corrected if I see something of myself in both my families. I love finding out things that I have in common with my first family; it's wonderful, especially when my husband or kids or even my aparents point things out, unbidden. "Oh, THAT'S where you get that quirk from!" It helps me feel grounded. On the other hand, I share many experiences and interests with my aparents that I don't with my first family. And that's okay. It comes with the territory of being adopted, and has to be accepted as such.

    As for mental illness: yes, I have it. There is none to speak of in my afamily, and there is quite a bit in my first family, including depression and suicide. When I first struggled with mental illness as a teen, I know it freaked my aparents out and they said some rather unhelpful things when I started cutting, stemming chiefly from my amom: "I am almost as embarrassed of you as I would have been if you were pregnant." Which clearly has to do with my being adopted and her fear that I would follow in my mother's footsteps. Nice. But after that, they got me counseling, etc. I know they love me, but they have never, will never *get* that part of me. Not that my first family will necessarily, either; they shove mental illness under the rug and cope by looking askance at those who are depressed (although many are on antidepressants, etc.). I suppose it's more normative. Still, they love me, too, and I can count on them for support--they haven't minded my brand of the family illness.

    Perhaps my exacerbations of mental illness would not have been as severe if I'd not been adopted, but we will never know. They might have been worse. It's the road not taken.

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  46. Nature vs. Nurture. The debate has been going on forever and will continue to go on forever. But does it really matter? Even if every child kept by their bio-parents was incredibly different from them and every adopted child was incredibly similar to their adopted parents it wouldn't make all of these unnecessary adoptions any better.

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  47. Early on in my relationship with my relinquished daughter she asked if I had ever been treated for depression or had thoughts of suicide. I had never been treated for depression but knew I had suffered with it at certain times in my life. Thoughts of suicide never arose. She had been treated as a teenager for both. She went on to ask her first father the same question. It is my understanding that he told her he had thoughts of suicide as a teen. I haven't gone into any depth with her on this but think that it wasn't anything she or her parents had experienced in her adoptive family and was curious as to whether she had inherited it from either one of us.
    I think it is one reason why closed records have done so much damage. If these things are known they can be treated with much less speculation or placing blame on first mothers. In addition, some of these so called abnormalties can come from the father.
    The bottom line is the help should be there no matter what the origin.

    Lorraine,
    My daughter and I too find enjoyment in the many charcteristics and likes that we share. She calls them our "sweet connections". They do stand out in a different way than the natural connections I share with my raised daughter.
    I'm glad that you and Jane shared those moments too.

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  48. I am currently in the throes of parenting a child who is *nothing* like me, aside from his dark-chocolate colored eyes and his voracious appetite for reading. Other than that...I. do. not. get. this. kid.

    If I didn't know the other half of his biology, courtesy of my husband, with all their behavior quirks, craving for solitude, their ability to **COMPLETELY** tune out everything around them, their propensity for OCD and anxiety-related disorders, and their obsession with all things Star-Wars, I would be at a loss as to what to do as his mother some days. But since I *do* have that knowledge, I can call up one of my sister-in-laws and say, "How did you handle things when Bobby did XYZ?" or "Is it normal within your family to act this way?" or "Holy cow, when Boy #2 did such-and-such today, he sounded JUST like your brother!"

    It helps both him AND me be better people. He gets to see people who have his unusual preferences and learns he is A-OK, just as he is. More importantly, *I* get to see people who have his unusual preferences and know he is A-OK because that is just "how they are" on my husband's side of the family. Knowing his biology helps reduce my anxiety as his parent, which then allows me to be more fully engaged in parenting him in ways that are appropriate for him.

    I often wonder what it would be like for him to be raised in an adoptive family where he didn't see any of these things reflected back to him by his Aunt Amanda or Uncle Todd or Cousin Patrick. It would most likely be a disorienting and lonely world in which to exist and I imagine it would bring on another layer of issues he would have to manage.

    And then I think of the adoptive mother who might end up with a child who is as markedly different from herself as my son is from me - how would she navigate these same complexities without any reflection of what may be "normal" in temperament or behavior for her adopted child? I don't know the answer for that, but I do know parenting my second son has helped me understand a great deal more what it must be like for an adoptee to be raised in an environment completely devoid of any markers that might provide clues for him, clue which say, "You are A-OK, just as you are." That would be hard. Beyond hard, actually.

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  49. Some kids are not "A-OK just as they are" no matter who raises them or how many other family members have similar problems.The original post was about a child with severe epilepsy that required interventions like wearing a helmet that protected her safety, but worsened her self esteem. There is no easy answer for a parent dealing with a dilemma like that. Pretending everything is OK when it is not is not the answer, and it would not do much for the child to point to other family members similarly afflicted if that were the case.

    Some parenting issues are more difficult than a child being obsessed with Star Wars or more like Dad than Mom. That is where special help is needed in families of all kinds, no matter how much information the parents have or lack. More information helps, and adoptive parents should have access to as much as possible, but there may still need to be other interventions.

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  50. Sorry for the delay here on a fresh blog. My shoulder/bicep is causing trouble, and recovery is unusually slow. Typing can only be done in short bursts. Also, I may have injured myself the other day doing physical therapy.

    Cool. :)

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  51. Anon 6:62PM wrote:

    "it would not do much for the child to point to other family members similarly afflicted if that were the case."

    Why not? If other family members suffered from epilepsy (which in Lorraine's family they don't, but let's say for argument's sake in another family epilepsy is hereditary--and yes, Correctors, such types of epilepsy exist), a child might find comfort in having relatives who could understand what she was going through, people who had walked a similar path.

    If a child/person has someone in the family who has struggled with a particular medical issue or disease, it might *not* (but it also *might*) be helpful psychologically to that child/person to have someone to talk to about it, especially if it's an isolating disease or condition. At least she might not feel alone with yet another thing coming out of the black hole of what her body might do to her.

    Yes, information is needed, help is needed, But it sometimes cannot be the aparents providing it. It's hard not knowing about your own body (here, biology really *does* matter), and devastating to be asked to fill out medical history forms and have no information to give.

    Blood disorders and autoimmune diseases run deeply through my first family, to the degree that one of my maternal uncles died of MS at the age of 55; a cousin lost two limbs to lupus and committed suicide at the age of 45 because of the burdens of the disease; my grandfather died of complications from myasthenia gravis; and on and on. These autoimmune disorders manifest themselves (in my family) in the teens and 20's. There is nothing like this, at all, in my adoptive families' medical histories. I am fortunate that I haven't (yet) been found to have any of these diseases, although I had tested at several times (before reunion) as though I am susceptible to autoimmune disease. At the time, my MDs just said, "Oh, you are positive for antinuclear antibodies. What is your family history of autoimmune disorders?" I could only shrug my shoulders and say I wished that I knew.

    If I had had lupus and been the only one in my afamily with it, my aparents would have done their very best to help me. But it would *still* have been isolating not to be able to speak to someone who knew what it was like to *live* with the illness in practical terms. Yes, there are support groups, etc. I would have made do.

    But to know that someone with my same genetic make up was out there and *could* have provided emotional/psychological support? That would have been hard to live with, indeed.

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  52. It is nice that Obi-One-So-Boring is able to stop by and share her lack of wisdom with us all.

    "There is no magic in Dna" well clearly there is none in yours. There is quite a bit in my line. But yes, you are right God made the tiger and the worm, all creatures great and small, slugs and lions all have their place. Just ask Blake.

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  53. **Yawn.** I think dear Anon just wants to pick a fight with me. **Stretch** B.o.r.i.n.g Go find some other natural mother to pick on, Anon. I'm not nibbling at your bait today.

    Ms. Marginalia said:

    "But it would *still* have been isolating not to be able to speak to someone who knew what it was like to *live* with the illness in practical terms...But to know that someone with my same genetic make up was out there and *could* have provided emotional/psychological support? That would have been hard to live with, indeed."

    This, a thousand times. And knowing people who share my son's genetic propensity for debilitating anxiety, clinical depression, and OCD and being able to rely on their cumulative wisdom to help him along the path to adulthood is invaluable to me as a parent. I had always assumed it would be for an adoptive parent, as well, but from the sound of folks like Anon, I guess it isn't all that important after all. If they have enough love and money to buy "special helps," it trumps genetics every time. At least that's my take-away-from Anon's comments.

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  54. Marginalia, thanks for the informed comment, and Melynda with speaking up, and Zan if you ae back, great comment without rancor. The points you all make are clear and as obvious as the nose on anyone's face, and to deny them is to deny reality. Yes, some kids will seem like they came from another planet but in the end some traits and similarities--perhaps with more distant relatives--will pop up and be recognized.

    Every time I go to the doctor and have to fill out of new form on family history, I think how tough it must be to write unknown or adopted at the top. Yet as we still have hope to change the law in New York this year, I got an email telling us not to use the word "discriminated" because it puts off some legislators. Okay, maybe they got tired of the language when they passed the gay-marriage bill, but I also thought WTF, adoptees are discriminated against just as much, or perhaps, even more. Any breast cancer run in your family? Heart disease, Mr. or Ms. Legislator? Oh, I see, you know the answer to that. Well, adoptees don't. It is discrimination no matter what you want to name it.

    ADOPTEES DESERVE THE RIGHT TO THEIR IDENTITIES, NO EXCEPTIONS.

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  55. "ADOPTEES DESERVE THE RIGHT TO THEIR IDENTITIES, NO EXCEPTIONS."
    I'm sure all the commentators on this thread would agree with you about that.

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  56. Also quoting Ms. Marginalia's wonderful remark:

    "But it would *still* have been isolating not to be able to speak to someone who knew what it was like to *live* with the illness in practical terms...But to know that someone with my same genetic make up was out there and *could* have provided emotional/psychological support? That would have been hard to live with, indeed."

    Oh, yes. It is.

    I recently went through (am going through) a medical situation. The physical aspects are bad enough... but knowing that my first family is out there and may have information that could help me? Knowing I have absolutely no way to get that information, especially since I have a denial of contact on file? A little reassurance at this point would mean the world: "Oh, no, it's fine, your aunt/cousin/grandmother had that."

    Instead I must endure alone, and worry for my children. It makes the entire situation INFINITELY worse.

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  57. Anonymous Anonymous said...

    "ADOPTEES DESERVE THE RIGHT TO THEIR IDENTITIES, NO EXCEPTIONS."
    I'm sure all the commentators on this thread would agree with you about that."

    I certainly agree and hope all others would as well, however much we may disagree on other issues.

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  58. Triona said that for someone to say to her "Oh, no, it's fine, your aunt/cousin/grandmother had that" would mean the world, and I understand that, but it is not always reassuring to know one's family history, even though it is something to which everyone deserves the right.
    Someone dear to me has three close biological relatives who died slowly and painfully from an incurable and unavoidable degenerative disease that has a strong hereditary predisposition. This person has been diagnosed with the same illness, and knows only too well what kind of future to expect. I know of other similar instances.
    I do not mean to be dismissive but want to dispel any ideas that may be out there that knowledge of medical history is always reassuring, or that family can always offer much in the way of consolation when they too know the hard facts.
    Of course it is better to know than not to know, but knowledge, even when it is a comfort, can be very cold comfort indeed.

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  59. Anon, even if I had a family hx of Huntington's I would want to know! Cold comfort is indeed better than ignorance of EVERYTHING. I could choose not to be tested for it, for example, but know it ran in my family if I had access to my relatives. I still don't know anything about half of my medical history except what MDs have stumbled upon in tests. I would rather know. Ignorance isn't golden or bliss, but knowledge gives a person choices. I don't think any of us are laboring under rainbows that you think us to be.

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  60. Lorraine, I was away on vacation so I didn't get to read the more recent comments when they were first posted, but thanks for what you said about me - that's very kind.

    :-)

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