' [Birth Mother] First Mother Forum: Rachael's Origins Don't Include Me

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Rachael's Origins Don't Include Me

“How did you hear about the ‘American Girl’ show” the grandmotherly voice on the phone asked me? I looked around, and seeing the room was empty, whispered “from my granddaughter.”

I didn’t want Rebecca, my surrendered daughter, to hear me refer to myself as her daughter Rachael’s grandmother. Rebecca made clear when she first contacted me three years earlier that her adoptive mother and her mother-in-law were her children’s only grandmothers. At the same time, she never tried to hide who I was from her four children. I spent time with them when I visited Rebecca at her home near Chicago and later at her home near Bloomington Illinois; they visited me at my home in Oregon. I took Rachael and her sister, Chelsea, on a tour of colleges in Oregon and Chicago. Rebecca, her husband, and children came to our family reunion. Rachael and Chelsea email me occasionally and Rachael sent me the link to her blog.

It was Rachael’s twelfth birthday. I was purchasing tickets to take Rachael and Rebecca to the American Girl show in Chicago when the seller asked me the apparently simple question. But nothing is simple in the world of adoption. I did not want Rebecca to think I was assuming a forbidden role, thus I whispered. Rebecca's adoptive mother sent Rachael an American Girl doll for her birthday so our gifts complimented each other.

Last summer Rebecca and her youngest child Aaron, then eight, came to visit. I took Aaron to a local theme park with a friend and her grandson. My friend asked Aaron if I was his grandmother. He said “Well, she is my grandmother in that she is my mother’s biological mother but….” He stopped there, unsure of what I was.

This August just before Aaron’s birthday Rebecca asked me to stop sending her children birthday presents which I had been sending for a decade. I don’t know the reason for her request but I think it may be related to the Mormon definition of family which is not wide enough to include natural relatives. (See “An Inconvenient Appendage.”)

Rachael is now a sophomore at Brigham Young University in Utah. Recently, she attempted to answer the question “who am I” on her blog as part of a school assignment:

“I am a college student, I work a college job, I love life! I love my family, I love Chicago. I am a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and believe in the truth of the gospel that is taught in this religion….

I am the oldest of four …and have mom, dad, two cats, dog, and rabbit (actually it's my sister's). Here's a little about where we come from. I don't mean Illinois, that shapes me too, but where we really come from. Our origins.

[Her mother’s adoptive father’s]… family has been in the US for many, many generations. Perhaps even back to the origins of this country itself. It's funny that these ancestors ended up in Illinois too, by the Mississippi, when they were taught about the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. They moved down river to join other latter-day-saint members in Nauvoo and then ended up making the trek West to Salt Lake City with some of the first Mormon pioneers in their escape of persecution. Now I'm back in Illinois.

[Her mother’s adoptive mother]: These ancestors were converted to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints while in Denmark. They … took a boat all the way to America where they met the Saints out West….

. …I think that by learning about where I came from helps me realize the special worth I have on this earth. God made me for a reason!”

Rachael’s omission of her mother’s actual, biological, natural family may have been because this second second family didn't fit into the context of the assignment. No matter why she did it, attributing her origins to people who have no biological connection with her ignores an important part of her. She is her mother’s daughter, yes, but only through adoption is she connected in any way to the ancestors she writes about. Since adoptees that search talk about feeling unconnected to their adoptive families, I wonder if some might explain how they feel about their adoptive ancestors.

Rebecca’s adoptive parents imparted their faith in the LDS Church to Rebecca who in turn imparted it to Rachael. Her mother's adoptive parents, however, did not give her the interest and talent in writing, the difficulty in spelling, or her blue eyes. Rebecca and her family moved to Chicago when Rachael was seven and to the Bloomington area when she was 13. Her love of Chicago with her sense of connection to Illinois is one of those synchronistic things that occur in families separated by adoption. I grew up in Chicago and Rebecca’s biological father’s family was from Bloomington.

I am sad about being left off Rachael’s blog. I’d like to think that knowing me has had some value for her.


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  2. My initial reaction was "glad to know I have company." But this just.shouldn't.be. So many whys...why can't we all just embrace each other, why can't we just accept reality [in the beginning there was the birthmother] rather than recreate it [in my case, Santa delivered a very special gift when my daughter wsa placed with her adoptive parents, I swear that's what the engraved announcement said]?

    Over the past decade I've met adoptive parents in open adoptions, and they seem to get it, but how long will they remain "open minded?" And just how much heartache can the birthmother endure before she says I can't do this--listen to her child call another woman Mom, miss the nightly readings of Goodnight Moon, the daily routines of school/homework/how was your day over dinner?

    I'm not optimistic that this tug of war between adoptive and birthparents will ever end...and unfortunately, the most important person--the adoptee--ends up paying the highest price.

    An painful yet important, essential essay. Thanks, Jane.

  3. Jane, I had a similar experience in reverse. During my brief written communication with my mother, I made an offhand remark about how my children are curious about their "other Grammy." Her next letter informed me in no uncertain terms that she is NOT the grandmother of my children. I tried to explain that all I meant was, my kids call my mother-in-law Grammy so that's the only frame of reference they have. During those introspective "what could I have done differently" moments I wonder if that's part of the reason she chose to cut off contact.

    I think it's pointless to deny the ties of either birth or adoptive families. There is no other solution than to accept the truths of our relationships with one another and find ways to encourage our strengths. We should not have to whisper clandestinely to ticket sellers or rationalize our remarks.

    Linda said: "why can't we all just embrace each other, why can't we just accept reality"

    Oh, my friends, I wish I knew.

  4. I think where there is exclusion, there is fear. That is true of anti-semiticism, racist, sexism.

    Sadly, where there is religion there is often fear too. Not what Jesus had in mind in my opinion.

    It's too bad people have to be so afraid.

    But I also think that many of us bought into religious notions at the time we were pregnant. No doubt about it, and in some dark region of our souls, we had convinced ourselves too.

    But it doesn't feel like too many of us feel that way anymore. Maybe they'll change their minds too someday.

    Where there is life, there is always hope.

  5. So sad, Jane. That you are allowed to be a part of your daughter's and grandchildren's lives (thank goodness for that!) and yet denied your true place in their family and ancestry. What the Mormons do is an out and out lie, justified by some sort of crap about God's plan. I'm sorry... HUGS

  6. I am so grateful that I was allowed to be a part of my granddaughter's life from the beginning and there is no doubt who I am...but because Daughter Jane always called me Lorraine...when Granddaughter Kim got to be a teenager, she shifted from Grandma to Lorraine, which upset me at first quite a bit.

    But hell, I adjusted. I just sent her an email and I know I am one of the lucky ones....and because I used to sign my emails Gramma Lo, we shortened it to Glo. Fine with me.

    Adoption is always painful, I once heard a psychiatrist say in court.


  7. Hi, I just discovered your blog and love it. As a teenager I placed a baby girl with LDS social services - in 1989. I am no longer in any way affiliated with the mormon church, but I'm afraid to officially "resign" in case they will be unable/refuse to help her contact me if she tries to in the future.
    Do you know of any online forum where LDS adoptees attempt to reunite with birthmothers?
    Thanks for your time - Tory

  8. Lorraine,

    I don't know if it makes any difference, but I'm not really sure Rachael was telling the truth as she knows it -- it seems to me she was creating an online persona of saintliness, showing how committed she is to the "one true faith." In another context, her discussion of her origins might well have been different.

    Of course, even if I'm right, it doesn't ameliorate the fact that Megan is treating YOU and her children shamefully in denying THEM permission to see you as you are, their grandmother, unmodified.


  9. Here's yet another take on the adoptee/grandchild/grandparent ordeal.

    My adoptive father's mother wanted nothing to do with me when I was adopted, because I wasn't his "real" chld. [At that time, I was his only child.] Then when she was told my birthday was January 21- same as hers, I was okay.

    Fast-forward 34 years: Grandmother is dead. aParents are divorced. aF is remarried w/biological daughters young enough to be my own. I have the first of my two sons. aFather will have NOTHING to do with me or them. He is their only [known] living grandparent.

    I am currently searching for bParents, half in hopes of finding grandparents for my sons.

    Rejection by family just sucks - no matter who does it to whom.

  10. For Tory,

    I read a blog called Recovery From Mormonism http://www.exmormon.org/

    They have a discussion board and several reunited ex-LDS birthmothers and adoptees have posted there about their experiences with LDS social services. Perhaps they could hook you up with an LDS or ex-Mormon birthmother group. This list has nothing to do directly with adoption, but the subject does come up from time to time, also it is great support for anyone who has left or is questioning the Mormon Church.

    I am not and never have been Mormon but lived in Salt Lake for a year in the 70s and really got an eyeful of that weird and (in Utah) controlling religion.

    Hope this helps, Tori. You may also want to try CUB
    www.CUBirthparents.org to see if they have a representative in your state.

  11. Hiya~

    Like Tory, I am an exmormon who placed a baby through LDS social services, in 1990 in my case. I have just started searching and so far am kind of flailing...but anyway, I wanted to let you know--I suspect Rachael's exclusive autobiography has nothing to do with her not thinking of you as "family" in *some* capacity--rather, it has everything to do with her Mormonism.

    The entire reason that Mormons encourage their followers to write "personal histories" is to showcase their family's connection to the church. "heritage" is a huge part of the faith, and people who don't have a long line of ancestors who somehow link to "the pioneers" are a lot less eager to share their histories than those who do. Mormons are really, really into talking about how far back their families go into the church. It's a cultural thing.

    Rachael probably didn't mean to exclude you, it's just that in this context--especially as a student at BYU--her adoptive family's long ties to the church give her a lot more cred than your association would have, since you have no ties to the church at all.

    I think that your having no ties to the church is likely a part of why your daughter is uneasy about her relationship with you. Some Mormons really feel like they just shouldn't associate with non-members at all, and they *really* don't want non-members associating with their children. It's possible she's afraid of your influence on her kids, though I have no doubt it's a lot more complicated than that, I'd imagine this is at least one factor.

    I'm really sorry you're dealing with this. I confess I am very much afraid that this is what I will have to look forward to if I ever find my birth son, since I understand all too well the various ways that Mormons try to erase adoption from a person's history.

  12. Thanks to those who wrote. Let me echo mairaine's endorsement of exmormon.org.

    I'm sorry I can't help with searching for an a baby adopted through LDS Family Services. I am not a Mormon. I placed Megan with San Francisco County Social Services. They gave her lots of "non-identifying" information and she found me.

    Britta's comments about the enhanced status for Mormons with long ties to the Church brings up another incident. Shortly after we met, I told Megan I had an ancestor who fought in the Revolutionary War, thinking it would be a point of pride. She told me icily that her ancestors came up the Mormon trail with Brigham Young.

  13. I'm not quite sure how to respond to this, but I feel I must. I am LDS, I found my daughter through old LDS records (and know how to do it), have met her very LDS parents and have found that the Church and religion had absolutely nothing to do with any of it. Mormonism is not responsible for relinquishing mother's decisions, and the difficulties locating birth children is not LDS exclusive. If this is a blog for adoption related issues, why the religious bashing?

    My daughter's parents are wonderful people. Her afather even told me that had he known I wanted to keep her he would have helped me so I could. My best friends daughter gave a child up for adoption through the LDS church and she is now reunited with her adult son with blessings from his LDS family. For every horror story you tell about "Mormons" there are as many about every other religion and as many about non-religion adoptions.

    My heart and soul is to help birth families find each other so they can have the peace and resolution they so desperately need to feel whole and find their answers, regardless of whether the end result is a positive or negative one.

    The truth of the matter is that the laws of the land keep us from our birth families and so we must do what we can to find them ourselves. We live in an era when birth mothers were kept in hiding and shamed our parents. Our generation didn't talk about the skeleton in the closet and we birth mothers were told not to disgrace our families. THIS is the mindset adoptees face when they search, and the mindset that birth mothers have to overcome to believe that they aren't interfering in their child's life by wanting contact.

    I apologize if I've offended anyone but in my heart I feel that the search is difficult enough without throwing extra obstacles in the way that don't solve the problems of searching or reuniting.


  14. Teri, I am glad you commented. I have been thinking of the post for days. Wondering how to respond. I am lds. I am an adoptee who has been reunited.
    I wanted to write a comment but did not know how to do it.
    I realize that being excluded from a granddaughters history can be very hurtful.
    Still, maybe the granddaughter just has a stronger tie to her adopted grandparents. Did she know her biological grandmother as long as she had known her adopted family?
    She is separated from adoption by a whole generation. I don't think her feelings can equal those of an adoptee. Her loyalty is different than an adoptee. She does not have the feelings abandonment that adoptee's have.
    Even as an adoptee, myself. I don't have strong feelings for my biological grandmother. I do for my mother. We do have a connection. But I don't for my grandmother. Why? I don't know.
    But you can be certain that it has nothing to do with the church. I was not raised by a LDS family. I joined as an adult.
    I think that after reading about adoptees who never feel close to their adopted families, we should be glad that this family is one that has close ties.
    I don't think its fair to ignore and push away the biological family, though.
    Again, the church might have nothing to do with that.
    How many adoptee's push away from their reunion? Isn't that a common regardless of how the child was adopted?
    I realize that the Church is pro adoption. But, all the "problems" of adoption are just that..problems of adoption. Not because of the whole entire Mormon Church.
    This granddaughter is proud of her adopted family. There is nothing wrong with that. She doesn't yet understand that she has a whole other origin. She might as she matures and wonders more about her heritage (genetics). I am 37 yo and I am just opening myself up to my heritage. Give her time.

  15. To the above two posters:

    It's not my intent to "bash" Mormonism on this forum--but I feel like some explanation is warranted. There are a lot of birthmothers who really resent the Mormon implication that when a child is adopted and then sealed to his adoptive family in the temple, he or she becomes "theirs" biologically. It feels, to us, like an attempt to pretend like we didn't ever exist, and also like a means to discourage the child from ever finding us. It's possible that some of us take the whole thing a little too personally or a little too literally, but because I've known an awful lot of Mormon adoptees who had no interest in searching, it has seemed to me at times like that was the message that was received. And because there are so many birthmoms out there who are dying to be found, we resent any attempt on anyone's part to convince adoptees that they shouldn't search.

    I think a lot of birthmothers who went through LDS came away feeling "pushed" into the decision, which was not really my experience. I think it's more truthful to say that I was "strongly encouraged." I'm not mad about it per se, though during my worst times I look at it with some resentment, I think ultimately it was a good thing for me. (I was a basket case, and anyone could have seen that.) Still, I can certainly empathize with why some women, who were probably perfectly capable of being single moms, later on regretted their decision. LDS Social Services and the church in general had such strong advocacy for adoption and strong condemnation of single motherhood, they make a pretty easy scapegoat.

  16. ".... And because there are so many birthmoms out there who are dying to be found...."

    Hate to detract/distract from the conversation at hand, but as an adoptee ISO bMother, could y'all chime in with your ages? [You don't have to be specific.]

    My bMother is 65-66 yrs old and I'm just curious if bM's of that generation are "hip" to the whole search thing.

    Lisa K

  17. Whoa! I've just read all the comments and since this post is old I don't know if anyone will find this. But when the previous commenter, Lisa Kay, asked if the 65 and 66-year-old first moms are hip to search I had to answer. Hey Lisa, take a look at the people who write this blog...I am 66, and I wrote the first book from a bmom's point of view back in the Sevenites, found my daughter in the Eighties, and have encouraged all others to do so since then.

    So, yeah, we're hip to this whole search thing...

    And about LDS and whether or not it supports searching and reunion? the subject of many other posts...The greatest opposition to open records in any state comes from the National Council for Adoption, and as Jane has noted, a rather large percentage (look it up in original post) of their member agencies are LDS. They form the backbone of the organization that has prevented more states from opening their records....

  18. Let me echo Lorraine's comment. I just turned 66 and am hip to the whole search thing. I admit I wasn't when my daughter found me 11 years ago but after corresponding with my daughter and reading a bunch of books (including Lorraine's), I became a strong supporter of reunions. I have a good friend who is 74. She found her son when she was 60 and he was 42. They have a great reunion. Don't let your mother's age discourage you from searching.

  19. Thanks, Jane & Lorraine for chiming in re: my question.

    Okay, so IN GENERAL or as a PERCENTAGE, any idea how many bM's your generation look for their children?

    btw - If anything, my bMom's age is making my search more urgent. I lost my aMom when she was only 63 yrs old in 2001. I have lost my entire nuclear adoptive family. I don't want to lose a bParent I haven't yet met.

    Thanks again,
    Lisa Kay

  20. I don't think you can understand what it's like to walk in her shoes. I am the granddaughter of an adoptee. My grandmother's biological family is entirely different than her adoptive family. Her bio family is Cherokee Indian, from the Eastern Band Rez; her birth mother was very young and an alcoholic. In contrast, my grandmother's adoptive family is old money, descended from the Governor William Bradford, Daughters of the American Revolution, Sons of the Confederacy, and white; her adoptive mother is the granddaughter of some of the wealthiest plantation owners in Alabama, and was in her late twenties and the president of the garden club and Junior League when my grandmother was adopted.
    I grew up with a respect for my Native American heritage. However, my respect was much greater for my grandmother's adoptive mother, who helped to raise me, who showered me with love and attention, who was a beautiful, kind, philanthropic woman. I have no real experience with my grandmother's birth family. Therefore, it's not important in my day-to-day life. My father feels even more strongly about this; he has little care for his Cherokee heritage. His grandmother raised him, and raised him with stories of her ancestors, and so that is what he identifies with.
    It's not a case of choosing to throw aside a part of yourself. It's just about what has made a greater impact on your life. For Rachael, it's her LDS heritage. For me, it's my great-grandmother's historic American roots.



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