' [Birth Mother] First Mother Forum: When DNA reveals a new family member: 'It might not turn out the way you want it, but everyone has the right to their own history'

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

When DNA reveals a new family member: 'It might not turn out the way you want it, but everyone has the right to their own history'

DNA is changing how many families will be surprised by the appearance of a relative in the family tree who suddenly appears as from nowhere.  You spit in a vail one day, and a few weeks later, there it is, irrefutable evidence that the family has a new kin--someone never heard of before! A person grows up believing he/she was mom's firstborn, and now--they've been demoted to second! Though we like to believe that siblings will welcome the addition of a brother or a sister--and some will--it's not the case all the time, and this is a reality that many adoptees have to face when contacting family members.

The newly demoted child--and I mean of any age--might be jealous, and upset at losing their special "first" status. "She/he has other parents--why do they need mine? Why can't we be a family--like before?" Or, "Where do I fit into the family now?" Not every returning family member will be the firstborn, and other issues will emerge. Children of birth fathers can fit anywhere in the spectrum and remind a wife, and his children, of their father's unfaithfulness, and then start figuring out what was happening in the intact family at the same time.

Adding to the emotional strain is the reaction of the mother or father who appears as if infatuated with the returning child. Having been denied contact with an offspring, the mother may lavish attention, presents, affection, and of course, time, on to that person, and the other children suddenly feel left out. It's like mom is suddenly having an affair with the interloper. If adoption has never been talked about in the family, if the other children are not empathetic to what it must feel like to need to know one's true kin, or understand the sadness their mother went through when she relinquished that child, and her new-found joy at reunion  maybe confusing and off putting to family members, particularly siblings.

A fascinating look at how genetics
shapes who we are, how we are. 
Such jealousies and resentments are especially likely when inheritance is involved. Cold hard cash in the family locker, as well as family jewelry, now might be divided up more ways than before. Objectively, we might like to think that we are above all that--being on top of the food chain, having a brain that allows us to understand we are mortal and will one day die--but at the end, we are only the most highly evolved mammal and will fight for our share. Look at the blood baths that ensued between siblings as they fought for the crown of England.

Not every family will be like this of course. Siblings of adoptees sometimes say that they always wanted an older brother or sister. Or felt that someone was missing in the family. I met one woman at a conference a few years ago who smoothed the way for a newly reunited brother to her family's brood--only to be followed a few years later by the appearance of another sibling! The mother was not quite there anymore, and might have shared the story of the second child who had been adopted, but she had not. Yet the family basically accepted and welcomed the two half-siblings into their family.

All this came to mind when we received a rather nasty comment from an Anonymous recently on an old post.

Birthmothers Right to Privacy -- An invention of the ACLU?

The comment that came a few weeks ago is rather harsh, but since it reflects a certain mindset that some adoptees might face, it is worthy of discussion. (Typos cleaned up, as certainly this was wsritten in rage.)
"My momma, mother of 5, passed away 4 years ago. She was 82. Just recently this 60-year old woman crawled out of the woodwork like the plague, somehow with her "original b.c. She has caused mayhem within the family with many relationships being ended. She is Facebook stalking family members and sending out friend requests with an explanation that my mother gave birth to her, to people who have no business with any of this. This woman was born in 1960 when abortions weren't legal nor closed adoptions weren't a thing. My momma went her entire life without mentioning a word, which, I consider to be that time's closed adoption, and should have been respected. I have an always will be extremely pro choice because a woman's choice is hers and hers alone...not to be questioned. With this horrifying experience that I am experiencing and the utter disrespect for my Momma's choice,I will be extremely vocal about the consequences of adoptions since there seems to be no privacy guaranteed for the birth parents and the lack of gratitude for life itself from the adoptee. Something to think about...don't ya think???"
What to do if faced with a relative like that? I've thought about whether to post that comment, but decided in the end, it was the extreme and anonymous reaction that some adoptees might face, and this blog is about reality in adoption.

No matter of reactions like that, adoptees have every right to seek out not only their parents, but also their blood relatives--siblings, cousins, aunts and uncles, grandparents. Adoptees had no choice about being given up, about having their records sealed, about having the truth of their origins hidden from them, and DNA and the release of original birth certificates gives them back agency over their own identity. To contact their biological family members is their choice. They have as much control to contact as relatives have the right to shut the door. Or welcome them.

A woman finds her mother but
mother won't admit to the rest of the
family that she is one of them.
Not everyone will be welcomed back with open arms and excitement; but many will. I'm not adopted, and I cannot fully fathom the guilt strings on the heart to shut down wanting to know one's first family, but I believe my choice always would have been to plunge forward and take the consequences. I was afraid of what I might face when I called my daughter's other parents when she was 15. When her adoptive mother asked for my name and address, I was worried that she was going to call the police! She wasn't; instead she was afraid I was going to hang up and retreat into the void. This was before calls collected your number and made a callback possible.

Whether to contact a found family or not is a deeply personal decision. There's no penalty for finding connections on your DNA family tree and doing nothing. But if you feel the desire to make contact, any old rules one might have grown up with need not apply. No matter what the world may think (including the writer of the comment above) the state laws sealing birth records were designed to keep birth mothers away from adoptive families--not to protect them (or their other offspring or spouses) from the children they gave birth to and placed for adoption!

The laws that control adoptees and deny them knowing the full truth of their own story, and deny them a connection they may seek, are a false as the laws that governed slavery. They are falling, and they will continue to fall until every last one of them is gone. 

In the long arm of history, sealed birth records and closed adoptions will be seen as a failed social engineering experiment. Everyone has a right to their own history, to make contact with their own people. "Everybody wants to know where they come from, even if it doesn't turn out like you wanted it," is a quote from an old message board that rings true. --lorraine
Blueprint: How DNA Makes Us Who We Are (The MIT Press)
By Robert Plomin
Plomin is a psychologist and geneticist, and he makes a persuasive case for the primacy of genes over environment in shaping our individual personalities. Genetics is a discipline that has been saying as much for a long time now, but Plomin really emphasises just how great the genetic influence is even in areas we'd hitherto assumed were almost entirely environmental. You don't have to agree with him, but you can't read the book without seeing the world afresh.―The Guardian  PS: Highly recommended reading for all connected to adoption (especially adoptive parents)--and for all with an interest in genetics. It's an eye-opener.  You will not think the same about the nature/nurture question after reading it. --L.D.

An Affair with My Mother: A Story of Adoption, Secrecy and Love
By Caitriona Palmer
August 10, 2019
As an adult adoptee this story was both familiar and eye opening.
I identified with the strong desire to know your history. The birth mother's desire to keep the secret she's held for years echoes what many adoptees find at the end of their search for truth.  PS: This has been on my night table waiting to be read for far too long! 

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