Posts Tagged ‘adoption seach and reunion.’

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This is why we protest.

November 4, 2015

It’s Your Life

By Jeff Hancock

I was not always an adoptee rights activist. Prior to my adoption discovery as a 41-year-old man I was quite happy as just another member of the human race. It was not until I learned that I was adopted that I also discovered that I am a victim of discrimination. Like millions of other adult adoptees, I am denied access to my Original Birth Certificate (OBC). The following essay is intended to reveal why the Adoptee Rights cause is important and why state governments need to restore our access to our Original Birth Certificates.

The concept is quite simple: We seek only to own what the non-adopted people have. We want to own our identities. We want to be just like everyone else.

Some people want their OBC’s so they can find and reunite with their birth families. Other adoptees want to discover their heritage, ancestry, or faith. Adoptees hope to learn our medical history. Others just simply want to own it. These are all good things, but none are the basis for what we fight for. The foundation of our cause is our quest to be equal to non-adopted citizens. Without our OBC’s we are not equal.

American culture places a great amount of shame upon adopted people. Also shamed are the mother’s who gave birth to us. Our society fears us. They fear what might happen should we be provided the sheet of paper that holds our name as it was recorded the day we were born. Based on false beliefs and outdated myths of the 1930’s, the people elected to represent us choose to deny us instead.

This is why we protest. Just as our OBC’s are shrouded from us the facts are shrouded away from state law makers. The fundamental difference is that while we are denied even a glance of our OBC’s, far too many lawmakers have full access to the facts of restored access and choose to look another direction. The purpose of the Adoptee Rights movement is to educate these lawmakers.

One cannot blame lawmakers for what they have been conditioned into accepting as the truth about sealed OBC’s. it is our intent to work with them through education. We teach them right from wrong while stipulating that sealed OBC’s is WRONG!

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Always the Last to Know.

November 4, 2015

Last year I had the honor of being asked to contribute a chapter to my friend Lynn’s book, a compilation on adoptee topics. Her book is titled “The Adoptee Survival Guide” and is available through Amazon.

Always the Last to Know.

Have you ever wondered why,

Families keep secrets until they die?

This completely takes over who you are,

Carving within you an unbearable scar.

They day I learned that my parents had lied,

The soul within me stopped living; and died.

I felt as though I had just lost my very best friend,

Who was I now? Was I at my start, or at my end?

 

I found a quote soon after I learned that I was adopted. It reads, “The worst thing about being lied to is knowing you weren’t worth the truth.” This quote became my motto as I embarked on my new life as an adoptee. My story is quite complicated at times; it has been just over 7-years since my discovery though it still stings as though it were yesterday. The purpose of this essay is for me to reveal how I have faced the task of being a late-discovery-adoptee, though I am still far from the end of my journey.

All my life I felt a strange absence in my life. It was a feeling of loneliness and loss. I never could quite find the right words to explain these feelings; I always just figured I was an outcast due to being so much younger than the other kids in our family. I had no idea that I could be an adoptee until I began school in 1970. It was on the bus that kids bullied me by calling me “foster kid.” I brushed it off at first because as a 5-year-old kid I had no idea what it meant.

As I grew older I began to take notice of how my family regarded me. I had learned what a “Foster Kid” was, and I began to wonder if at anytime someone would tell me I was only a guest and that another family was coming to take me away? Evidence began to surface. I was not included in my paternal grandmother’s family bible. That same grandmother never provided me with a hand sewn quilt as she had for each of her other grandchildren. Then there was the photograph. It was a Polaroid of me when I was about 2-years-old. On the back of it was written, “Jeff our foster son.”

By the time I was 21-years-old I could not tolerate my internal struggle over my identity any longer. Having grown tired of pussy-footing around the topic with my parents, I threw my cards onto the table, called my parents, and asked, “Am I adopted?”

It could not have gone any worse. Dad yelled, mom cried. Both told me that I was wrong for questioning my relationship to them. Both lied to me and told me I was theirs.

For the first year after my discovery I walked the Earth in “Zombie Mode.” While I was mostly aware of the goings-on around me, I was detached from it all. I took no pleasure doing things that before had brought me great joy. I had no idea who I was; I felt betrayed, rejected, unwanted, and unworthy of anyone’s love. I sought solutions to my emptiness and pain. There were none.

The first time I turned on the radio in my car following discovery I heard a song that I had not before experienced. It was “Mother” written by Roger Waters of Pink Floyd. This new-to-me version was sung by Sinead O’Connor. I instantly became engrossed in it. I immediately bought the album. I played this song repeatedly everyday for the next 5-and-a-half years.

It was one line from the lyrics of “Mother” that has ran through my mind over and over again since my discovery. “Mama’s gonna keep you right here under her wing, she won’t let you fly but she might let you sing” became my theme song. With each passing day I grew more and more resentful of my adoptive parents. I also grew angry with my other mom; the one who gave me away.

While I began my search for family the very same day as my discovery, by 2009 I had no more information than I had the day I begun. I realized that if I were to ever find my family I would need to have access to my Original Birth Certificate first. I fell into the ranks of the Adoptee Rights movement.

My first protest was in Philadelphia during July of 2009. It became one of my favorite life experiences. Like how Moses must have felt delivering the Jews to the Promised Land, I too felt I had finally landed right where I belonged. As we each met each other in and around the hotel over those 4-days I realized that although we each had different jobs and came from different kinds of families, we were all exactly the same within our souls. We each were denied our souls.

When asked, “How to Survive” regarding Late-Discovery-Adoption I drew a complete blank. I wondered, “Have I survived?” At least in the eyes of my fellow adoptees, and the moms who gave birth to us, I appear to be a survivor. Within my mind I have reservations. I am not convinced that adoption is survivable; it affects each of us for our entire life. Perhaps I can best offer some suggestions at how to cope with being a Late-Discovery-Adoptee.

Find a theme song. It seems every LDA has one. For me it was Sinead O’Connor’s “Mother.” For one of my friends it was “Angel” by Sarah McLachlan. While I listened to this song daily, I found it meant the most to me when I was in a long hot bath alone with my thoughts and a few candles.

Be sure to share your story. Revealing yourself to others in the Late-Discovery community is a daunting task. It was the first time in my life that I felt genuine fear. I felt unworthy of having friendships with other adoptees. I was new to the scene while they had known all of their lives. Surprisingly I was immediately embraced not only by fellow LDA’s but likewise from the entire adoption community.

I took a vow the day I found out my truth. I pledged to live my adopted life with 100% transparency. My adoption experience is something I decided was not to be my shame, but rather my triumph. I have met fellow adoptees as well as our moms and dads who accepted me for who I am. They have become my family over these years. When I found my birth families, my community through adoption welcomed them included as well.

While our lives as LDA’s were shrouded in secrecy and lies, our stories belong to us. We need to reveal ourselves to others in our world. Perhaps one day there will be enough awareness of our pain and our plight that lies within adoption will finally grind to a halt. Until that time comes, we must always support each other and freely share ourselves.

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Continued tales from the LDA.

November 4, 2015

Grief continues to engulf me. I grieve for the woman I never met; the one who gave birth to me. I think about her every day.

Being a late-discovery-adoptee has taken a toll on me over these past 8-years. While I am now reunited with both sides of my birth families, there is a hole in my heart as deep as a well. I miss my mom, even though we never got to meet. I miss a lot of people, yet I cannot grieve for those who betrayed my trust and led me away from the truth of my very existence for most of my lifetime.

I have managed to pull together a basic medical history. However, I fear it is too late to be of much help to me. Had I known in my youth that diabetes runs in my family, I could have been more careful. I was in my 40’s when I was tested and discovered I have a problem. Now I have macular degeneration of the retinas because treatments for my elevated blood sugar were too little too late. My retina specialist described my condition as being like an old house with rusty pipes that leak. My blood vessels are the leaky pipes. My eyeballs are the playing ground for a disease that will eventually blind me. Lack of medical history sucks if you are adopted. I’ve realized that the blow back from being lied to for so long effects more than just my psyche; it has taken over my entire body.

I’ve gone into therapy for PTSD. I never was in a real life shooting, fighting, guts-n-grit combat situation. My trauma centers around my loss of identity, disappointments, joblessness, and various forms of abuse. I have learned that dealing with PTSD is like herding cats. It’s tougher than you’d guess. My therapist told me I need to look for at least one positive memory or experience for each bad thing, each trauma, I have encountered during my lifetime. There are good memories: I have two half-sisters, nephews, nieces, a birth dad, grandparents, and a shitload of cousins all of whom have warmly welcomed me.I have amassed some amazing friends through the adoption community. I’ve traveled to speak at adoption conferences, I’ve met state legislators, lobbied at conventions, and been in newspapers and on television all in support of adoptee rights. I’ve found my tribe.

At the same time, I don’t fit in like I thought I would. It’s my fault. I can’t figure out my role. Maybe enough time has not yet come to pass? I’m still learning my family dynamics. This might take a while to sort out.

 

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Unknown – My 3 year update on being adopted

March 27, 2010

“UNKNOWN”

March 28, 2010 marks a rather unorthodox event for me. It’s the three-year anniversary of the day in 2007 when I learned I was adopted. I was 41 years old at the time. On that day I became unknown to myself. I became an adoptee who could no longer claim to know his heredity, family health history, ancestry, or much of anything else.

Those who know me best are aware that I’m not a traditional-style blogger. My last blog was nearly three years ago when I chose to share my adoption story. Now as I approach the three-year anniversary of my discovery, I feel the need to again put pen to paper.

Since my initial essay, not much has changed in my search for family; they and I are unknown. After three years of waiting I still have no non-ID information from the social service agency that placed me. My files cannot be located. I know of many adoptees who are told the same thing, though in my case I do happen to trust the person who is facilitating my records inquiry. While other adoptees have been told their records were destroyed in a fire, flood, famine, or clerical error, my facilitator admits to being totally overwhelmed by the high demands placed on her. She works alone, managing the entire DSS for all current placements. She handles every home visit, foster parent interview, PINS case, and court appearance alone. Occasionally if she can schedule 30 to 60 minutes of open time, she searches for my records. The records are not archived, but rather stored in piles on the floor. Some of these files have not been seen or touched by human contact in over 50 years. Essentially I am still at the mercy of the original case worker from the 1960s: her lack of ethics and her incompetence.

My records, along with many others, were corrupted back in the 1960s. Case workers at that time swept over every footprint that our past intended to leave behind. Aliases were assigned to each party involved in the foster care and adoption procedure. Aliases were also given to bastards and first families alike. Birthdays were not recorded. Rather than reporting that “Father worked as a machinist at the Schmidt Ball Bearing Factory” it may state “Father: Industrial.” Older adoptive siblings may be reported with no ages or genders assigned. They may also be reported “unknown.”

For lack of the ability to search, I’ve been more of a casual observer of the adoption process. Besides observing, I’ve become dedicated to our fight for legal change to the broken legislation process that 46 American states work under. I think this blog will be more about my observations than my work with the lobby. I’ve observed quite a bit, and I want to share these observations.

One observation from today: It’s very frustrating for me to now be approaching 45 years of age, and have no idea of who I am, why I’m here, where I come from, when the decision was made to give me away, and what of it all. Lately I have been more retrospective than looking to the future. I’ve been examining the gory little details surrounding my adoption and my eventual discovery of it.

Some thoughts I have on my adoptive family include the way I was referred to as a kid, though I did not pick up on the significance of it at the time. One example that never occurred to me in childhood was how my dad’s side of the family referred to me. Typically I was known only as “Herm’s boy.” I have no memory of anyone in dad’s family referring to me by name. I thought nothing of it 30 to 40 years ago. Now I’m thinking it meant that I was an acquired possession. I was owned by my parents; not nurtured, but the personal property of Herman Hancock. My paternal side of the family regarded me as property; a commodity that in theory could be returned or exchanged for another model. In reflection, I see them as tolerating me, but never accepting me.

In my first blog I cited how I was overlooked by my paternal grandmother in being granted the same perks my “cousins” received just for being related to her. How my name was conspicuously missing from the list of names in the “Hancock Family Bible,” how never had a quilt made for me by “Gram” as she did for all of my cousins, and how I sensed from a very early age that I fit in with none of them. Today those feelings of being ostracized, unaccepted, and ignored are stronger than ever. Many little incidents from many years ago now haunt me. How could I have been so naïve, unsuspicious, gullible, and easy to fleece? Why was I not smart enough to see it coming back then? I should have fought harder the times that I sought the truth from my parents.

Overwhelming evidence supported my theory, the hunch I always had that I was from another clan. Children on the school bus calling me “foster kid” were a fair indication that I *might* have been adopted. These were the same children whose mothers frequented the Hancock household as guests of my mom’s weekly tête-à-tête. In a simple get-together the darkest and deepest neighborhood secrets were divulged. How could any of them *not* know I was a foster placement considering how I *could* have been plucked away at any moment to become part of another clan? Accordingly, I now know that the entire gossip tribunal of Gowanda’s Broadway Road was well aware of “That Foster Kid” throughout my budding years. Again, why was I denied the truth by my own “flesh and blood” while creepy little shits on the bus got away with name calling, physical harassment, and old-school bullying? What sucks, too, is that I fought them and stood up for myself as being my parents’ son. After all, my parents would know the truth of whether I were their son or not, so why question what they told me?

Bullying and torment didn’t end at the bus stop. It continued in church and Sunday school. My parents intended to raise me to become a “God-fearing Free Methodist.” This faith was practiced on both sides of my family going way back to the Free Methodist indoctrination of 1866.

I practiced their faith like Hell for over 20 years before I resigned, hanging my head in shame. It was only recently that my mom divulged the teeny bit of truth that my first mom was Catholic. According to the case worker, my first mom wanted more than anything for me to be raised by a traditional Catholic family. How then did I land in the one Protestant denomination most geared towards Catholic intolerance? Free Methodism believes, among other things, that Catholics are idol worshipers. Instilled into each youngster forced into attending Sunday school at the Gowanda Free Methodist Church were fanciful facts nearly akin to “Catholics devour their young.” Like the cultish “children of the corn,” we must have surmised that was the reason why Catholics have such large families.

“Vindicated” is the best word to describe how I feel now knowing that I am indeed adopted, and not part of either the Hancock or the Gowanda Free Methodist tribes! Upon graduation from a Free Methodist college, I eventually went to work as a teacher for the Catholic Diocese. 23 years later, I still work for them. It feels right, at least the friendship parts. I’m not too keen on their doctrine with regard to the inequality offered to women leaders of that faith. I’m also not crazy about some corrupted priests are nothing more than pedophiles waiting to be caught, only to later receive the pope’s blessing and forgiveness. However, through well over two decades of employment in Catholic schools I have met countless friends, families, children, and coworkers who accept me for who I am. That is far, far more than I can ever say with regard to Free Methodism.

I had an insight a few months ago regarding an incident that occurred in 1990 while Dad fought for his life in the hospital. I traveled a few hours to my parents’ home on my day off to mow their yard. It had sat unattended for several weeks, and resembled more an untamed plain than the lawn I once played on. Somehow Dad’s sister, my aunt, knew I was there and drove over. While waving her cane at me, she screamed for me to shut off the mower. When I walked over to her, she continued screaming. Her comments were harsh. She berated my conduct as an adult. She called me names like “sinner” and “heretic.” Insinuations were directed at me for being “evil” because I had quit Free Methodism “and went to work for the Catholics.” She ended by telling me I was one of Gods’ worse sinners, and that it was even more sinful because I didn’t even know it. Now I know she meant that adoptees are indeed of the devil. (After all of these years I now understand why and where that “666” carved in my forehead came from!)

Here’s another observation, this one less spiritual in nature. My dad passed away from cancer in 1990. Prior to his death, dad had been ill for many years from a bad heart. From the time I was a child until his death in 1990, I was vigilant; I knew that dad could die at any minute. My sister (“the imp”) made it a priority to remind me of that every day for over 20 years. The day following his death I traveled first to the hospice in Buffalo to gather up mom and her luggage. From there we traveled to our home. We were to begin making arrangements at the funeral home and wait for more family traveling in from out of town.

It was at the funeral home that something struck me as unusual. As mom and I were drafting the obituary and signing off on Dad, my brother pulled into town from his long journey from out of state and rushed into the undertaker’s office. As I was placing the finishing touches on the obituary, my brother ripped away the pen from my hand and took over. I felt snubbed. He had always having been an alpha-male type of guy, so I dismissed it as typical behavior for him. Now I look back and see it differently. I currently see it as dad’s “real” son guaranteeing his own birthright by saving the Hancock legacy from the “Foster Kid.” This obituary, the final legacy for dad, incorrectly listed him as a US Navy veteran of WW2. Wouldn’t you think that a “real son” would have known what branch of service his father served in? The old man talked about his U.S. Army and his war every day of his life. I might have been a “Foster Kid,” but at least I knew what branch of the service he’d served in!

Being slighted by family is nothing new to anyone, whether you’re adopted or not. However, a new level of indignation emerged when my brother, 20 years my senior, thumped me away from creating an obituary, and then followed up by stealing what our dad had decided I should receive from his estate. Seventeen years later, when I discovered my adoption, that same brother, to his credit, advocated for our sister to cut her shit and start speaking to me again. (We’ll get back to her story in a little bit.) I actually appreciated my brother’s efforts a little bit that day – until he referred to himself as an “adoptive parent.” Decades earlier, my brother had remarried quickly after his first wife passed away. His second wife had a 12-year-old son from her first marriage. At age 21, her son chose to change his last name to our name because he had known his own dad for only two years before his death and felt my brother was now 100% his dad. My brother calling himself an “adoptive parent” is no more accurate than saying “Free Methodism is God’s only true faith.”

One more observation I’ve made pertains to friendship. The friends I had before discovery act differently now. Most have appeared to back away from me. Old college friends and work buddies act disappointed in me for fighting hard to attain equality as a human being. Most non-adopted do not understand how it feels to have no idea who you are. They do not understand how it feels to be treated by society as a castaway, a second-class citizen. They accuse us of being ungrateful for the upbringing we received, yet by the same token they take for granted the unquestionable rights they have at receiving their original birth certificates.

Old friends as well as total strangers have told me to be grateful I wasn’t aborted. Some old friends have told me that I do not deserve my birth certificate; after all, I should consider myself “lucky for being taken in by someone.” One old friend told me I was abandoned for a reason, and that reason was my birth mother’s business, not mine. Some old friends promised to support my lobby for change and to assist in my search, only to later retract. They withdrew over the usual myths, lies, and falsehoods surrounding non-existing promises of confidentiality. Other old friends lie, unable to admit they are against our cause because I “might not have all of the facts.”

I had a great, if not hilarious observation quite a few months ago. It was a memory from my wife’s and my wedding day in 1989. I had a co-worker and dear friend named Willola. She’s African-American, and slightly older than my mom. We were close and hung out together constantly. We actually had the kind of friendship you’d dream of having with your own mother. I loved her just as much as, maybe even more than, any “blood” relative. In the receiving line Willola met my parents for the very first time. She introduced herself by saying heartily, “I’m Jeff’s other mother!”

My parents’ immediate responses were expressions of horror on their faces. Both were momentarily pale and Dad fell out of his usual character; he had absolutely nothing to say in reply! It makes perfectly clear sense to me now. For a second or two they both thought Willola was my BIRTH MOM and had tracked me down on my wedding day! I don’t know which shocked them more: my birth mom finding me on my wedding day, or that my birth mom is African-American? While remembering this event recently, in light of the new knowledge of my adoption, I couldn’t stop laughing. As much as I love Willola, there is no way she could be my birth mom. Willola was the only African-American at our wedding, and though she was wearing the exact same dress as my mother-in-law, that’s where any other potential blood relationship ended.

Now three years post-discovery, I have many more questions than answers. There are far too many “unknowns” in my life, while not nearly enough things I know to create any sort of balance between the two. I have taken into consideration that maybe I’m to never receive my own information. Maybe I’m involved in all of this only for the purpose of supporting others? It could be my first-family is already dead. It has happened to friends of mine in search for reunion. I admit to this being my largest fear. Perhaps my first family simply gave up on me? Maybe they commenced on a search the day I turned 18 and gave up? Maybe someone called my parents house while I was in college during the 1980’s, and dad hung up on them? He did that to one of my best female friends from college on the premise that men and women can’t be “just friends” after one of them becomes engaged. Am I to lobby for equal access only to receive it, and late be denied when my records can’t be found? What if NYS retaliates for my activism by losing or destroying my files “by accident”? Sure, some of these thoughts seem excessive or unrealistic. Then again, do they really?

For my post-discovery friends to consider: How could my parents and family be so arrogant as to convince themselves that I would never learn of my adoption? Certainly Dad chose to keep it hidden from me at every cost. For 17 years following his death my mom retained his wish for my denial. What would spur a parent to do such a thing? When challenged with my persistent request for my birth certificate, mom only relented when I told her I would need to request a new copy from NYS. Had none of this ever been brought up, still to this day I am convinced I would still be kept in secrecy.

Not learning I’m adopted when I was younger was shameful. However, imagine if I had not learned three years ago. I would never have met all of the amazing and wonderful friends I know today. Friends from the New York State Unsealed Initiative Project, the Adoptee Rights Coalition, from Yahoo groups, and from my local search and support group would be “unknown” to me today. “Unknown,” as I remain to myself three years after learning this capricious knowledge, I cannot state enough how fortunate and blessed I truly am to know each of you.