Letters from Carol 1975

In late August, my natural mom and her sisters met at my Grandma Audrey’s house to begin going through her personal belongings. It’s been several months since Grandma passed away, so it was time to start the process. They found some interesting items during their work: pieces of scrap paper with poetry Grandma had written; greeting cards from family and friends; love letters exchanged between Grandma and my grandfather (who passed away prior to my reunion with my natural family); and empty envelopes that looked as if they had been swept up with handfuls of other items and stashed away in a frenzied cleaning effort.

Among Grandma’s things, they found a series of letters that my mom wrote to her family while she was in Memphis, TN waiting to have me; there are eleven letters in total that were written between January and March 1975. The letters were primarily contained in a single envelope with a simple phrase to identify them, “Letters from Carol 1975.” I find the phrase interesting. I know Grandma was very careful to avoid open references to me – especially after my brothers were born – but I suspect there’s more to it than that explanation. I bet if you lived through sending your youngest daughter away to have and then relinquish your first grandchild, it wouldn’t take many words on an external envelope to remind you what was inside. “Letters from Carol 1975” was probably all my Grandma needed to see.

The letters are equally heart-breaking, surprising, and funny.

My mom, not quite 17 when the journey in Memphis began, was terribly homesick. While she frequently mentions how much she likes the foster family with whom she is staying, she also writes a lot about missing the family and her baby kitten, Sebastian.

Mom’s letters also reveal the guilt she felt about the shame it may have caused the family for her to be pregnant. In one striking passage she writes, “It would be foolish to say that I won’t ever disappoint you again but I can say that I’ll never hurt you and Daddy like this again or ever give you cause to be ashamed to claim me as your girl.”

There’s not much mention of my dad, except the part where Mom declares that she’s sure “everything is over between us” and that “if he did come back I’d just slam the door in his face because he’s hurt me enough.” (Sorry, Pop, I know you read my blog, and you know that I have no hard feelings about how things went down with you and Mom, but I think it’s important to share her thoughts – even the difficult ones).

The letters contain a surprising amount of dialogue about my dad’s mom (who passed away prior to my reunion with my natural family), who apparently made quite a bit of effort to stay in touch with my mom, even offering to help support her if she decided to keep me. In one passage Mom writes that my paternal grandmother told her, “Carol, I think about you more than you will ever know. If I can ever help you in any way, let me know because you will always be like a daughter to me. If I had a daughter, I would like for her to be just like you.”

I also was surprised by the fact that the doctor felt my Mom had gained too much weight with me, so she was actually on a diet while she was pregnant with me. This didn’t go over well with Mom who wrote at one point, “I’m putting in an early order for a big stack of pancakes when I get home. JoAnn made some yesterday but I didn’t get any cause their (sic) too fattening. My mouth just watered and watered and I could hardly stand it.”

My favorite light-hearted moments are in two early letters. In one, Mom drew a self-portrait that is basically a stick figure with a huge belly, and she writes, “I’m kinda glad no one there will be able to see me SO big cause that’s hard on my ego. Next time you see me I’ll be my old skinny self again.” In another, she declares, “Mom, I have good news for you. I ate liver! JoAnn fixed it last week and I suffered through it. It really wasn’t too bad.”

For me, the most important parts of the letters reveal Mom’s struggle in deciding whether to keep me or allow me to be adopted. I don’t know how most adoptees feel, but I longed to know that I really was wanted – at least by someone in my natural family. When we reunited, my mom explained that she always wanted me, but just felt she couldn’t keep and support me at the age of 17. Actually reading her words at that age confirmed everything she said to me in the beginning. A couple of very important passages to me include:

  • “I’ve made the hardest decision I’ve ever had to make and I have to stick to it. I really believe it’s the best for my baby and no matter how hard it is for me, I have to put the baby’s future first.”
  • “I want my baby and I love it so much and because I love it I want to do what’s best for it. If there was anyway that I could give it the kind of life it deserves and needs I would keep it with me. But I’m afraid that I can’t give it the kind of life it should have even though I love it so. I just want to do what’s right…”

Oh, I don’t want to forget the bonus material in the envelope – a photo of my mom on her 17th birthday with a very visible baby bump. That’s me 22 days prior to my birth. It’s pretty cool to have a pregnancy photo of my mom. Most kids have those, but I had given up hope something like that existed. Makes me really happy that Grandma was a pack rat.

Mom and the Baby Bump

Advertisements

I am a Selfish Adoptee

As you might imagine, I read numerous blog posts about adoption. It’s helpful to see what other adoptees, natural parents, and adoptive parents say about their respective journeys. Most of the time those posts give me encouragement, but occasionally one will frustrate me. I read one of the frustrating ones about a week ago.

The writer was an adoptee who has been told it is “selfish” to search for members of her birth family. She posted questions that have been posed to her throughout the years, including: “Your adoptive family is so great! Why would you need anyone else?” She also cited an online comment regarding a question posed on Debate.org about adopted children seeking their biological parents without their consent. In short the comment read, “The adopted child should get down on his knees and THANK GOD who intervened on the child’s behalf and provided warm, stable, loving parents…”

If understanding where you come from is selfish…

If knowing your medical history is selfish…

If desiring to have a relationship with people who carry your DNA is selfish…

If wanting to expand your definition of family is selfish…

If hoping to find someone who looks like you is selfish…

Then I am a selfish adoptee. And I wear that moniker with pride because getting to know my natural family equals the blessing I had in being raised by my adoptive one.

For those who regard this as “selfish” in a negative way, I raise this simple question, “Can you ever really have enough connections to people who love you and understand you?” Because that’s what I have in both my natural and adoptive families. And I wish more people had that too!

Would the “Real” You Please Stand Up?

A winter wonderland has descended upon the Mid-Ohio Valley. Our church is one of many that cancelled services today, so I’m sitting in my recliner with a warm blanket while Jeff is checking Facebook in his office and my mom (Carol) is reading a book. The quiet is nice, though my mental peace was interrupted a few minutes ago by a blog post I saw on Facebook.

The gist of the post was that “Duck Dynasty” is fake – not just the parts of the show that the family has admitted over and over are scripted – but that the people themselves are fake. Before you start to worry this is going to be a “Duck Dynasty” rant and stop reading, don’t worry, that’s not where this is going. But, I do need to tell you about the other blog post before I can get to my point, so stay with me. The “evidence” used to support this claim primarily comparing photos of the Robertson men without beards to photos of the Robertson men with beards. A few jumps in logic from there, and voila, the Robertson men (and their entire families) are fake. While I am hoping that particular blog post was a bit of sarcasm that I missed, I’ll continue to my point anyway.

When did it become our role as humans to deem other humans fake? Especially when we base the judgments on something as simple as their exterior appearance? When I worked at a university as their in-house lawyer, I dressed up every day. For those of you who know me well, you know that was a chore because I much prefer to wear blue jeans, t-shirts, and tennis shoes. But I did dress up to match the expectations of my employer. Does that mean I was fake then? Does it mean I am fake now because I typically wear my preferred wardrobe? Does it mean I am fake when I meet with clients and dress up to match their expectations?

Most of us have many layers, and even those of us who insist that we are the same with everyone no matter what, would be hard-pressed to support that argument to its logical conclusion faced with complex situations. We may have a certain style that is most comfortable for us, but I suspect we dress differently for certain situations based on external expectations. We may generally be open about who we are, but I suspect we tell our best friend things we would never tell strangers. We may have an opinion about something today, but I suspect we would be open to change that opinion tomorrow in the face of new facts to consider.

People are complicated and life situations make us more so.

When I finally decided to seek out my natural family two years ago, part of my journey was designed to help me gain understanding of who I am. I clearly knew how my adoptive family impacted me, and my friends, and my co-workers, and the various people who had been put in my life to that point, but I didn’t know how my natural family had impacted me. I am beginning to discover those things now, and I suspect it is shaping me. Does that mean the pre-reunion Becky was fake? Or perhaps it means the post-reunion Becky is fake?

I say it’s all me. Granted, it’s an evolution of me, but it’s still me.

I wish we would give each other the benefit of the doubt and assume we are all the “real” us. Does that mean we will sometimes look like we contradict ourselves? Probably so. Does that mean that we will reveal more of ourselves to some and not others? Likely. Does that mean some will like us and some won’t? I’m guessing so.

But we all need to give ourselves and each other room to evolve. Humans aren’t meant to be static. We are meant to grow. People, places, and circumstances alter us and that’s what it means to be human.

So, go out and be you. Some people will hate it, but some people will love it. And those who hate it don’t need to see your multi-faceted layers, and those who love it should see those layers. And you can rest in the knowledge that you are real and anyone who says otherwise is just going through their skeptical phase as a human and you can pray for them to get over it – quickly.

My Payne Family Tattoo

Last weekend, I spent about 4 hours at Lure Tattoo in Vienna, WV getting my fourth tattoo. Mat Ward, the tattoo artist, created another beautiful piece of art to honor my natural family – this time my natural mom’s family.

From the minute I reunited with my natural mom, the Payne family has been “all in” with me. There was no hesitation in accepting me as part of them, because to them I always have been part of them. The first communications with my natural mom quickly escalated to calls with Grandma Audrey, email exchanges with Aunt Arlene, Aunt Teresa, and Uncle Kenny, and additional Facebook friends in the form of my brothers (Damon and Jared) and sister-in-law (Anyse). When I met many of the Payne family members during the spring and summer of 2012, it was like I had come home after being on an extended trip and just needed to get acquainted with everyone again. I have no idea why God made our genetic connections so powerful, but it has been a blessing to me in reuniting with the Payne family.

The tattoo is a very special design based on some key moments in the reunion process with my natural mom.

  • There are two dates – March 20, 1975 and February 19, 2012 – which are our separation and reunion dates. March 20 is my birthday and February 19 is the day we first spoke.
  • The tattoo also features a river that separates over a hill into two branches and eventually comes back together over another horizon. Having come from the same source, we were separated, but are now united again. The river is particularly important because very early on in our reunion, my natural mom sent me a photo of rivers merging with a promise that she would not allow anything to separate us again.
  • The river also has significance because one of my favorite songs is “Aqueous Transmission” by Incubus, which includes the lyrics, “I’m building an antenna, transmissions will be sent. When I am through maybe we can meet again, further down the river. And share what we both discovered, then revel in the view.”
  • The landscape scene is “framed” in a heart-shaped bouquet of flowers with the family name “Payne” at the top, representing the love that my natural mom and the rest of the Payne family had for me regardless of the fact I was separated from them.

The tattoo is on my upper right leg. I tried to be modest in having the photo taken, but please forgive me if you are seeing more of my upper leg than you desired to see.

DSC02494

The Meaning of “Adopted”

I don’t spend most of my time focused on the fact that I’m adopted. That’s not to say that I am not acutely aware of it, but I don’t obsess about it or spend every waking moment thinking about the implications of being adopted. Most of the time it’s just like any other fact about me – it just is and doesn’t demand much thought or explanation. Granted the reunions with my natural families have brought it to the forefront in the last two years, but even that has just become part of the fabric of my life now. On most days, I’m just being me and that means I have lots of families. All of this is true on most days. Today is not one of those days.

Today, I am wondering what it really means to be adopted. My day started innocently enough. I went to the gym, led a lunch and learn opportunity, ate a late lunch with a client, and answered emails. Then, I went for an afternoon haircut. And that’s where my day shifted. The conversation in the shop was pretty casual and focused on the fact that an individual’s mom just celebrated a birthday. The lady telling the story explained that her mom is now 83, but they put the candles on the cake backwards so it would say 38. Of course, her mom got a big kick out of that fact and snickered because the daughter always says she’s 39, which prompted the mom to say, “Oh, I guess I couldn’t have had you. You must be adopted.” The daughter laughed while telling the story and noted, “Well, if I was adopted at least I was wanted by someone.”

Ouch. Is that what adoption really means? That someone wanted me – with a heavy dose of implication that someone else did not? I have to admit, that thought stinks. Not just for me, but for all adopted kids. I’ve always thought it was a bit more complicated. That my parents probably did want me, but life circumstances led them to make a decision to give me to someone else rather than keep me. Now that I’ve heard their stories, I think that is true. But not every adopted kid has heard their parents’ perspectives. And that means there may be a bunch of kids who really stress over that heavy dose of implication. Wanted by some, but not by all.

Interestingly, I’ve often struggled with what it really means to be adopted. As I was growing up, my parents had a tendency to “claim” people – meaning they would take them in (sometimes physically, but always emotionally) and support them. In fact, they still do that, which I think is cool. But in introducing those folks to others, they would often say something like, “this is our adopted son/daughter.” In some ways, I knew I was distinguished from those individuals because I was never introduced as adopted, but because I knew I was adopted, I wondered if there really was a difference between them and me. I have always been a good thinker, so I often rationalized the distinctions – for instance, I was living in the home and the “adopted son/daughter” was not – but I still struggled with the idea that I might not be so different from one of those people. That in reality, it could have easily been one of them living with my family rather than me if the timing would have been different.

One of the cool things that has come from my reunion with my natural families is that I’ve seen where I belong with both families. But on days like today, when I struggle to understand what this whole adoption thing really means, I wonder if it’s more like I don’t quite belong to either family. And that thought does not help my already well-established tendency to believe I should rely only on myself because you never know when someone might walk away (by the way, this is apparently a common reaction in adopted kids).

I realize this post isn’t exactly encouraging, but it’s real. And because I was still thinking about it after a 2-hour lawn-mowing expedition, dinner, and an ice cream cone, I figured I better get the thoughts out of my head and onto paper. Here’s to hoping the next post is more positive. In the meantime, I’m going to try to stop thinking and get some rest. Hope you guys have a great night!

Symbols of Connection

Throughout time, individuals have sought to identify themselves with each other. Whether we use last names, tribal paint, jewelry, or team clothing, it appears we use those symbols to let others know to whom we belong or who we claim.

When I married my husband, I took his name, but I kept my maiden name as well. While it was important to me to identify myself with him (and his clan), it was of equal importance for me to keep my maiden name because it identifies me with my clan. I like carrying my full name – even though it’s very long and I have to spell it every time I meet someone because most people just don’t get the hyphenated name thing.

I like using my full name because it properly honors my families. At least it did until last year. Now, I have two additional families to honor and it’s just not practical to add two more names to an already lengthy set of names.

So, yesterday I embarked on my journey to recognize my other families by getting a tattoo to honor my natural dad’s family. I started there for two reasons. First, because yesterday was his birthday and I thought it was another cool symbol to have my tattoo done on his special day. Second, because my connection with my natural dad’s family is more loose than with my natural mom’s family, I need the symbol to help remind me I am part of them too.

I’m posting a photo, and here’s the explanation of the key elements:

1. Peace pipe = honoring Creek Indian heritage
2. Reynolds = my natural dad’s last name
3. The words peace and love = my natural dad’s signature phrase

WARNING! WARNING! WARNING!

THE TATTOO IS ON MY UPPER THIGH.

SCROLL DOWN AT YOUR OWN RISK.

YOU’VE BEEN WARNED.

Reynolds Tattoo

The Primal Wound – Abandonment

A friend (who is an adoptive parent) recently suggested I read “The Primal Wound” by Nancy Newton Verrier. I have read numerous books about adoption, but most focused on search and reunion processes because I began reading as I was seriously considering my search (again) a couple of years ago. While Verrier’s book includes information about search and reunion, the core of the book is about the impact abandonment has on babies. I marked significant passages in the book and will likely write several posts about my reactions to those passages. I have not spoken much about the “wound” that I experienced as an adoptee, but I hope doing so now will give me peace in the matter and serve as a reminder to all adoptees that someone understands. Here goes…

The adoption process – a beautiful, loving experience – always begins with an abandonment. Those are not the exact words in Verrier’s book, but that’s how I interpreted what I read. Abandonment. It’s a word we don’t like to throw around much in relationship to adoption, which is why my adoptive parents took great pains to explain to me that only a mom who loved me so much could actually give me to another family. Turns out, they were right. My natural mom made her decision because she believed I would be better off with a two-parent family. But the abandonment occurred nonetheless.

As a kid, I intellectually acknowledged this loving natural mom who gifted me to my family, but emotionally I couldn’t help but process the feelings of it too – I was abandoned. Period. At times, I was so concerned about being abandoned again that I was basically paralyzed. I cried every day of first grade because I was afraid my parents wouldn’t pick me up from school. Literally cried. And made myself sick because I was so worked up. I waited anxiously every single day for a car I recognized because that was another day I would have a family. My adoptive parents never gave me any legitimate reason to question whether they would be there, but I questioned it anyway and likely drove them crazy trying to find solutions to my angst.

Verrier explores the power of the abandonment from an interesting perspective – it’s based on the bond a baby feels to her mother. A bond that is deep and strong regardless of whether the baby ever saw the mother or was held by the mother. The 40-week pregnancy experience is the source of the bond and allows the baby to know its mother’s smell, voice, touch, and, interestingly, allows it to pick out it mother’s face from a gallery of photos within minutes after birth (see page 5 referencing work by Dr. David Chamberlain). I wouldn’t have understood this idea prior to reuniting with my natural mom, but I get it. I get it because there is something about her voice that is soothing and washes peace over me – and it happened the very first time we spoke. We both wonder if it’s because of the countless hours she spoke to me while she was pregnant.

In my experience, abandonment is real. And it doesn’t go away. I still have abandonment anxieties that are played out in my every day life. For example, I have very few friends. That is driven, in part, by the fact that I am an introvert, but a piece of it is because I don’t allow myself to engage with people I don’t trust to keep me in their lives for a long, long time. Another example is in relationships. I have sabotaged several dating relationships because I was going to be the one doing the leaving. I knew it at the time, though I wouldn’t have admitted it then, but I didn’t feel like I had other good choices. Now, I am married to a great guy who, even in our toughest times, has never talked about giving up, but I have talked about throwing in the towel several times so that if he says “yes” it was really my idea. Intellectually, the whole thing is bizarre. If abandonment is so bad, why would I be willing to do it to someone else? But that’s just the thing. Abandonment isn’t about intellect. It’s about emotion. Emotion that comes from a child, a baby even. And that isn’t logical. And it’s all about self-preservation.

If you are the loved one of an adoptee who is dealing with these issues, please be patient with him/her. And if you are an adoptee and are experiencing these feelings, please know that other people have experienced them too. The wound is legitimate. And it’s okay to talk about it.