Monthly Archives: June 2013

#25 Open Adoption Does Not Equal Open Records

BCBirth certificate

One morning, I woke up to the sounds of kitchen cabinets slamming. When my mom wasn’t happy, she made sure everyone knew it. I decided to go in to see what the cause of the commotion was. I hoped it had nothing to do with me.

But it did.

 

I sat down at the counter waiting to hear what my mom had to say. It was always better to wait to be addressed than to call attention to myself. After putting away (throwing) the dishes, she finally turned to me.

 

“Your mom refuses to sign the papers for you to get adopted.” She said it like it was my fault somehow.

 

“I thought I was already adopted.” As if reminding her might calm her down.

 

“Yes, we already adopted you but there’s paperwork that needs to be done for your birth certificate. We need her to sign the papers, but she says she’s not signing. Now, it’s going to cost us twelve hundred dollars to go around her.”

 

I wished my ‘real’ mom would have signed the papers so I wouldn’t be getting in trouble for it.

 

My mom continued, “Since your dad is retiring, he will get more benefits if we make this official. We need to get this paperwork done. It means more money every month.”

She said it like I needed to try to keep up. Believe me, I was trying.

 

But a couple of words she mentioned had caught my attention. Birth certificate. I had heard about it before. I knew I already had one because my mom changed the year on it for me to start school a year earlier than I was supposed to. She had said I was smart enough to go to school early. Maybe she had forgotten, so I decided to bring it up.

 

“I already have a birth certificate.” I tried to say it as nicely as I could. But then I had a question. “What’s on the birth certificate?”

 

“It tells who your mother and father are and where you were born.” She stated, but then seemed to drift off in thought.

 

I had a moment of clarity. “That will say who my ‘real’ father is!”

 

My mom looked back at me, took a deep breath and stated, “No, Meredith. It doesn’t.”

 

“You just said…” I tried to reason with her.

 

My mom interrupted me, “It has my name and your dad’s name on it. It doesn’t have your ‘real’ father’s name. It doesn’t even have your ‘real’ mom’s name.”

 

“Can I see it?” I didn’t believe what she was saying.

 

My mom disappeared into her bedroom for a moment and came back with the record. She handed it to me and I read:

“Certificate of Birth, hospital, my full name,

Born to: Mrs. Sadie Casterson, time and date, (year had been smudged and retyped),

On the back: Father’s name: Albert Casterson, birthplace was blank, his birthday,

Mother’s maiden name: Adoptive mom’s married name, birthplace: New Mexico,

Father’s birthday,

My weight; height.

My footprints

Mother’s thumbprints”

 

She was right. It said I had been born to her and my dad, my adoptive parents. There were lies all over this record.

 

“Why doesn’t this have my ‘real’ mom’s name, Gabriella, on it?” I asked.

 

She checked into the hospital under my name.” She answered.

 

“Why?” I was confused.

 

“I don’t know.” She then changed the subject, “I’m going to put this away so it doesn’t get anything on it.” She took the “birth certificate” back and disappeared with it back to her room.

 

Almost everything on the paper was wrong. I didn’t understand how this had happened.

When my mom came back in the room, I asked, “If you have that birth certificate, why do you need another one?”

 

“Because that one isn’t official.” Again, she sounded annoyed with me.

 

I felt further away from any answers than ever before. It seemed the more I found out, the more confusing things became.

 

A Question

I was sitting in an office beside my dad. My mom was sitting on the other side of him. We waited for a while, and finally a door to another office opened. A lady came out and spoke to my parents for a few minutes, but then informed them that she needed to speak to me alone. My parents seemed surprised to hear that, but instructed me to go with her.

 

I followed her into her office, and she shut the door. As we sat down, the lady smiled and said, “This will only take a moment. Since this is about you, I just need to ask you a question.”

 

Before I was even fully in my seat, she asked, “All I need to know is, are you happy living with Sadie and Albert?”

 

My thoughts flashed in my mind quickly and I had a sudden revelation. ‘This is my chance!!! This is my chance to escape and go be with my sisters.’ I smiled slightly as I thought about us all playing together every single day, never having to stand there at my front door waving goodbye as they left together with our mom. ‘We can be together every day playing, eating dinner together, going to school together, celebrating birthdays … we will never be separated again!’

 

I felt elated at the thought of our future together.

 

Just as I started to tell the lady I wanted to go be with my sisters, I had another thought.

But my dad is standing outside that door. When the lady tells him what I want, he will be so sad. He will be hurt by me wanting to leave him. I don’t want to hurt my dad at all. I would never do that. I love him so much, but there’s no way to avoid that door opening and him finding out that I want to leave so I can be with my sisters.’

My smile slowly left.

 

“I’m happy there.” I replied.

 

The lady seemed relieved to hear my answer, and I’m sure, glad her afternoon would go smoothly. “Great then, we can proceed.”

 

The entire time I was in her office was probably less than 1 ½ minutes.

I feel like that is the amount of time it took me to grow up and become an adult. I learned so much about life in that short time period. I learned how a person’s life could be based around lies. I learned that there were decisions in life that had consequences and no easy answers. I learned that there were choices in life that affected those around us and that to put others first, meant putting ourselves last. I also learned personal responsibility to not hurt those I loved.

 

Normally, I could see how these might be considered important life lessons that everyone needs to learn. However, in the context of this situation, I don’t think 8 year olds should self teach these principles in the manner I had to.

 

I was 8 years old and I already felt tired in life.

 

The lady opened the door and my dad was standing there. I was relieved I hadn’t hurt him but walked out of that office feeling heavy hearted.

 

Social Security Card

A few weeks later my dad took me to another office. He said we were getting my social security card and this was very important. He told me to take care of this card and memorize the number. The guy at the office told me that I had to sign the card. My dad couldn’t sign it for me.

 

As I signed, I realized, I had made this decision. I sealed my own fate that afternoon in that lady’s office, answering her one question to me and now it was official.

 

Commentary

Still here. Still tired. Still trying to get answers.

 

I have the amended birth certificate. It was issued the year this adoption was done, when I was 8 years old. I have the ‘certificate of birth’ which is the hospital record. The notation on it is that it is my “family’s heirloom record of the facts pertaining” to my birth. We all know that is not what it is. It is a lie.

 

My mom was right about that certificate of birth not being official. On the back of it, it states that fact. It reads that the official copy must be filed with the office of vital statistics, so that certificate issued from the hospital is worthless.

 

Open adoption does not equal open records. My records were sealed when my adoption was completed just like any other adoption. I cannot get a passport with my amended birth certificate. That hospital certificate is a joke.

 

I have filed for my original birth certificate. The state uses an intermediary to contact my biological mom to determine if she will sign for it to be released to me. I have no idea which one of my mother’s names will be listed for ‘biological mother.’ I have contacted my true biological mom to let her know the state may contact her to sign, but she has said she doesn’t see why she would need to sign when she never gave me up for adoption. In her mind, she let someone have “temporary custody” of me. I do not have the assurance that she will sign to release my records to me.

 

I do have an answer as to why my biological mom checked into the hospital under my adoptive mom’s name. She did it because my adoptive mom told her to. My adoptive mom orchestrated the entire plan and made sure it was executed according to her wishes. My biological mom was naïve enough to go along with it.

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#24 New Mexico

 

NM2My adoptive mom believed that I should know my biological family. She spent time with her family and she knew family was important. I sometimes question her motives in making sure I spent time with my family. I’m not convinced that it was the pure motivation of making sure I knew them. Due to comments she would occasionally make, I think she wanted me to know how “lucky” I was to have been adopted. I think she wanted me to see, firsthand, what I had, in her mind, escaped.

 

New Mexico

I was 8 years old and it was announced to me, by my adoptive mom that this summer I would be going with my ‘real’ mom, Gabriella, and my sister, Tori, to Gabriella’s hometown in New Mexico. My adoptive mom stated, “It will be good for you to know your people.”

 

Due to recent revelations of secrets and lies by my biological mom, as I now look back on this trip, I also think she had underlying motivations. Those will be discussed in a future post.

 

So, my biological mom, my sister and I took the bus from my home state to New Mexico. Once in New Mexico, one of my mom’s friends picked us up and took us to the town where my great grandmother lived. We stayed with her for the first part of our trip.

 

Great Grandmother

My great grandmother was very nice. The only problem was that she didn’t speak any English and I didn’t speak any Spanish, so I didn’t have a way to communicate with her except by asking my mom to translate. It didn’t exactly lend itself to us bonding much. However, she was very welcoming to me and it was a nice visit. My sister and I slept in the living room and one morning I woke up as my great grandmother came into the living room to fix her hair. She pulled her hair out of a bun, and her silver hair fell all the way down her back. It was beautiful.

 

We spent our days walking into town to go to various stores or to visit my mom’s friends. It was different there, but I liked it.

 

Eventually, we left my great grandmother’s house and went to a different town where my grandmother and the rest of my family lived. We stayed with one of my aunts. My welcome here was … different. As soon as we walked into my aunt’s house, she knelt down to me, took my face in her hands and said, “You are the one we were coming to get.”

 

It scared the crap out of me. I felt anxious the entire time we stayed there. Odd things happened. My aunt spoke back to the TV. My cousins rolled, what I thought were funny looking cigarettes. Another cousin ran away which caused two days worth of drama. Everyone was loud, and spoke a lot of Spanish, and I felt lost in the crowd. Fortunately, I had my sister and we fought less than usual during this trip. She liked bossing me around, and I really didn’t mind during this time because I didn’t know what to do most of the time anyway.

 

I do want to mention, that some of these things happened while my mom was away from the house. I think she tried to protect my sister and me as much as possible.

 

But there was one thing she wasn’t there to protect me from.

 

Grandmother

I spent the night at another aunt’s house by myself, and my grandmother lived with them. I was up early the next morning because my cousin was a toddler and he woke me up. I tried to keep him entertained while everyone else slept in. Eventually though, I couldn’t contain him any longer and he went in and woke up my grandmother and one of my cousins who was in her late teens.

 

Since they were awake, I went in the bedroom where they were. My grandmother said to sit on the bed so we could talk. I jumped up eager, too eager, to please.

 

My grandmother started questioning me about being adopted.

 

“Do you like it there, at your house?”

 

I thought it would make her happy to know that I was happy. It’s all anyone seemed to care to hear, so I thought I knew how to answer this question.

 

“Yes, I’m happy.” I tried to reassure her.

 

My grandmother continued as my cousin listened, “Which mom do you love more, your ‘real’ mom or your mom that adopted you?”

 

I should have listened to the question more closely. Nobody had ever asked me this question before and I didn’t know what to do. So I gave the most diplomatic answer I could think of. “I love them both the same.” Queue the fake smile.

 

“No, I want an answer.” She replied sternly. “Which one do you love more?” She pressed.

 

I was uncomfortable. I didn’t like the question. I squirmed. I hesitated.

 

And then I answered.

 

I answered based on past logic. ‘Everybody wants to know you’re happy,’ I thought to myself. So, I said, “I guess I love my adoptive mom more.”

 

And then … fireworks. To say my grandmother disagreed with what I said would be an understatement. My grandmother went ballistic. There were things said that shouldn’t be said to a kid. She called into question my loyalties. She questioned my ability to love. She told me to work on developing love. These were among other things she said, and I sat there and took it. All the while my cousin backed up what my grandmother said. As I listened to them give me a tongue lashing, I wished the earth would swallow me up.

 

Afterwards, I felt humiliated. The entire rest of the time I was there, I was scared that my grandmother or my cousin would tell the rest of the family what I said, which mother I had chosen. Mostly, I was scared my ‘real’ mom would find out. I never wanted to hurt her at all. I loved her so much. Thankfully, nobody mentioned this again.

 

Commentary

Parents, both adoptive and birth, please remember that while you may plan out how to best answer your child’s questions about their adoption or plan how you will explain their story to them in carefully chosen words, there are others in your family who will not, I repeat, will not follow those same guidelines. Whether it is a young cousin your child’s same age who tauntingly says, “You’re not really my cousin,” or the grandmother who asks your child which mother/family she loves more, things will be said to the child that you cannot control.


An expression my adoptive mom used quite often was “Not Likely.” Instead of answering with a direct no, she used this expression.

Give her a suggestion? You would be met with “Not Likely.”

Ask her for something? Her reply would be “Not Likely.”

 

Will your child tell you when someone in your family says something like this to him or her? “Not Likely.”

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#23 Don’t Tell …

TellI was 8 years old and was visiting my biological mom again. My parents had driven me to her house for another stay and then I was supposed to fly home with Gabriella and my sisters. They were going to my hometown for another visit with Gabriella’s in-laws.

 

Questions and Answers

 

A few days into the visit, I finally had the opportunity I had been looking for. My biological mom was in the bathroom alone doing her hair and I was sitting in there watching her. The door was closed so I knew nobody could hear us.

 

I finally worked up the courage to talk to her about all of my questions. Well, except the one about why she gave me away. I didn’t have the courage for that one.

 

I took one of her hair brushes in my hand and busied myself with running the bristles through my fingers. I didn’t want to scare her by being too direct. I tried getting into the conversation casually.

 

“That was funny about what Tori said about my feet. I don’t think they are THAT big!” I laughed to get her to laugh too. She had a softness to her laugh.

 

“Where do you think I get my big feet? Did my father have big feet?”

 

She quit laughing with me, but answered “Yeah, that’s probably where you got them.”

 

Since she seemed okay with answering, so I decided to continue. “Do I look like him?”

 

She answered “Yes, you do a little bit,” as she looked down at me, but then went back to fixing her hair.

 

“So that must be where I get my dark skin since we are Mexican,” I stated.

 

Suddenly she dropped the comb she had in her hand and turned her entire body toward me. “Don’t tell people you’re Mexican,” she snapped! She quickly calmed herself, but continued, “People think Mexicans are dirty. From now on, tell people you’re Spanish. Understand?”

 

“Yes.” I agreed.

 

But I didn’t agree at all. I just didn’t want her to be mad at me. I didn’t understand why Mexicans were considered dirty. I didn’t feel like I was a dirty person at all. I had agreed to abide by her rule, but never did. I just could never see why I would say I wasn’t Mexican when I clearly was.

 

I thought about our conversation later that night. I kept thinking about the fact that she had answers to who my father was. If she had been tricked by him and gotten pregnant without knowing who he was like my adoptive mom had told me, she wouldn’t have known what he looked like. But she did know him. I kept thinking about who he might be. I wanted her to tell me, but didn’t have the courage to ask.

 

The other thing I kept thinking about was that my worst fear had happened. I had tried to get my questions answered and I had made my ‘real’ mom mad. That was never my intention. It wasn’t about to get any better.

 

“I’m adopted”

 

As I have shared, my adoptive mom referred to me as her ‘adopted daughter’ to absolutely everyone we met. I had heard it so often that I too had started referring to myself as ‘adopted’ to every single person I met, dutifully following my adoptive mom’s lead.

 

My biological mom, my two sisters and I boarded the plane for the trip home. Gabriella sat directly behind me with my oldest sister, Lacey. My sister, Tori, and I sat in the row in front of them. We had just sat down and the flight attendant came by to see if we needed anything. As soon as she approached, I announced loudly, “I’m adopted.”

 

Immediately, I felt a kick in the back of my seat and my sister Tori groaned and rolled her eyes at me. I didn’t know what I had done, but I wanted to melt into my seat. I knew everyone was displeased.

 

The flight attendant knelt down so she could look me in the eyes. She had the most understanding face I had ever seen. “You are?” She said in a half statement, half question sort of way.

 

“Yes.” I answered all at once hoping this moment would end because I didn’t want to draw any more attention to it and hoping it wouldn’t end because I knew the wrath that awaited me by my entire family, although I didn’t exactly know why.

 

“Well, if you need anything while you are flying with us today, you just press this button and I will come by, okay?”

 

“Okay,” I answered, feeling embarrassed. As soon as she stood up and walked off, I turned in my seat to see what I had done wrong.

 

My sister Tori immediately elbowed me and my ‘real’ mom said, “Don’t tell people that!” My other sister just looked away from me, out the window.

 

I turned back around feeling my face grow warm. I felt like an idiot. I wished I could have taken my words back. I had obviously broken some rule about not telling people this fact of being adopted and managed to embarrass myself in front of my sisters and mother who I only wanted to make happy.

 

I vowed to never tell anybody I was adopted after that. But it wasn’t quite that easy. My adoptive mom continued introducing me as adopted. I wanted to tell her that Gabriella wouldn’t want her to do that, but I never had the nerve to say it. It would be something I would hear for the entirety of my life. “This is my daughter Meredith. She’s adopted.”

 

Commentary

 

Have you ever considered how hard it was to make your mom happy? Now imagine trying to make two moms happy.

 

It was difficult playing by one set of rules at one home and another set in a different home, never seeming to meet all of the house rules at either. I tried, but failed miserably. The transition between the two homes was rough and took its toll. Open adoption can bring challenges such as this.

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#22 Up For Adoption

upOnce I had been back home for a while, things settled down, but I continued having a problem with my biological mom. Since we had spent so much time together while I was at her house over the summer, I thought I would hear from her more often. I thought we would be closer now. My expectation was that I would receive letters and phone calls often, but as was her practice, she didn’t write or call often at all. This lead to a completely frustrating experience for me.

 

When she did call, I took the opportunity to tell her that I wanted to talk to her more. She always made promises to call me and would even say that she was working on a song that she was writing about me. I was thrilled to know that I was so important to her! I wanted to hear the song immediately, but she said it wasn’t done yet and that she wanted to finish it before she sang it to me. Needless to say, it kept me hooked.

 

“Up for adoption”

 

My adoptive mom and I frequently went on trips to go see her family (sisters/nieces etc.). They lived about 6 hours away, so we typically went every couple months. During one of these trips, I was with one of my cousins, Faith. She wasn’t my age. She was in her late twenties. We were taking a long drive to go to another relative’s house and on the way, she started asking me questions.

 

“You got to go see Gabriella, your ‘real’ mom?” She asked.

“Yes.” I answered.

“So, how do you feel about being put up for adoption? Are you glad she did that?” She continued.

 

People got my attention when they used that expression “put up for adoption.”

 

I went with my mom to auctions as I have described here, and when I heard “put up for adoption” it reminded me of the expression “put up for auction.” My mom had told me that when people didn’t want something anymore, it was “put up for auction.” During the auction, the announcer would say “next up, we have this item” and then he would raise it high up so everyone could see it. When someone referred to me as being “put up for adoption,” I always had this visualization of the auctioneer holding me up high in the air as a baby, wrapped in a pink blanket, saying I was the next item “up for auction.” “Highest bidder wins!”

 

“Up for adoption.” Such an odd expression.

 

As my cousin, Faith, was asking these questions, her voice sounded very chipper. I had become pretty good at figuring out how people wanted me to answer their questions to make them happy. In this case, this was my adoptive mom’s niece, and I knew she wanted me to say that I was happy I had been “put up for adoption.” (Plus, at the moment my ‘real’ mom had hurt my feelings because she wasn’t calling or writing.)

 

So I did.

 

“Yes, I’m really lucky because my parents love me.” Then I focused on telling her how getting to live at the farm was great and having all of the stuff like toys and bikes was great, and I was really REALLY happy.

 

I don’t know if she bought it, but she seemed happy that I was so happy.

 

Then Faith asked, “But is it weird when you visit your ‘real’ mom’s house? Like does it seem you are part of two families? It seems like it might be hard.”

 

This question wasn’t so easy to answer. She was the first person to ask me how I was feeling and I wasn’t sure how to answer to make her happy on this one.

 

“No, it’s not weird. I like it.” Then I repeated back to her what she had said. “I get to be part of two families.”

 

She didn’t ask any more questions about it, but she did say that she was glad that I was happy.

 

I just hoped she didn’t tell anyone about our conversation. I didn’t want to keep lying so much to make sure everyone was happy.

 

Commentary

 

A couple days ago my oldest sister said that I had been a “weird little kid.” It made me laugh. But, now as I sit here, I’m not surprised at all that I was perceived as “weird.”

 

I’m still weird but that’s okay, because now, I’m ME weird and I’m cool with that. Back then, I was weird because I was never ME. I tried to be whatever I thought someone else wanted me to be.

 

Can adoptee children ever be themselves? I wonder about that because there are so many worries that they were given up once, and if they don’t make their parents happy, could they be given up again. Personally for me, there was never any threat of being given up again. But there was something. Some thought in my mind that nothing was certain. There were no hard and fast rules.

 

Hard and fast rules meant you were born and your parents took care of you. Obviously, those rules didn’t apply to me so I always had this ‘who knows’ attitude as to what would happen in the future. It made me try to be that ‘good adoptee’ who says things like, “I’m lucky. I’m happy I was adopted.”

 

I think if that’s all you are hearing from your child who is adopted, then you may not be getting the full story.

 

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