Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Discover How Family Tree Projects Trigger Loss and Trauma in Adoptees

Many adoptees particularly in closed adoptions, cringe at the thought of creating a family tree that most students will have assigned to them in high school or college. The fear and discomfort from adoptees creating a family tree stems from not having access to their original birth certificate and not knowing their biological family history. Feelings of grief, abandonment, and loss are a few emotions that an adoptee can experience while trying to complete a family tree project.

Creative Commons Girl with Bag 5 by Homeaid Northern Virginia is licensed under  CC by 2.0

If you’re anything like I was, the Family Tree school project was the one thing you dreaded in school.  I used to sit in class with knots in my stomach.  I knew my family tree would not be like the other kids in my class. 

While other classmates found enjoyment tracing their roots and marveling over their genetic makeup, I just wondered where mine came from.  How can a tree grow if it doesn’t have roots? I knew I had roots once, but those roots had been cut years ago.  I wondered what would happen if actual roots are cut from a real tree, so I decided to look it up online. This is what I found: 

“Cutting tree roots is dangerous because it can cause permanent, possibly fatal, harm to your tree.” 

Now eliminate the word “tree” and replace it with “adoptee”.  Wow! That’s a pretty powerful statement. 

It’s the fine print on the paperwork adoption agencies don’t want you to know. Adoption is not always the glitz and glamour you see made for television and movies. There are some people who might argue that even non-adoptees have difficulty tracing their heritage. Although that may be true, my situation as an adoptee is completely different.  

In most states it is illegal for an adoptee to find out their own family origins due to closed adoptions. Every form I have dating back to my adoption is redacted. If you don’t already know, a redaction is when they censor a specific part of a document so that it cannot be seen. In other words, they take a thick, black sharpie and run a line through it. In many closed adoptions, this would include redacting the names of the birthparents or any information that may reveal their identity.  

Although I have since located my birthfamily, sometimes I still want to cry when I look at those forms.  It serves as a reminder of the great lengths everyone around me took to cut off my family ties. It also reminds me that there is much work that still needs to be done in the adoption community. 

As I would sit in class with my blank worksheet, I felt so alone. I didn’t understand why this happened to me. My parents did their best to explain it, but it didn’t stop my pain. I reluctantly completed my school assignment knowing that everything on it was a lie. These weren’t my roots. Nor did my parents realize that cutting my roots would have a profound effect on the rest of my life. This was something that affected me well into college. I skipped Biology 101 the days we were supposed to go over the chapter on genetics.  My poor attendance earned me a D in the course and a drop in my grade point average, but it was a lot better than reliving the pain all over again.

After finding my birthfamily, one of the most important things for me to do was to make a family tree.  I had always dreamed about the day when my branches would no longer be empty, but be filled with others who share my genetics, my roots, and my past. Sadly, my attempt to fill those branches was harder than I had expected. Family members became standoffish when I began to ask too many questions about the family I had lost. I have a brother somewhere, who still remains a mystery to me. 

To most of my birthfamily, I am probably no more than a relative stranger. It only tells me how secrets and lies can only kill and destroy.  Once a tree is uprooted, no matter the love, shelter, or nourishment it receives, the problem is that it will never again be the same. 

I still hope to one day complete a family tree with or without the help my birthfamily. Until that time, I’m still just stuck with a bunch of empty branches waiting to be filled. 

Adoptees: tell us about your experience in class or in life creating a family tree below.    

V. Marie I am a reunited adoptee from Louisiana.  I earned my B.A. in sociology from The University of New Orleans in 2005. My experience through adoption lead me to earn my M.A. in Community Counseling from Webster University in 2013.

I was adopted at 6 weeks old.  My adoptive parents love me very much, but they weren't ready to deal with the challenges that came with an adopted child.  They supported me my entire life, but they could not heal my pain. As I grew up, I began to see even more diffrences between my adoptive family and myself.  I longed to know where I fit belonged.  Around the year 2005, I began actively searching.  I had doors slammed in my face and others who told me to give up and be grateful for what I had. I found my birthmother around 2012, and it was hardly the heartfelt reunion I had hoped for.  However, I will not let that stop me from seeking the truth and searching for my birthfather and my brother.  I have to be strong and keep going.  The truth is that I was an unwanted baby.  My birthmother made a conscience decision not to be a mother to her children. My birthfamily will never understand what I have gone though emotionally as an adopted person.  I am still treated like an outsider by many of them.  I have been fortunate to be welcomed by a handful of cousins.  And although they have good intentions, they will never understand my loss and the pain I feel when I'm around them. I believe that adoption can a wonderful thing, but we have to remember that it doesn't without loss. What I yearn for most is to have a family of my own.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

I'm Changing My Name Back to My Birth Name

Changing an adopted child's name has been a hot topic lately amongst adoptive parents. I have been contacted by adoptive mothers seeking advice on the effects of changing their adopted child's name. Adoptive mothers have shared that they wanted to change their child's name to give them a fresh start,  for religious reasons, culture, or because they want to be the one to name their child. 

How does the changing an adoptees birth name affect an adoptee? Does it really matter? 

Meet Charish, an adoptee in reunion with a closed adoption as she opens up about what her birth name means to her and her journey to restoring her birth name that is symbolic to her life. 

Hi Charish, I want to first thank you for being transparent with us about a topic that is very important to adoptees. It is imperative that adoptive parents understand what it means to keep a piece of a child's birth mother with them after being adopted. I am sure you can agree. 

IAA: How long have you been in reunion? 

Charish: It will be a year November 25th

IAA: How is your relationship with your birth family? 

Charish: My birthmom ( I dislike that term) passed away in 2009. However I would like to think I am fairly close to my siblings. It’s a struggle, but we try.

IAA: My apologies. I only use the term to differentiate adoptive parents from first parents. 

IAA: For the record, what is your adopted name?

Charish: Charish Amber Thomas

IAA: What is your birth name?

Charish: Francis Rose Mcdonald

IAA: how would you like me and others to refer to you?

Charish: Charish would be fine. 

IAA: What name are you petitioning the courts to grant you

Charish: Charis Francis Rose Thomas

IAA: I really hope the judge grants your request and understands the power in an adoptees birth name. You deserve to have your birth name and a part of first mom with you. I will pray on that for you

IAA: How did you find out that your name was changed? 

Charish: Snooping through my adopted mother's papers. I found my court ordered name change. I was looking because I was going to run away and find my “real” family. After I turned 18, a search angel cross-referenced my name with the Ohio birth index to confirm it.

IAA: How did it make you feel that your adoptive parents changed your name? As a family have you discussed changing your name? 

Charish: Well my adopted dad is very understanding. He is happy as long as I am. We have a wonderful relationship. My adopted mom feels betrayed as far as the reunion... like she is jealous of a woman who is no longer here. So we decided not to tell her.

IAA: Why do you want to change your name? 

Charish: I found out the name meant something to my birthmom so it makes me think just maybe she cared about me. It was a family name and perhaps she named me as a way to find her.

IAA: Reading that warms my heart because I am willing to believe that your natural mom did care about you. And you are right, she probably knew you both would meet some day. 

IAA: How long have you thought about changing your name? 

Charish: I started writing my name as Francis when I found out my birth name, and for a few years refused to answer to anything else. So it has been about 18 years.

IAA: How do you think your life is going to change by changing your name back to your birth name?

Charish: I don’t think my life will change, but I feel like this is who I truly am. Since she is no longer here, I feel like this is the one thing she gave me and I need this to heal.

IAA: how do you feel about adoptive parents changing their adopted child’s name?

Charish: If a birth parent took time to name their child prior to placing them for adoption, they should keep it or add to it. I understand changing a last name, but completely removing a child’s first and middle name is like saying it wasn't good enough. It is like completely taking the last thing they have left. I went 6 months with this name, it was MY name.

IAA: I completely agree with you. I believe once a child has been named by their natural family that it should never be changed for the exception of the last name, and that is it! Names have power, and it is a part of a child's roots. Thankfully, although my name was changed, it was changed for the better. My adoptive mom changed my middle name and gave me my natural mom's name when my adoption was finalized at 8 years old. I felt as if I always had a part of my mom with me. They also changed my last name to theirs when they changed my middle name. 

IAA: You recently went to the court house to petition your name change. Tell us a bit about the process to get your name changed? Was it easy?

Charish: It was for the most part easy, just a few pages of paperwork. I didn't have to speak to anyone. I went to the courthouse inside the Probate Court office, and told them I wanted to do an adult name change. I filled out some forms that just said current name and new name. There is a paragraph portion that you have to submit explaining why you want a name change. I wrote, "I am adopted. My name at birth was Francis Rose. I have found my birth family, and my birth mom has passed away. I want to restore my name because it is the only thing she gave me so I wish to be Charish Francis Rose"

IAA: How did you feel knowing that your name might be restored to your birth name? 

Charish: It's a great feeling. Being adopted, I felt like I didn't know who I was. This is a combination of my true identity. I can't just forget and dismiss my adopted side who raised me.

IAA: How did it make you feel that your name change that you deserve was at the discretion of a judge that knows nothing about you or your family? 

Charish: It makes me feel nervous because he is someone who doesn't know me, and I am having a hard enough time explaining to friends and family why I want this and they dont seem to understand it. I am hoping he is a judge who will understand and grant my name change.

IAA: How and when will you find out if your name change was granted?  

Charish: I go to court in November, two months away. I have to go before a judge in a room full of people, get sworn in under oath, and explain why I want my name change. Then when I am done he will decide then and there.

IAA: What advice would you give other adoptees in hopes of restoring their birth name?

Charish: Look into the laws of your state; every state is different. Don't forget that even if your adoption was bad, it made you who you are, and a name change won't change those feelings. This is one of the hardest things I have done. Finding my birth family was hard because my support system shut down somewhere between finding them and restoring a relationship that should have been there in first place. So it's hard going thru the motions of filing paperwork and court when everyone is like "whats the point of this?"  To me this is who I am. I am a combination of both my families whether I like it or not. My name is all I have of my birth mother that shows me she cared. Even though I never met her, I love her. I have never changed.

IAA: I want to thank you for your time and doing this interview with me, Charish. I know that you have been a great help to adoptees and adoptive parents thinking about changing names or restoring names. I wish you the very best, and I praying that everything works out to your desires on your journey. Keep the faith and keep being a light in the world. Lots of love to you xx

Charish Francis Rose Thomas, is an adoptee in reunion, mother of 5, and lives in Columbus Ohio. Charish plans on being at the Ohio Department of Health on March 20 2015 when they open adoption files allowing adoptees to have access to their original birth certificates. Charish has also started a Facebook group called, Black Adoptees to help build a community for Black adoptees.

Image courtesy of stockimages at FreeDigitalPhotos.net