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What Fuels Birth Family Searches for Adoptees and Foster Kids?

Adoptees and Foster Kids Have Inherent Curiosity

Finding clues about birth family history sends me on an adrenaline high. I love being a sleuth and solving adoption mysteries.

Just my first name–Baby X–makes me curious!

Clues come in the most unexpected times and ways, oftentimes through the least likely people and circumstances.

As I have turned over every stone possible to find my heritage, I have discovered that being adopted can be a huge adventure, not only for me, but for generations to come.

Here are some of the curiosity-raisers:

  • German Soldier: There was a German prisoner of war camp in St. Johns, the town where I was born. My mom told me that there was a German soldier who walked by our house on Oakland Street every day, peering into the house, as if looking for something or someone.  Could he have been my birth father or known something relevant to my beginnings?
  • Secrets of Birth Mother: My birth was August 1945,  right after WW II ended.  My mother’s husband was serving our country, so her husband could not have been my birth father. My birth mother lied on the original birth certificate, naming him as birth father. Did she place me for adoption to save her marriage when he returned?
  • Protection of Privacy: Leah Cook, my grandmother, and matron of the Clinton County Children’s Home, arranged my private adoption. Her German name had been changed from Koch to Cook during the war. Working with physicians, lawyers, and judges in the county, she must have contacted Dr. Miles Fillinger from Ovid, Michigan to deliver me. Was she protecting the privacy of my birth mother, who was from Flint?
  • Fibs from Mom. “If you want to be rich, look up your birth father someday. He was an executive at GM Flint and your mother was his secretary.” Over the years as I’ve shared this is speeches,  I’ve learned that this was a common thing told to adoptees who are my age.

Now, can you see, friends, why I have been curious?

This is just the tip of the iceberg.

The Key Person

Now, let me introduce you to Sharon Loessel, my birth cousin from Bay City, Michigan, who contacted me after the unsuccessful reunion with my birth mother. Apparently, word spread in the family that Elizabeth rejected me. She was reaching out in love and one of the first things she said was that my birth mother rejected everyone in the family.

Sharon has been a history and ancestry buff most of her life. After our first conversation, she sent beautifully matted black and white photos of at least five generations, labeled on the back with names and dates.

Ghosts, Heroes, and Heritage in the Closet

During the weeks to come, she revealed new information as I eagerly scratched it on paper. I have the papers to this day. She told me:

  • Ghosts: Elizabeth, my birth mother, was caught in bed with Sharon’s father. Lovely. Perhaps he is my unknown father, we wondered.  Maybe we’re half sisters? Her father was long deceased but she habirthfamily-great-grand-father-boatd his bathrobe with hair on it. Would I like to do DNA on those strands?
  • Coast Guard History: My great-grandfather and grandfather were lighthouse keepers on the Great Lakes for decades. Included in another package she sent was a photo of my great grandfather standing by the Coast Guard boat he manned during shipwrecks.
  • Creative Wood Carver: My grandfather was a wood carver during those lonely hours alone manning the lighthouse. He carved ships and somehow Henry Ford birthfamily-grandpa-boat-newspaperheard about his ships and drove his Model T up to Brimley, Michigan to pick one up. I could just see Henry putting it in the jump seat of his Model T and taking it back to Detroit. Hopefully, it is now in the soon-to-be-restored Henry Ford Museum in Detroit.
  • Jewish Roots: Our family history dates back to the Tribe of Dan and is considered The Lost Tribe of Israel. During the Dispersion, they fled to Northern Europe and finally migrated to

 

Selective Hearing

In retrospect, it’s evident that the good stuff, like lighthouses, thrilled me. I felt proud, yet also like child on a winter’s eve, with nose pushed against a window to watch the family inside that I never knew.

And, even though an avid Bible student, the information about the Lost Tribe and Tribe of Dan didn’t faze me.

The painful parts didn’t register either. I was numb…for years.

How I wish I would have been more attuned to everything Sharon shared. Realistically, one needs to gobble up every bit of information given, yet at the same time take care of the wounded child within that is unable to tolerate more.

Honoring the Pain

Just think though, in a perfect world, how different my search might have been if I would have:

  • Said “yes” to DNA testing from Sharon’s dad’s bathrobe
  • Dug into my Bible to learn about the Tribe of Dan
  • Visited the Henry Ford Museum in Greenfield, Michigan to see the ship my grandfather carved.

Author and pioneer open adoption therapist, James L. Gritter, Ph.D., describes adoption-related pain in his book The Spirit of Open Adoption (http://preview.tinyurl.com/j82o9tw):

open-adoption-cover-gritter

“The pain associated with adoption is miserable stuff. It’s the birth father in the hospital corridor curled up in a fetal ball of self-blame. It’s the doctor saying you’re pregnant. It’s the eighty-year old birth mother rocking and mumbling, ‘They shouldn’t have….’ It’s the dazed birth mother standing alone on the sidewalk as the adoptive family drives away with her two-day old daughter. It’s the twenty-one year old being told he has no right to his original name. It’s finding out for the first time from falling down drunk Uncle Charlie at the family reunion that you’re adopted. The permutations of adoption pain are endless.

We must be careful not to sanitize, sentimentalize, or even glamorize the pain of adoption; it really is miserable stuff, and it is intensely personal. It is the interior. The pain of adoption is not something that happens to a person; it is the person. Because the pain is so primal, it is virtually impossible to describe.”

Gritter lists common reactions to pain:

  • Denial
  • Speedy relief at any cost
  • Anesthetics
  • Play it safe
  • Recklessness
  • Exaggeration
  • Entitled
  • Fault-finding
  • Misery loves company
  • Stuck

Trip to Israel

Five years ago, Bob and I traveled to Israel with Friends of Israel Ministry. Our teachers were Pastor Gary Stump and Dr. Deanne Woods.

israel-bob-me

Prior to the trip, cousin Sharon and I chatted.

“You know we’re from the Tribe of Dan, don’t you?”

My mind raced back to the first time she shared that.

Could it be true? It seemed like a long shot, but I would certainly keep it in mind.

Our tour guide, Tito,  a Jewish man who knows the entire Bible (but not Jesus), was magnificent in giving Israel’s history.

That evening after group dinner, my friend Natalie Hart and I pulled Tito aside. This is how it went: “Can I ask you a question?”

Tito: “What kind of a question…personal or historical?”

Me: “Personal.”

Before I could say anything else, he said, “You’re Jewish.”

I gasped. Where in the heck did he get THAT?  Maybe he said that to anyone or everyone? Maybe he thought I was a “Jewish Wannabe?”

flag-of-israel

“How do you know?” I asked.

He said, “I knew you were Jewish the first time I saw you. Your eyes, your facial features, and your skin.”

I can’t remember much after that.

I asked God to show me the truth, which He did in the seven days that followed. I will share two other circumstances that confirmed what Tito said.

Family Interest 

Our adult kids and grands were mildly interested in this after our trip. They, like me, were selective hearers. It’s interesting, though, that one of grandsons is very interested in Hebrew and is studying it in university.

Just a few days ago, our youngest daughter shared how she’d been reading about a certain blood type that is rare and found mostly in Jewish people.

It is B+.

I am B+ and so are both our daughters.

Her research showed that it is indicative of Jewish people who fled Israel, lived in middle European countries, and then migrated to Ireland.

This is exactly the history that cousin Sharon claimed.

Who knows what the truth is….but it is fun digging for clues.

So, the curiosity has spread and there’s at least one daughter who is beginning to look like a sleuth, searching for clues.

And, Baby X keeps searching.

Suggested Resources:

23 and Me DNA Testing: http://tinyurl.com/jz98atu

Contact me if I can help you in any way to find your heritage.

Love to all!

Sherrie_Signature.2

 

 

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Would Adoptees and Foster Kids Say Yes to This?

This photo of a young woman looking pensive illustrates how adoptees and foster kids might be perplexed about their painful past. Sherrie offers a fresh perspective on suffering and choice.

Lately, I find myself asking, “If you knew before you were born, would you have signed up for the life you’re living?

Would I have signed up for:

  • Being an unplanned baby, called Baby X
  • Not being able to see my birth mother’s face from birth until reunion at 47 years old
  • Feeling ill at ease in any family or group context for years
  • Hypervigilance. The doc who said I was ultra sensitive emotionally and even physically, yet never named PTSD. It just wasn’t associated with adoption.
  • Moving multiple times internationally, which removed lasting friendships
  • Experiencing birth mother rejection after reunion
  • Hearing the doc say I have SLE Lupus
  • Spending 10 days in the Stress Center

Who would want to sign up for these things?

Who would choose suffering instead of a problem free life?

For me, if God showed me the suffering I would face, I might not sign up to walk through it.

But, looking back, I certainly would choose exactly what has come my way.

For, the suffering has given me a:

  • Song in the night.
  • Purpose for my life that will last long after I’m gone.
  • Trust that I’ve never been alone, even as a newborn in an incubator for 10 days.
  • Unshakeable identity. I know whose I am in spite of two sets of parents.
  • Worth. I know that God meets me in special ways that only I can understand.
  • Faith. Knowing God is good is all I need in horrible times.

And, so the answer to my question is of whether or not I would show up and accept a painful past, the answer is YES!

I will  live to the max whatever comes my way.

 

 

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Parents Can Bypass Shame When Explaining Adoption Relinquishment

What are we adoptees to do when we are told that we are “given away because our birth moms loved us?”

Please assure us that it wasn’t about us.

Here’s how:

Your Desire to Connect: Parents don’t want child to feel rejected. Often, they counter their overwhelming fear and anxiety by  shedding a positive light on first (second, or third, or fourth) mom.  Parents might say….

Well-Intentioned Statement: “Your birth mom loved you so much that she gave you to us.”

My adoptee heart is crying out….ohhhhh, no!

Adoptee and Foster Kid Translation: “Love is what got rid of me. Why would I want YOUR love?”

What to Say…The Heart Language of Adopted and Fostered Kids: “Your first parents weren’t able to parent ANY baby, child, or teen at that time.”

So, parents, your fear is understandable, but don’t let it sidetrack you from communicating your child’s heart language.

 

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Honor an Evil Father on Father’s Day?

I fought like a dog to find who my birth father was…for many years of my life.

When I constructed my “Grief Box,” a lovely, small book, covered with Forget-Me-Nots and tied with ribbons, represented the image I had of him. When sharing in a presentation, I opened the book and shared the “Letter to My Missing Birth Father.”

Oftentimes when traveling, whenever  a sophisticated older gentleman appeared, I wondered if he could be my birth father.

I never dreamed that real life DNA would show him to be evil man who had married at least six times and was divorced by his last wife for “cruel and inhumane treatment.”

So, I like many on this Father’s Day, ask God how to honor an evil father.

As one of my wise counselors taught me years ago about what it really means to “honor” our fathers, as commanded in Scripture, the answer was simple….just tell the truth.

Military records prove that he was a criminal, who wove lies and fantasy around the six precious children he fathered.

Truth is, the Army wouldn’t have him, yet he constantly insisted that one son salute him when coming into his office, which was decorated with airplane models hanging from the ceiling.

Truth also is that I found the train wreck that he left behind…six siblings. There’s only been contact with two sisters and a brother.  One sister had to go back into therapy just remembering him.

So, I can’t believe this, but I don’t give a rip about my birth father.

Even though his DNA lives within me, I don’t identify with him…either physically or spiritually.

My identity is in Jesus alone.

How grateful I am that He has blessed me in knowing Him in this intimate way that my heart always longed for but never found in an earthly father.

And, let me tell you that I am incredibly grateful that God rescued me from my birth father and mother through adoption.

Finding an evil man only confirms that I am God’s idea, put on this earth for His purposes….to enjoy Him.

For those of you who are struggling with a painful past and a nightmare of a father figure, do as my counselor advised: Tell the truth.

God won’t be mad at you.

He understands.

He knows all.

And, I can say with confidence that He is the Ultimate Father.

 

 

 

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Could Kate Spade Have Beaten Depression?

Why Didn't Kate Spade Survive Anxiety and Depression?

As details spill about Kate Spade’s depression and suicide, I am both sad and sickened, for it could have been me.

Since mid-life, I have battled depression.

Our move to Indy from Michigan, where I lost family, friends, and full-time ministry in BSF as a teaching leader, triggered me big time. Coming into unknown territory here was more than I could handle.

At age 40, I lost touch with reality.

My poor family didn’t know what to do to help me.

We started with PCP and immediately to a psychiatrist who recommended hospitalization.

As Bob and our daughter checked me in,  the staff person asked if I were suicidal.

“I feel like it, but I would never do it.”

That was a get-in-free ticket to lock-down.

At age 40, hospitalization in the Stress Center in Indy was the only way of helping me. For ten straight days, I watched a crazed lady run naked through the unit as nurses chased. I screamed bloody murder my first night because I couldn’t go to sleep…the sixth night in a row. I curled up on a sofa in an infant position as I saw Bob and our daughter go through those opening doors…and running after them …the doors didn’t open…the guys in white told me, watching every movement.

The only good part of the day was when my pastor, Russ Blowers, came to see me. Gently, he held my hands and prayed for me.

The second time I was hospitalized was after my birth mother rejected me. Attending the psych unit for only half  days, I was startled to see people on IVs. When I asked why they were in the unit, the explanation was that they were dying.

Oh, my gosh….DYING of depression?

How could that be?

At one point during the last depression, the doc had prescribed meds for me. Going to the drug store, I listened as the pharmacist told me there was way more in the bottle than I needed.

At that very moment, I thought…”I could kill myself.”

I thank God that I was aware enough of the signs of suicide that I immediately called our dear friends. Bob was not home….away on business trip.

They immediately ran to help….and held me until Bob got home.

Today, I am depression free, but since I’ve experienced it, I know that it is possible to return. My doc says it is highly unlikely, as both depressions were caused by painful circumstances.

Thinking back also, I am grateful for the knowledge gained while on the counseling team at our church. Full knowledge of what was happening to me came as a result.

So, could have Kate Spade have beaten depression?

Only God knows.

May her family and friends find comfort.

I am sure they all tried to reach her.

Here are tips…from my experience only…that may help you help others or yourself:

  1. Look for signs of lethargy…inactivity. Bob would kiss me goodbye and I would be sitting in the same seat when he got home.
  2. Slowed speech….I could barely speak when hospitalized.
  3. Find good psychiatrist…yes, psychiatrist! (I couldn’t stand the one I had in the hospital, but switched later. The tipping point for my decision what that Dr. T was respectful of me and my journey.
  4. Eating and sleeping habits change drastically.
  5. Isolation preferred.
  6. No interest in normal activities.
  7. If someone has told you that they feel suicidal, ask if they would make a pact with you not to carry out the plan until they call you first.
  8. Remember that depression can cause death.
  9. Call 911.

Don’t be afraid to ask or say:

  1. You don’t seem like yourself….are you feeling okay?
  2.  Do you feel suicidal? If they are depressed, it is very appropriate to ask if the person feels suicidal. You may be the key to them getting help.
  3. I will not leave you alone.

Remember that depression is no respecter of persons. It can happen to anyone…including Kate Spade, you and me.