Having Been Adopted...

... and how I feel about it now, over 50 years later. Regardless of how I might have felt at the time, what I might have wanted or even what might have been better for me in the long run, my future appears to have been neatly arranged for me by complete strangers well before I was even born. Or was it?

Saturday, June 23, 2007

OBC means Original Birth Certificate...

... and I don't have one. That is, I do - but it's sealed in Sacramento and - by law - I am not allowed to have it. What I do have is an AMENDED birth certificate and nearly everything on it is false. It doesn't even look like a real birth certificate. I wonder if my birth-date is a lie... hmmm - that would mean that my natal chart is all wrong, too - but that might actually explain a few things.

What a crummy and creepy and totally UNFAIR law. I want my original birth certificate. It's mine and I want what's rightfully and morally mine. Maybe my mother (Nancee) named me and if she did I'd really like to know what name she chose for me - I really, really would. Really. That document is not, as too many people seem to think "... just a piece of paper." The last time I heard that it was from the mouth of a PAP. Actually, it was from the keyboard of a PAP but it amounts to the same thing. (PAP is adoption-speak for prospective adoptive parent.) What an insensitive, outrageously insulting and demeaning thing to say to an adoptee. "Just a piece of paper..." indeed. Just one more erasure of identity.

I should have started this particular leg of my journey years ago, before my father died. As an attorney he knew judges - and a judge will have to be the one to grant me access to my OBC. Hmmm… now let me think. Who do I know of my dad's friends and colleagues who are A): still alive... B): still on the bench... and C): adoptee-friendly. Wow - that's a tough one. I don't think there's anyone - not anymore.

But in any case - why should I be reduced to even thinking about pulling strings or asking for favors when everyone else who was born in this country but who was NOT adopted can get their own - their one and only - birth certificate?? WHY am I denied this? To protect me? FROM WHAT? FROM WHOM? I know all the names that should be on it anyway - except mine. Everyone who could possibly be "hurt" by my having my Original Birth Certificate is now dead - except me.

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Thursday, May 17, 2007

Genetics and Inheritance

A couple of weeks ago I saw my new rheumatologist who invariably asked, "Does anyone in your family have... ?" and I once again said, "I was adopted…" and trailed off as she raised an eyebrow and jotted that down.

I looked down at my hands... at my now twisted and deformed fingers... and wondered how many female ancestors of mine suffered from the same disease.

I'm scared now. I wasn't before. As long as my x-rays indicated OA, no matter how awful I felt, I thought it probably wouldn't get much worse. But now the x-rays are telling a different story. Now it seems that, to quote my doctor, "mistakes were made in the past" regarding my diagnosis - and that what's happening to me, while not fatal, is not good. It seems that my immune system has gone awry. My body has turned on itself and the results are that my joints are being destroyed - and at a rather rapid clip. Apparently it started a long time ago in the smallest joints (toes and fingers) and has now progressed to the larger joints... pretty much all of them, from shoulders to ankles. It is very painful… and chronic pain is very debilitating in many ways.

Whatever this is, though - this insidious, destructive and as yet unlabeled form of erosive arthritis - it is hereditary. I inherited it from my mother and she from her mother and so on and so forth. Of course... my mother didn't live long enough to get it... and I don't have any pictures of my grandmother which show her hands - and she died when she was 55, so maybe it hadn't hit her full-force yet. But it occurs to me now that it would have been really nice to have known about this over twenty years ago when the first little symptoms appeared. Nothing much... a pop in my knee when going up stairs... a bout or two of "frozen shoulder"... but had I known about a genetic disease lurking in my family tree and that my risk of getting it was high, I would have insisted on diagnostic tests then, at the first knee pop, and I certainly wouldn't have allowed my doctors of the more recent past to have blown me off as they did.

I "play" the piano on a pillow now since I can't actually touch the keys without incredible pain. It hurts like hell to type but I do it anyway because - well, just because. I can't type very well anymore - I make a lot of mistakes and am slow as molasses - but (unfortunately, I have time) and that's what Spell Check is for. (I love Spell Check!) Some days it's hard to walk and some days I can barely get out of bed... and some days I go back to bed and cry from pain and exhaustion.

I'm now adjusting to very aggressive drugs that have terrifying side effects, but that can halt or at least delay further damage and that will hopefully diminish the physical pain. I wonder with great concern if I'll ever be able to work again. An artist with fingers so badly damaged that a fist can't be made anymore with either hand? Hmmmm… it seems unlikely - but then, on the other hand (no pun intended), Beethoven composed some of his greatest works after he became deaf... but I am hardly in the same league.

So far, my half-sister has been spared. Her daughter, my niece, is at risk, too... as are any daughters that she may have. But at least we know now. Knowledge is power... and the next generations are now empowered.

My point? My point is... closed adoption and closed records suck. No adoptee should ever be denied her or his own genetic history, medical or otherwise - ever.

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Wednesday, May 16, 2007

All Reunited

It seems to me that most of my adult life has been spent in searching for my natural family... not every single day of every week of every month, but it did take 25 years to finally find my three younger siblings. "Lee" - my half-sister, 17 months my junior... "Butch" - my younger half-brother, born 16 months after "Lee" was... and Michael, my youngest half-brother… who was born 16 months after "Butch". Hmmm - a definite pattern here. By the fall of 1956, my 24-year-old mother had had five babies in six and a half years.

When I was told of their existence way back in 1975 I was confident that I would find them in just a few weeks. I thought it be would easy to find them - that an unusual surname like theirs would be a cinch to trace. Not so. They had been adopted after their mother's death... by their father's mother and her 2nd husband, which meant a different surname - and as all three had been born in California (A CLOSED STATE), their birth certificates had been sealed - and as they had been adopted somewhere in the Midwest, I had no idea where to try to find their adoption decrees. I couldn't even find their father and I had his full name. My search for them stalled.

Time passed. Someone invented the Internet, the World Wide Web and home computers came down drastically in price and my husband bought our first Mac - and I discovered that I could search for my past, for my siblings, for my grandmother, my natural father or for just about anyone right from the comfort of my very own home. No more days spent at the Hall of Records downtown (and they had moved the Birth and Death Records to another location much further away by then anyway)... no more days spent at the library combing the telephone books state by state... no more waiting for weeks and weeks to hear back from the Vital Statistics Departments of every Midwestern state in the Union that there was nothing in their records that matched my inquiry.

One night at about 3 am, during one of my obsessive search sessions, I was searching the database at Ancestry.com for an ancestor from the 18th century and absently typed in the name of my natural mother's husband - the father of my younger siblings. To my amazement - to my shock - to my joy - I got a hit. SUCCESS!!!! Someone (a distant cousin of my siblings' step-grandfather, the one who had adopted them) had submitted her entire family tree to Ancestry and there they all were... all three of them. Their father was there, too, of course. And no wonder I couldn't find him - he had died in Iowa in 1976.

I couldn't believe it. I leaned back in the chair and said out loud to my cat, "I did it. I finally did it. It's over." He purred his applause. I crawled back to bed and tried to wake my husband... "I found them - I did it - I found them". He murmured something like, "That's nice, honey..." but I had to wait awhile to share my news... he's a very sound sleeper. He practically slept through the Northridge earthquake as our 1920's Sears-catalog house rocked and rolled as if a train was crashing through the center of it... so this certainly wasn't going to wake him up.

I immediately e-mailed the woman who had submitted the family tree and over the course of several e-mails told her the whole story. She was fascinated - but being such a distant cousin, didn't actually know this branch of her family at all. There was a minor error in her information regarding my sibs but she decided not to correct it in the hopes that perhaps one of them would also stumble across her entry at Ancestry.com and e-mail her with the correction.

A wise woman. For that is exactly what happened. Well over one year later, I got an e-mail from her out of the blue saying that one of my brothers had contacted her about the error, that she had told him my story and that he wanted contact with me - was I still interested in that? WHAT?!!!! Hellloooooooooooooo!!!! Does a bear s___ in the woods???

"Butch" and I began corresponding via e-mail, sharing and catching up on two lifetimes and filling in some of the gaps of the past. He and his sibs had had no idea at all that their mother had ever had another child - let alone two.

He had lost touch with his older sister and younger brother - deep scars from their painful childhoods and very different interests did little to keep them connected and there had been no contact between them in many years. After about a year, I asked if he'd mind if I pursued contacting them and as he had no objections at all - I did.

I had wanted to call my sister first - for one thing, it was her birthday the day I had steeled myself to make the calls - and after arguing with myself about the pros and cons of laying this shocking bit of news at her feet on her birthday, I picked up the phone and punched in the numbers.

An answering machine answered. RATS! I hung up without leaving a message. Not to be deterred, though, I paced for a while, tried to calm my churning stomach, rehearsed what I was going to say, and then called my youngest brother.

His wife answered the phone. Once I knew I'd reached the right guy, I forgot my rehearsed speech and blurted everything out to her in a rush of words. When I finally stopped for air, she asked, "Wouldn't you like to speak with my husband"?" "Yes", I said gratefully. "Yes - I would."

Michael came on the phone. I said what I always say - "Please - please don't hang up on me - let me explain." And I began to tell him the story of his natural mother who had been killed when he was 18 months old and of an older brother and sister who had both been adopted out at birth. He was, I think he would agree, in a complete state of shock.

I have now met all three of my younger siblings, f2f, as we say in Adoption Land (face-to-face).

I met my sister first... she came to California in October of 2003 from the south-western state where she has lived for many years and we spent five days together. We did a little detective work in Santa Cruz, where our mother was killed, and we stirred things up a little bit in Tulare, where she had been raised. We visited her grave in the pouring rain. We shared the stuff that sisters share, we clung to each other, we laughed and we cried.

"Butch" came to California a few months later from the east coast state where he lives. His itinerary was a little different, preferring to get acquainted with the living first. The timing was a little awkward for me as I had a freelance job with a hot deadline the week he came - but we still managed to spend time together and he was able to meet our older brother as well as our aunt and uncles who never met their older sister Nancee.

Finally, this past February, Michael came back to California from Nebraska where the trio were raised and saw the Pacific Ocean again for the first time since he was about two. Most of the five days we spent together was in Santa Cruz. We looked at the sea... he couldn't get enough of it - we beach-combed for shells... and when we retraced the route on West Cliff Drive that Nancee and Joseph Henry Nickels took that fatal night and got to the place where the motorcycle crashed through the barrier, we argued about where exactly to put the roadside memorial cross I'd sent away for... he won - I think. We both had a touch of food poisoning from a very famous restaurant on the wharf - (it's the big one on the right, you can't miss it... stay away from the shellfish and anything with tentacles.) And we visited Nancee's grave. It was raining, of course... it's always raining when I go there. It has never once not been raining, even in summer. And we spent some quality time with our older brother.

And I think this is why, for the first time in 32 years, I felt a bit of peace on the anniversary of Nancee's death. I have always felt her presence... as though I was being guided... and I believe that I was - that my compelling need to find my sister and brothers was not just my need, but hers as well - to bring all of her children together.

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Wednesday, May 02, 2007

~ The First Anniversary ~

One year ago today, my mother died. My other mother, my second mother, the only mother I ever knew… the one I called "Mommy" - and still do.

I lit four white votive candles this morning and said quietly, "For you, Mommy..." and I felt my eyes get hot and the tears spilled.

I called my sister to see how she was doing... she'd taken a rare sick day from work and was at home - and was doing just so-so.

I have not felt my mom's presence at all in the past year - not the way I felt my dad still lingering and watching over me... not the way I've felt my first mother's presence and guidance ever since I can remember... my mom is just --- gone.

Gone. But not ever forgotten.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

~ The 49th Anniversary ~

For the first time in 32 years I didn't feel the sharp sting of sorrow that has always pierced my heart on April 21st.

For the first time I didn't feel as though an icy hand had reached inside my chest and gripped that heart, squeezing every last drop of blood out of it.

For the first time I didn't feel completely consumed with helpless sorrow and fury.

And - though I still felt sadness - with it and softening it, for the first time in 32 years I felt something new - a sense of calm and peace… and as though every tiny drop in the sea makes a vast difference to the world.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

~ The Family Curse ~


Over thirty years ago, I embarked on a journey... to find and meet my natural mother. It didn't happen quite as I'd planned or hoped for. I found her - but she'd already been dead for many years.

As it turned out, she had been adopted, too, though not as a baby and since her only surviving family (two older adoptive brothers) were uncommunicative - one was an alcoholic and though he was willing to speak with me, his memory was as if blanketed in a very thick fog - the other simply refused any contact whatsoever - I decided to search for her natural parents.

The same day I found out that my mother was dead, I also found out that she'd had three more children after I was born. After their mother's death, they had been adopted by one of their father’s relatives. I determined to find them, too.

Sometimes, to arrive in the present, one must first travel backwards. Having no other choice, that's what I had to do.

When she was five years old, my natural mother Nancy Lee Crane was taken from her mother by the county and tossed into whatever the foster care system was in 1937. The reason cited for this was that her mother was "contributing to the delinquency of a minor" because she was (allegedly) living with a man to whom she was not married.

When I met my grandfather way back in 1976, he mentioned something about a prostitution charge as well, but I have not been able to verify that - and since he was in the Navy and their marriage was the shotgun type and he didn't really stick around after the ceremony, I have my doubts about that… and it doesn't matter to me anyway, other than as just another detail in the story.

There's no denying that Grandma was a bit of a hottie for her day and that her hormones raged like an out-of-control forest fire. She and her two older sisters liked to go to the picture show, they liked to drink, they liked to smoke and they liked boys - a lot.

Here's Grandma with a boyfriend in 1930 when she was fifteen:
Cute, huh? She and her sisters liked sailors. They didn't live too far from the port of Los Angeles and what better place for Depression-era girls to have a little fun and maybe meet a potential husband? That's exactly what Grandma's eldest sister did... she married a sailor - with her father’s shotgun aimed right at the center of his back. (Their first child was… umm... "pre-mature" - but unusually hale and hearty.)

Here's Great-Auntie Billie, the next sister, in 1929 when she was fifteen:

There's something about her eyes - don't you think? So… arresting… so languorous. (Billie's given name was Minnie but she didn't like that so she changed it.)

Back to Grandma Jerrie. (Her given name was Juanita but she didn't like that so nicknamed herself Jerrie.) Here she is with the same boyfriend in the next picture in the series - did they even have photo booths back then? I guess so:
Shortly after her older sister's wedding, Jerrie found herself in the very same predicament - pregnant by a sailor (a friend of her new brother-in-law) and unmarried. It was very early in 1932. It was the Depression. I can only imagine what it might have been like for for my great-grandparents... another daughter pregnant but, with no husband, still their responsibility... and soon, another mouth to feed. My great-grandfather, John Albert Davis, had recently lost his shoe repair shop… and then, in the midst of this family crisis, a far greater one occurred - he suddenly died of a ruptured appendix at the age of 48 in the spring of 1932.

To his credit, my then 21-year-old grandfather Jim did do the honorable thing and married 16-year-old Jerrie a few weeks after her father's death, though apparently it took some convincing. Jim was from a prominent Nova Scotia family and Jerrie's family were mid-western Dustbowl farmers (although their pedigree was just as long and every bit as impressive)... but he did step up to the plate. (More about him later.) His ship put out to sea a few days later and he was gone for months and months. Even if things had been under better or even ideal circumstances, it was not a great beginning.

Here they are in 1933... Jerrie - who looks so happy - with Jim and baby Nancy, who was about 6 months old:

According to what I know from my late Great Auntie Doris (Grandma's younger sister - who liked her name and kept it) Jerrie adored her child - in fact, the entire family did - they all doted on her.

Here is young Aunt Doris in 1934 holding 2-year-old Nancy Lee:

And here's Jerrie with Nancy:

And Nancy again in 1936, shortly before she was "removed" from her mother's care... she was four years old here:

Losing her daughter very nearly destroyed Jerrie. And it really doesn't make sense that she did - my mother was adored by her aunts, her uncle and her grandmother, as well as by her mother. She was very well looked after - it wasn't easy, not by a long shot, in the middle of the Great Depression - but there was always food on the table, a few toys to play with and Shirley Temple-like clothes to wear. It appears that my grandmother's only "crime" was in being a free-spirit in an up-tight neighborhood and that someone reported her comings and goings and the visits from her friends to either the police, Social Services (or whatever they were called way back then) or both. Great-Aunt Doris told me that it tore my grandmother apart when the authorities took her little girl away.

Here she is in 1939... two years after Nancy was taken from her...I recognize the sad and empty look of depression...
She tried to dull the pain of her loss with alcohol, parties, lots of men, lots of cigarettes and even more alcohol. She never had another child and I've often wondered why this was, because she was most definitely a very sexual being who was never without a man in her life, and though it certainly existed, birth control was, I think, sometimes problematic to obtain. So… folk medicine potions maybe? Lots of abortions, perhaps. Or secondary infertility. Anyway - she didn't.

I don't know much more about her than this... I wish I did.

This portrait was taken sometime in 1943. The sadness in her eyes of several years earlier seems to be gone now and replaced with something almost vibrant... perhaps she was in love again. I hope so.

My grandmother Jerrie died in early August of 1970... exactly one week to the day before her 55th birthday. I had graduated from high school that June… and had turned 18 three days before her death. I had just been given my adoption file and didn't even know her name yet.

She died of a particularly nasty kind of cancer... of the tongue and throat, according to the death certificate… caused (medically) by over 40 years of chain smoking and heavy drinking.

All rights reserved. ©Deborah Rykoff Bennett 2007

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Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Knowing Your History

DAILY OM - Nurturing Mind, Body & Spirit

Unearthing Your Roots

Knowing Your History

Each of us is a piece of a larger puzzle. We are all born into the unique and complex network of individuals, settings, and circumstances that constitute our heritage. Whether or not you are aware of your ancestors, you family's country of origin, the cultural history of your people, or the trials faced by the people responsible for bringing you into the world, these forces have had a hand in shaping your values. Knowing your family history and reflecting often upon your own personal history as it relates to your heritage empowers you to look at your life in a larger historical context and to understand that you are a vital part of an ongoing drama greater than yourself.

Researching your heritage can prepare you to meet the future. The traits of your ancestors can give you insight into how your character has developed and the beliefs that form the foundation of your worldview. The knowledge you gain can help you appreciate your values and your character, giving you the confidence to be more expressive where both are concerned. At a cellular level, you carry a genetic code from your family determining things like how you age, your blood type, and personality traits. But as a spiritual being you bring in what you chose to do with that genetic coding, your free will. Unearthing your heritage is not simply about uncovering who did what when or reconnecting with long-lost relatives. Rather, it is a method of building self-awareness and bridging the gulf that divides your past from your future.

In researching our individual histories, however, we may encounter relatives who made interesting choices or were involved in traumatic events. It's easy to overestimate the importance of these pieces of our past and to cling to them. Balance is key. While your heritage has influenced the development of the person you are today, you are more than an ethnicity, a culture, or a family name. You should not feel driven to alter your likes and dislikes, dreams, preferences, or values because you feel your heritage demands it. Knowing your history is about loving who you are, understanding where you've come from, and preparing for your future.

© 2004-06 DailyOM - All Rights Reserved

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Tuesday, January 23, 2007

This is six-month-old me at my adoption party... or from my point of view, the day my OBC was sealed and my natural history obliterated. It took another adoptee to point this out to me. Funny that I never thought of it this way before.

From my parents point of view, they really did have a lot to celebrate that day. The nightmare of my dad being called before The House Un-American Activities Committee was still on-going but it didn't seem to affect the County's assessment of my parents' fitness to be my parents. My adoption was finalized without incident at the end of February 1953.

And - OK, yeah, I am grateful for that. Really grateful. Because what if I had been taken from them when I was six months old? Who knows where I'd have ended up? That really is a scary thought and it's one that I hadn't ever really thought of until about a year ago.

I had started to tackle the enormous project of going through my dad's papers. To my amazement, safely tucked away in an old red manila file folder that was literally falling apart, with "HUAC" written across the top in my father's distinctive hand, were notes of support from friends and colleagues. He'd kept them all those years. They all mentioned me... "Debbie is such a lucky little girl to have you for a father..." one said. "Debby will be so proud of you when she grows up..." said another.

The transcripts that I had expected to find were also there - transcripts of my dad's interrogation by HUAC. He had invoked his right to the Fifth Amendment as his reply to every single question put to him. Each question began with the now famous...

"Are you now or have you ever been... ?"

The truthful answer to that is - I have absolutely no idea.

Here we are when I was four:

What his friends said in their notes was true. I WAS lucky to have had him for a father. I always was and still am very proud of him and even prouder to have been his daughter. As I said in some previous post, I adored my dad. Perhaps that's why searching for my natural father - the mysterious and elusive Robert Gross - has never been terribly important to me.

Still… if anyone knows a Robert Gross (that's ROBERT GROSS) who was born in about 1930 (give or take a year), had dark hair and eyes, was Jewish but not at all religious, worked in a service station in 1951 and 1952 somewhere in the Los Angeles area, was artistic and liked to draw - and had joined the Army while he was still in high school... would you let me know?

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Requiescat In Pace

It's been several months now since I put pen to paper - so to speak.

On May 2nd of this year, at about 10 past 2 in the afternoon, my mother drew her last slow, agonized breath and died. It was warm and breezy outside.

Good, bad and at times indifferent... she was the only mother I ever knew, and though we often got along like oil and water, we loved each other deeply.

I fell apart several days later. I think I stayed in bed for almost a month.

I believe that Nature in her wisdom prepares us as we mature to lose our parents when they get very, very old - that is the natural order of things. Yet some part of me always thought that she'd never die - or that I would die first. I remember when I was 10 years old, then 20, 30 and even still at 40, not being able to imagine what my life would be like without her.

How could she die? How could she?

Oh, yeah - she was 92 years old.

She wasn't really living anymore. She stopped living quite some time ago. Years. Maybe three years... maybe five... maybe more; it's hard to say. The stroke she suffered eight years ago made Swiss cheese of her brain, leaving her with aphasia and apraxia - unable to find the proper words with which to communicate. She tried so hard, as was her way, for a couple of years to beat back the damage and repair what had been destroyed. But - she also had some kind of dementia, most probably related to the stroke, or perhaps she'd had other, smaller strokes later that demented her. After a couple of years of seeming to improve, the wind shifted and slowly she got worse and worse.

She wanted to die. She said so, often, especially in the last two years. (Well, her actual words one time were, "Make me dead." But other times she did manage to find the right words and would say, "Let me die.")

She was so, so tired. In January of this year, she somehow took matters into her own hands and began to will herself to die - she curled up into the fetal position, refusing to make eye contact, refusing to allow any physical contact, refusing sustenance. Refusing, quite simply, very purposefully and very explicitly, not to go on existing any more and to leave this mortal coil forever.

My portion of her ashes rest in a sundial (there's an urn in the column) in my back garden. Sometimes I say "Hi, Mom!" and "Bye, Mom..." as I pass by... it is, in some small way, a comfort.

She has not come to me in dreams the way my father did when he died and I have a feeling that she won't. I have a feeling that she was so ready for whatever comes after death that there will be no dreams. My father was not ready to die at all - he fought hard for his life, flat-lining once and coming back before losing the battle.

May they rest in peace.

Sunday, April 30, 2006

My mom and me - May 1953

This is one of my very favorite pictures...

I was nine months old.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

"Seeing for Yourself"...

(Note Bene! The following illustration is NOT a photograph!!!)

The body is opened with a Y incision.

The word autopsy means "seeing with one’s own eyes".

I’ve read the autopsy report so many times that I know some of it by heart. It’s the only one I’ve ever seen. I was 23 years old when I read it for the first time. It’s still completely overwhelming, though I can read it dispassionately now – well, at least most of the time.

"The body is opened with a Y incision".

"There is extensive hemorrhage…"
"… multiple extensive fractures…"
"… multiple ragged lacerations…"
"… small focal hemorrhages… "
"… adventitial blood…"
"… extensively lacerated and surrounded by… extensive retroperitoneal hemorrhage…"
"… torn in association with… fractured… bones…"

I learned new words – such as "retroperitoneal". Retroperitoneal is the area situated behind the peritoneum – and the peritoneum is the space between the two layers of membrane that covers the abdominal cavity and supports most of the vital organs – in effect, serving as an insulating and protective layer.

I learned that "adventitial" refers to the membrane that covers an organ or blood vessel.

The body that had been opened with the Y incision was that of my natural mother, Nancee. The [medical] cause of her death was recent and extensive internal trauma resulting in the rupture of her liver, ruptured right kidney, ruptured bladder, shattered pelvis and broken right ribs, 2 through 8… and a massive amount of blood loss.

What caused the trauma was that the driver of the motorcycle that Nancee was with that night in Santa Cruz failed to negotiate the sharp curve to the right on West Cliff Drive at the point where it becomes Pacific Ave. The motorcycle’s estimated speed was between 60-70 mph… the posted speed limit was (and it still is) 25 mph.

They skidded 21 feet before crashing through the guard-rail, tearing out 6 feet of it. The motorcycle skidded another 18 feet, then jumped the sidewalk to hurtle 21 feet over the bluff to the private road below. It hit the road once, bounced, then flew another 28 feet before it finally crashed to a stop. Nancee was thrown an additional 20 feet from that point of impact and landed in tall grassy weeds near a Texaco station, face down.

It was a little past 2 in the morning. She died within a few minutes… cold, broken and alone. The driver lay critically injured near the motorcycle – which was brand new and wasn’t even his – he’d borrowed it earlier in the evening. He died a month later, never having been able to make a coherent statement.

This is what I found in the fall of 1975 after having searched for my natural mother for 5 years. That she had died nearly 18 years earlier, in 1958, at the age of 25. It had never occurred to me, not even once, that she might be dead and I was completely unprepared for that possibility. Being rejected would have been joyous in comparison since where there is life there is hope. But Death doesn’t give you second or third chances. Death is absolute. Death is final.

It seemed obvious then to everyone I knew who wasn’t adopted, and even a few who were, that The Search for my natural mother was over. But it wasn’t. Far from it - in fact, not even close. It was just the beginning.

All rights reserved. ©Deborah Rykoff Bennett 2006

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Thursday, April 13, 2006

Once upon a time… a long time ago…

Once upon a time… a long time ago… in a place way far away… there lived…

All of the bedtime stories my father told began this way. I would wait holding my breath to find out what the story would be about. My favorites were the ones he told about family – about himself as a little boy growing up in post-WWI Los Angeles. Next best were the ones about his parents and how they came to America and those about his grandparents and great-grandparents a very long time ago in the Old Country - in Russia.

One of the best of these was the one of how, a very long time ago, an ancestor performed some small service or task for the Tsar - and as a reward was bestowed a surname – a valuable gift indeed for a Jew in Tsarist Russia. (Unfortunately, my dad didn’t know what his ancestor did to be given such a rare reward but the story was pretty good anyway.)

As a child, I often wondered what my own stories were and where they began. As young as I was, I knew that the wonderful stories my father told weren’t mine, too. Not really truly. I knew they ended with him and that they would go no further.

I knew my story didn’t start with me and I wanted to know where, what and who I came from - what I was made of. Luckily, thankfully, my parents understood this. When I asked, "Who were MY ancestors?" they were very interested and curious, too, but they couldn't answer me. They didn't know.

I looked into the mirror often and asked the question that every adoptee asks at one time or another: "Who do I look like?" I would also ask the girl in the mirror, "Who ARE you? WHAT are you? Where do you come from?" I would study every feature from every angle and wonder what I got from whom. I wanted and needed to know. I HAD to know.

"In all of us there is a hunger, marrow deep, to know our heritage, to know who we are, and where we have come from. Without this enriching knowledge, there is a hollow yearning, no matter what our attainments in life, there is the most disquieting loneliness."
~~Alex Haley~~

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

I'm really not an expert - BUT...

... I am of "a certain age" - which is to say, I've been around the block a few times. I am old enough and have experienced enough of life to have matured a little bit and to have learned a little bit.

Upon closer reflection, I think that perhaps my opinion about adoption has not really changed all that much over the years. Most of my feelings haven't really changed either - it's just that I am no longer pretending or suppressing quite as much as I used to. I no longer say what people expect or want to hear from me quite as much.

This is what I believe - and it has nothing to do with how I feel about my mother or my father - my adoptive parents, who were the only parents I've ever had. They loved me - that I know.

I adored my dad - not a day goes by when I don't miss him in the most profound way. His death from cancer eleven years ago is the most terrible thing that has ever happened to me in my life thus far. I loved my mom, too - but it was never easy being her child. I think had I been her natural child and been as I am, it would have been even harder... but since my sister and I were adopted and as Mom's opinion of "nurture over nature" changed 180% once we had developed our own personalities, we probably got cut some slack. We were nothing like her - and she wasn't prepared for that.

I do not say the following to hurt anyone, but it is a fact. Adoption is unnatural. It may be an ancient practice, going back to well before the time of Moses - but it's still not natural. That does not, however, make it inherently bad. But it is not Nature's intention for a woman to go through nine months of physical, emotional and hormonal changes, give birth to a baby and then hand it over to someone else to nurture. It goes against the natural order of things and to say otherwise is to deny Nature in it's purest form.

I do not believe that ALL adoptions are bad - obviously that is not true. There are children all over the world who have been orphaned or otherwise have no one to love and care for them. There are women who should never be left alone with a child for even two minutes, let alone become a parent and the same is true of men. I have a friend who was terribly abused and neglected by her natural parents, as were her many siblings. All of these children were finally removed from their dangerous parents and were ultimately adopted. None of them were infants. All of them are scarred emotionally from the traumas of abuse and neglect, removal, foster care and adoption. My friend struggles with her past - but looks to the future in her own child. She has little contact with either of her families and takes refuge in the relationship she has built with her husband's parents.

But that is NOT what happened to me, or to my sister, or to any of my friends who also happen to be adopted, save for this one... ONE... adoptee friend of mine. The rest of us, all born in the late 1940's to the early 1960's, were surrendered for adoption at birth for one reason and one reason only:

Our mothers were unmarried.

That was it. Most of them were young, still in their teens, but not all. They just weren't married. And that is a pretty crummy reason to give up your baby. It was a crummy reason then, although I do understand it - but it's an even crummier reason now and does not stand the test of time.

My personal belief is that adoption is probably a better solution than a group home or an orphanage is for those children who truly need homes and have no relatives at all who are willing or able to care for them.

However - I also believe that it is in the best interest of any child to remain within her (or his) family of origin - IF, of course, it is a safe environment and all other factors being equal - than it is to be removed from it and be given a new name, a new identity, a false background complete with ancestors from whom she does not descend and be denied her own natural name, heritage and genealogy. When that happens, the answers to the questions every adoptee has had or will have at one time or another – from the most basic "who do I look like?" to "Does this disease run in your family?" - are denied them forever.


Tuesday, August 30, 2005

My Natural Mother...

This is my natural mother, Nancee Lee Hopkins, two or three years before I was born...

Thursday, August 25, 2005

An Adoption Book List (updated on March 3rd 2010)

The English American
by Alison Larkin

The Girls Who Went Away
by Ann Fessler

The Baby Thief
by Barbara B. Raymond

Growing in the Dark ~ Adoption Secrecy and its Consequences
by Janine M. Baer

The Adoption Mystique: A Hard-Hitting Exposé of the Powerful Negative Social Stigma That Permeates Child Adoption in the United States
by Joanne Wolf Small

by Sarah Saffian

Not Remembered, Never Forgotten
by Robert Hafetz

Coming Apart Together
by Emily Hipchen

The Primal Wound
by Nancy Verrier

Coming Home to Self: The Adopted Child Grows Up
by Nancy Newton Verrier

Adoption Wisdom: A Guide to the Issues and Feelings of Adoption
by Marlou Russell, Ph.D.

Without A Map
by Meredith Hall

Because I Loved You: A Birthmother's View Of Open Adoption
by Patricia Dischler

Birth Fathers and Their Adoption Experiences
by Gary Clapton

Unlearning Adoption: A Guide to Family Preservation and Protection
by Jessica DelBalzo

Adoption: Uncharted Waters
by David Kirschner, Ph.D.

The Same Smile
by Susan Mello Souza with Joanne Medeiros Harrington

Lost & Found
by Betty Jean Lifton

Journey of the Adopted Self
by Betty Jean Lifton

The Adoption Triangle
by Arthur D. Sorosky, M.D., Annette Baran, M.S.W., Reuben Pannor, M.S.W.

Shedding Light On the Dark Side of Adoption
by Mirah Riben

The Stork Market
by Mirah Riben

Wake Up Little Susie
Rickie Solinger

Merry Bloch Jones

Shadow Mothers
Linda Back McKay

Synchronicity & Reunion
by LaVonne Harper Stiffler

Being Adopted: The Lifelong Search for Self
by David M. Brodzinsky, et al

Mother, Mother
by James Stingley

The Other Mother
by Carol Schaefer

Adoption Healing ~ a Path to Recovery
by Joe Soll, C.S.W.

Beneath a Tall Tree
by Jean Strauss

The Great Adoptee Search Book
by Jean A. Strauss

Birthright: The Guide to Search and Reunion for Adoptees, Birthparents, and Adoptive Parents
by Jean A. S. Strauss

The Stranger Who Bore Me: Adoptee-Birth Mother Relationships
by Karen Ruth March

So Here I Am! but Where Did I Come From?: An Adoptee's Search for Identity
by Mary Ruth Wotherspoon, Suzannah Tobin

Letters to My Birthmother: An Adoptee's Diary of Her Search for Her Identity
by Amy E. Dean

Broken Spirits ~ Lost Souls
by Jane Ryan

Faint Trails: A Guide to Adult Adoptee-Birth Parent Reunification Searches
by Hal Aigner

Missing Links: The True Story of an Adoptee's Search for His Birth Parents
by Vincent J. Begley

In Search of Mom: Journey of an Adoptee
by Michael C. Watson

Outer Search, Inner Journey: An Orphan and Adoptee's Quest
by Peter Dodds

Whose Child? : An Adoptee's Healing Journey from Relinquishment through Reunion ... and Beyond
by Kasey Hamner

Adoption Forum: Intimate Discussions to Unite the Triad in Healing
by Kasey Hamner

Tell Me No More Secrets, No More Lies: Life As an Adoptee
by Ginni D. Snodgrass

Search: A Handbook for Adoptees and Birthparents
by Jayne Askin

Adoption Reunion Survival Guide: Preparing Yourself for the Search, Reunion, and Beyond
by Julie Jarrell Bailey, Lynn N., M.A. Giddens

A Man and His Mother: An Adopted Son's Search
by Tim Green

Through the Eyes of an Adoptee: One Man's Compelling Search for His Beginnings
by Frank Law

Received in Grace: The Search for a Birth Family
by Norman M. Carson

The Search of a Lifetime
by Kathryn M. Denton, Teresa M. Cummings

Lifeline: The Action Guide to Adoption Search
by Virgil L. Klunder, et al

The Search for Anna Fisher
by Florence Fisher

Motherless Daughters
by Hope Edelman

The Ultimate Search Book: Worldwide Adoption & Vital Records
by Lori Carangelo

Sacred Connections - Stories of Adoption
Essays by Mary Ann Koenig
Photographs by Niki Berg
(Beautiful coffee-table type of book with lots of touching stories)

Follow Your Heart (fiction)
by Lori Paris

Evil Exchange (fiction)
by Lori Paris and Joe Soll

A Spell is Cast (fiction)
by Eleanor Cameron

Ballet Shoes (fiction)
by Noel Streatfeild

Understood Betsy (fiction)
by Dorothy Canfield

Anne of Green Gables (fiction)
by L.M. Montgomery