Category Archives: Adoption
“No matter what anyone tells you, words and ideas can change the world.” – Robin Williams
Dead Poets Society is one of my favorite movies. I love all of its messages …
Seize the day.
Constantly look at things in a different way.
Find your own voice.
It’s not easy to find your own voice–especially on a stage. Now keeping journals? That’s easy. My thoughts flood out on paper and it’s how I think and process. (Ever since I got married I journal a lot less because my husband is now my journal–poor soul.) Keeping a journal is such freedom. Blank pages. Space to write and think. And no one judges what you have to say or how well you write it. Writing for a big audience is an entirely different story. People aren’t always kind in the comments section, and as much as I can pull up my big girl panties, I can’t always let go of what people think. Even though it can be difficult to write the truth and serve it up for public consumption, I feel compelled.
I know our stories can change the world.
Lately, I’ve received a lot of kind emails from strangers about my stories. Strangers thanking me for writing openly about finding my birth mom or overcoming my battle with my weight. Recently a woman said my story about seeking counseling in my twenties to overcome depression led her to seek professional help so can have a chance at a happy life. I felt so grateful to read that email. To know we can even help one person is the greatest gift. Helping just one person makes the vulnerability of writing and sharing our stories so worth it …
“Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy—the experiences that make us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.” ― Brene Brown
Here are some of my latest stories . . .
Make your life extraordinary.
I’ve always thought there are no coincidences. And while my husband and I love to plan our days, it amazes me how life can toss your To Do list out the window and show you what’s truly important. Any day you wake up, everything can change.
When I woke up on January 11th at 6:30 a.m. my first thought was: I’m so tired. Waking up every 10 minutes isn’t an ideal way to sleep. Giving up, I got out of bed and decided to look for a maternity dress to wear to my baby shower the next day. After rummaging through my closet, I found one. I stepped into the bathroom to try it on and suddenly my water broke all over me and the bathroom floor. I stared down at my feet in disbelief.
So the day began as I called out to my husband Reed and said, “I think we have a problem,” and the day ended for us as a new family.
Our twins are here. We had our minds set on February 1st. That was our plan, make it to February 1st. It was the magical safe zone in our heads … 36 weeks pregnant with twins. But there we were, on a rainy January 11th morning, making our way to the hospital at 33 weeks pregnant. Less than 12 hours later, our girls entered the world, their tiny bodies lifted into the air, born 20 minutes apart—our two mini miracles.
Call it intuition. My mom was going to fly or drive to stay with us and help for three months starting on February 1st. She really didn’t want to miss the birth of our girls, so I called her up one day and asked if she’d come earlier, just in case. The date she chose to fly out? January 11th—the day we welcomed our girls into the world. As we made our way to the hospital, she was making her way to the airport. She had no idea I was in labor until my husband called her at the airport. What makes the story more special is that it’s my birth mom, who I searched and found when I was 26. She never thought she’d recover from having to give me up for adoption when she was a teenager, and here she was arriving just in time to meet her new granddaughters and be a part of their lives from the beginning.
The little things. Going home from the hospital without your babies is awful. Chalk it up to one of my least favorite emotions experienced ever. I knew our girls received stellar care in the NICU (or as one nurse told me: “Think of it as the most expensive babysitters you will ever have.”) and it was just a matter of time before they’d be discharged, but our painfully quiet house filled with all things baby, was difficult to endure. It gave me a brief insight into the pain of what my birth mom must have experienced, going home without a baby, but her pain wasn’t temporary.
My sister made our homecoming better. With her extra set of keys to our house, she decorated our house for a celebration. Pink girl balloons tied to our mailbox, yummy groceries, flower arrangements, homemade soup, and champagne chilled on ice awaited our return. The love from my sister made the first night tolerable. Her touches made me feel hopeful.
While NICU nurses might have a serious job to do, the small touches meant so much as our girls spent three weeks in the NICU before coming home. I was given little bits of cloth to put my scent on as I slept, to place next to the girls tiny faces in their isolettes the next day. The NICU nurses took time to do baby footprints and a volunteer dropped by with homemade guardian angels to hang above their isolettes. Strangers made us blankets for the girls.
Grandparents were already spoiling our new girls. Other family and friends flooded us with baby gifts. Friends stopped by our house with cookies. Love kept showing up in tiny ways to carry us through.
My friend went into labor too. My husband and I went to a Marvelous Multiples class where we met another couple, Alicia and Mike. We both were carrying twins due the same week. Two boys on the way for them, two girls for us. We both went into early labor just days apart and ended up next to them in the NICU. While lots of moms carrying multiples experience preterm labor, there were so many similarities in our stories and we were able to talk, share and support each other through the process. Now they are new and lasting friends and we can’t wait to get together with them for some twin outings.
The name Marie. To pay tribute to my birth mom and explain my adoption story to our girls someday, we used the middle name my birth mom gave me at birth, Marie, as the middle name for our new daughter Riley … Riley Marie.
Two birthdays and two birthday gifts. On my Birthday, Jan. 21, 10 days after the girls entered the world, they were removed from enclosed separate isolettes and moved into one open crib—together. Ever since they were reunited, they turn toward one another. They may start out on their backs, but they always turn to face each other and reach out to touch each other’s hands. And on my husband’s Birthday, coming up March 1, our girls will officially be full-term … a day I consider to be their second Birthday. A day we can all celebrate life’s mini-miracles.
What was originally on my To Do list for January 11th? Writing work for clients, get groceries, get my nails done, call the vet, write a blog … but a different plan was in store for us. A plan of welcoming two new precious lives into the world—surrounded with the love from family, friends, new friends and strangers. In 24 hours, everything can change.
I have a lot of empathy for birth mothers. I wasn’t angry about being adopted. I didn’t feel abandoned or rejected. I put an “I don’t know” label on my adoption. For me it was always: I don’t know why I am adopted, but someday I will find out.
I was curious.
As a child, my adoption came in handy. On a day when my parents were driving me particularly nuts, I could imagine my birth mom was a fairy princess in a faraway land who could come and find me. I could pretend she was someone famous. In my rebellious teenage angst, I could use my separate genes to disconnect a little bit from my parents when it was convenient.
With it being Mother’s Day, moms of all types are being celebrated. Moms who are no longer with us are being remembered. I want to make sure birth moms are not forgotten.
From my own experience of finding and reuniting with my birth mom, and talking to other birth mothers and adoptees, I have learned many things. I often wish I could speak to birth mothers directly to share those things. Here’s a little bit of what I would say.
Too much time is lost on pain and guilt. I think you are incredibly selfless for enduring a nine month pregnancy knowing your arms would be empty at the end. Don’t lose time simmering in guilt and regret, and transition your mind to the lives you have blessed. You made the ultimate sacrifice and gave the ultimate gift.
You aren’t forgotten. Every adoptee looks in the mirror and sees a part of you, or goes out into the universe and does something you do. You aren’t forgotten; you are multiplied. I spent my first 26 years apart from my birth mom and yet we are profoundly alike. My mom (who raised me) even thought of you. She especially thought of you on my Birthdays. She had tears in her eyes as she wondered if you were okay.
You can talk about it. Silence doesn’t make pain disappear. Silence can’t erase the past or comfort you. The only way to get beyond pain of any type is to go through it. Don’t bury it; talk about it. Once you begin to talk, you will soon discover that you are not alone and you can heal.
Use an “I don’t know” label. If you are hoping the child you put up for adoption searches for you some day, I suggest using an “I don’t know” label if time goes by and you aren’t found. It doesn’t mean the baby you brought into the world doesn’t think of you or wonder about you. Many adoptees don’t search out of fear of appearing disloyal to the parents who raised them. Other adoptees think you don’t want to be found, and are fearful to hear you don’t want to meet them. Some think it’s easier to deal with the unknown than to discover it. Don’t think it’s about you, because it probably isn’t.
There’s enough love to go around. Any parent knows that love for one child doesn’t use up all of the love; there is still plenty of love for other children. Love is always in abundance. It’s the same way for adoptees. We can love our parents who raised us, and we can love you, one doesn’t negate, prevent or interfere with the other.
You have a right. I have met a few birth moms who told me they feel like they don’t have the right to search because they relinquished their rights long ago. If you didn’t have rights, there wouldn’t be national registries where you can sign up to be connected with your (birth) son or daughter. I love registries because they mean both parties want to be found. You don’t have to wait to be found (out of some type of self-punishment), you can reach out too.
Forgive yourself. I know birth moms who carry deep wounds. (In fact, it’s the reason I am writing this blog.) While most of those wounds are caused from the loss of a child, the lifetime heavy burden of self-torment is optional. There is no conspiracy against you. You could have a child out there who wonders about you, wants to know you, or is curious about what kind of person you are. No adoptees I have met wish you ill will; many, like me, aren’t angry or resentful. Tell yourself a different story, one about how you turned a childless couple into a family—because you did.
Happy Mother’s Day.
Posted on February 11, 2012 in Adoption by Sandra Bienkowski
I was adopted and grew up with very little information about my background. I knew I was born at a Catholic hospital in Syracuse, New York. I knew a foster family took care of me until I was adopted at six weeks. My (adoptive) parents thought my birthmother was young, but they weren’t sure. I was named Theresa Marie. For my first 26 years, that’s all I knew. In New York state, adoption records are closed.
With the growing popularity of Websites like Ancestry.com and the show, Who Do You Think You Are?, discovering your genetic lineage has become a fun little recreational pursuit.(Ancestry.com makes a lot more sense to me than the show … not sure why anyone would waste time watching a celebrity track down her ancestral history, but that’s just me.) Ancestry.com advertises: It’s not just history; it’s your history. So start with yourself and we’ll help you find more about your heritage. When I read that I hear the Church lady voice from Saturday Night Live inside my head: “Well, isn’t that special!”
Yes, finding out more about you and your family by tracing your lineage centuries back is fascinating and cool. Who wouldn’t be curious about their family history? But here’s the thing: If you are adopted and born in the wrong state, you can’t even track down your birthparents (not without a lot of luck and hoop jumping). Only half of all states allow access to an original birth certificate when both sides (adoptee and birthparent) consent. In 36 states, adoptees are allowed to seek identifying information, if there is mutual consent, but that’s a big if.
Now don’t get me wrong. Our society has come a long way. Social pressures used to mandate that families preserve the myth that adoptees were formed biologically, leading to closed adoptions being the only option. (I only hope we have also moved beyond adoptive parents feeling societal pressure to lie to their kids about being adopted.) Today, open adoptions in all different forms are increasingly popular.
Closed adoptions have evolved too. National registries now reunite adoptees and birthparents when both sides consent. And in almost all states (except Pennsylvania where you have to petition the court), adoptees can apply for non-identifying information when they are 18. Despite these improvements, I still think we have a long way to go.
I always knew I would search for my birthparents because being adopted made me feel like my story began at chapter three. Someone out there knew why I was adopted, but I didn’t know. Other people had more information about me than I had. When I was 21, I applied to Catholic Charities for my non-identifying information. When the five pages arrived in the mail, I combed through mostly physical descriptions of my birth family for any bit of information I could use to launch my search.
I finally landed on one sentence: “The birthmother’s mother was employed as a town clerk.” Score! The names of town clerks are public information. I began putting together a list of town clerks in New York the year I was born. I searched by process of elimination, using scraps of information I had like my grandmother’s age and gender. It worked. Four months later, I talked to my birthmother for the first time. Soon after, I met my big, extended birth family. The reunion was an extremely rewarding and life-changing experience for all of us … and it continues to be today.
Yet I can’t help wondering how I would search if that crucial sentence wasn’t included in my papers. In New York, unless a birthparent signs up on the national registry, adoptees have to get a court order to unseal their records, and it probably only works if you are dying and need an organ. My birthmom never put her name on a national registry, not because she didn’t want to find me … she had guilt about putting me up for adoption and didn’t feel like she had the right to search.
People—all people—have a right to know who they are. I get that adoptive parents and birthparents need to be protected. No one wants a court battle over a child. I understand the right to privacy issues for a birthparent deciding to give up a child and wanting to start over. I know adoptive parents need to have peace of mind in knowing their child won’t be taken away. I just don’t think closed adoption is fair to the child.
Adoptees should not have to wait until they are 18 to find out their ethnicity or why they were placed for adoption. Access to information should not be a lottery of luck, dependent upon the state in which you are born. I think adoptions should be open and not shrouded in shame or secrecy. There are plenty of reminders as you grow up that you should know your genetic history—like every time you share a family history story at school, visit a doctor and need to fill out a form, or watch a news story about a health scare.
Sure, some adoptees are more curious about their backgrounds than others. Some, like me, satisfy that curiosity with a search. Others don’t know what it’s like to be genetically related to someone until they have children of their own. But I believe all adoptees have a right to know their lineage and how their lives began.
If we are going to have reality TV genealogy searches for sport, let’s get real and replace all archaic adoption laws and regulations that prevent adoptees from fully knowing who they are. Until then, I won’t get excited about people (with living genetic relations all around them) searching for dead relatives. Not until adoptees have the same basic rights in every state.