More On A Birth Father’s Right To Know…

(This post continues my June 9, 2915 Adoptee’s Ask column, “Does My Birth Father Have The Right To Know My Birth Mother’s Identity?” at The Door Opener Magazine Online.)

So what rights does your birth father have?

He certainly had a right to know you existed when his parental rights were terminated. I believe this right never ended and he has always had the right to know about you. And now he does, in fact, know you exist. But that is because of an accident of search, not because he received legal notice.  ScalesofJustice

What about now? Does he have the right to demand the agency show him proof that they attempted to notify him? I believe the answer is yes. If the agency complied with the law this should be a “no brainer”. I think it is incumbent on the agency to prove to him that they complied with whatever the law was at the time. The agency should show him returned letters, newspaper notices, etc. that prove their attempts at notice. It harms the agency not at all and would benefit him greatly.

But does he have the right to demand the agency tell him who your birth mother is, the woman with whom he had a sexual encounter that led to your conception?

I think the answer is yes. There was a point in time that, at a minimum, he had a moral and probably a legal right to know of your existence. Had he been notified of your existence at the time of the termination of his parental rights then he would of necessity learned your birth mother’s identity. Establishing or denying his paternity would have required he be told.

I don’t think the passage of time changes this right.

It seems unfair that the agency is hiding her identity from him simply because they CAN. Had he been informed who your birth mother was when his parental rights were terminated he would have the right to share this information with you. The law would neither prevent him from telling you nor force him to do so. It would be his personal choice.

Of course this is another reason why adoptees should be entitled to access to their original birth certificates. Knowledge of one’s identity should not depend on the personal choice or whim of one’s biological parent(s) but should exist as a matter of law.

You might want to read Lorraine Dusky’s recent post at Birth Mother/First Mother Forum “What adoption records belong to whom?” as she tackles the issue of ownership of adoption records. What’s yours? What’s mine? What’s ours? We may not all agree but the conversation is critically important.

Photo Credit: Chris Potter via Flickr

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Are You An Adoptee With A Question?

For several months I’ve been answering adoptee questions at Adoptee’s Ask, a weekly column at the Door Opener Magazine Online.  Adoptee’s Ask is a place for adoptees to ask the kinds of questions they may find difficult to ask, that may not be politically correct, or that no one seems to want to hear. “Why was I “given away”?” “Who are my “real” parents?  “How come I feel like I never belong anywhere?” And perhaps most importantly, “What can I do to heal?”  question8431849810_66647e0025_o

“Should I Even Exist?” is a question from an adoptee who didn’t feel wanted by either her birth or adoptive parents.   Another adoptee who feels deeply attached to her birth sister asks, “Is This Bond With My Birth Sister Normal?”

Are you an adoptee with a question?  You can submit your confidential, anonymous questions by emailing them to me at:  Karen@karencaffrey.com.

Photo credit:  One Way Stock.

 

 

 

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Kung Fu (Adoptee!) Panda 3 Movie Review – Parts II, III and IV (Conclusion)

This movie is so rich with both positive (and a bit of not-so-positive) adoptee story and myth that I ended up writing a four part movie review at the Door Opener Online Magazine.  Visit the link to see the March 12, March 28, April 4 and April 11 installments and to read the review in its entirety:

Adoptees Ask …

 

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Kung Fu (Adoptee!) Panda 3 Movie Review – Part I

(To read Part I of this post, visit Adoptees Ask at The Door Opener Magazine Online)

So we have an adoptee who has been found, versus an adoptee who is searching.  This is a nod to the increase in openness in adoption and the reduction in shaming of birth/biological parents who historically were advised to “move on/forget about” their children.

The story shows the villagers (who watch a suspenseful interaction between Po and Li before they recognize each other) being supportive and happy for them.  Again, we have a positive new narrative in place of society’s prior fear and condemnation.  The community is implicitly and explicitly recognizing the importance of the relationship between the two. Panda6122807835_202ebe3ef1_z

The one person who is not supportive, however, is Po’s adoptive father Mr. Ping.  Mr. Ping is a goose by the way, not a panda, intentionally underscoring the biological difference/”misfit” between the adoptee and the adoptive parent.  Overall this puts the lie to the old myth (and practice) of trying to physically “match” adoptees with their adoptive families so they could be passed off as biological offspring.  The whole village can see that Po is adopted.  (More next week on how Mr. Ping kept this fact from Po for many years.)

This begins what I think is one of the most powerful and positives aspect of the story, which is the evolution of the relationships between and among Po and his two fathers.  The best thing about it is that it shows all three characters having real, raw and unpolished feelings.  Mr. Ping is immediately both suspicious and jealous of Li.  He says, “I thought Po was the only panda left?” (It turns out all Pandas were wiped out by the evil forces except those remaining in a secret, hidden Panda village.)  When Po excitedly wants to show Li his Dragon Warrior weapons, he rushes off with Li exclaiming how proud Li will be of him.  Mr. Ping is left alone at his noodle shop saying forlornly, “I’m already proud…”  Later on in a moment of anger and jealousy, Mr. Ping grabs Po and exclaims to Li, “Stay away from my son!”

Po ultimately decides that he must return to the secret panda village with Li to learn how to master the energy of chi and become powerful enough to defeat the dark forces.  “I can only master chi by finding out who I really am,” says Po.  Surrendering to Po’s great need to find out more about his origins (and thus himself), Mr. Ping offers to help him (and to literally nourish him) on his journey, saying “I’ll pack your lunch for the road.”

I love that Mr. Ping’s imperfect, selfish feelings are so “out there”.  I think it gives implicit permission for adoptive parents to acknowledge these kind of feelings may dwell in their own hearts, while at the same time acknowledging the adoptee’s need to continue on their journey of self-knowledge in spite of them.  Po does go to the secret village with his father Li.

Mr. Ping’s self-sacrifice and love as an adoptive parent is what most adoptees crave as they explore their own identity.  Yet at this point in the movie, we are still seeing what appears to be a struggle of “either/or” between Po’s adoptive and birth fathers.   This is the old cultural narrative.  It said that there is only room for one father (or mother) in an adoptee’s life and thus conflict between the two parents is inevitable.  Furthermore, the adoptee must choose which parent is their “real” (read: more important, more valuable, etc.) parent, thereby diminishing the part of themselves that comes from the less real/valuable parent.

Po himself, by the way, appears blissfully ignorant of this struggle in his innocent excitement about the journey to the secret village.  This is one of the areas where I felt the movie dropped the ball.  Most adoptees feel very torn by loyalty binds between their adoptive and birth families.  In Kung Fu Panda 3, Mr. Ping struggles alone with his feelings of jealousy and fear.  Neither Po nor Li seem aware of Mr. Ping’s pain and are consumed solely by their own experiences.  I would have liked to see Po facing some of the loyalty issues so common in adoptees.

Next week:  Is there a place for both Mr. Ping and Li in Po’s life?  What about the lies both Mr. Ping and Li have told Po?  And where is Po’s birth/first mother?

(Are you an adoptee with a question? You can submit your confidential, anonymous questions by emailing them to me at:  Karen@karencaffrey.com.  I’ll answer in a future column.)

Photo credit:  Brett Jordan via Flckr

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Part II – How Could They Have Kept The Fact I Am Adopted From Me? How can I ever trust them, or myself, again?

(To read Part I of this post, visit Adoptees Ask at The Door Opener Magazine Online)

They have a “late discovery” of this truth through other means, for example as in your case by overhearing a conversation between relatives. Sometimes they may learn the truth by being taunted by other children: “My mom says you’re adopted! You weren’t even good enough for your real mother to keep you.” Sometimes the discovery is made after the death of the adoptive parents as a result of going through safe deposit boxes and estate documents. As DNA testing becomes more and more routine I believe we will increasingly find adoptees learning of their adoption because their DNA results prove it is impossible for them to be biologically related to their (adoptive) parents.

I want to let you know that every reaction you are having makes sense. It is not paranoid to wonder who else knew of your adoption because, certainly, many other people were involved in this conspiracy of silence. Your (adoptive) mother obviously did not go through a pregnancy with you, and this fact would have been noticed by all of her contemporaries. You have a right to know who else was aware of this information.

I anticipate you will need to address at least two levels of healing. The first is the healing work you need to do inside of yourself and your psyche. The second is in healing in relationship. You mentioned you have self-doubt and a hard time trusting yourself. I imagine that at least some of this is due to the fact that you were deceived by those closest to you in your formative years.  heartarrow2173123478_bff18fb3cc_z

As children, we develop our sense of confidence in our perception in large part by being validated by our caregivers. We have an experience like feeling sad, for example, because we feel tears in our eyes, heaviness in our hearts and our shoulders droop. Our parents or other caregivers notice this and respond congruently by reflecting our reality back to us. (“Oh, you’re crying and sad! Let me give you a hug and you can tell me what is wrong.”) Over time we learn to interpret our internal body sensations and develop trust that they are acceptable, and are giving us correct information about ourselves and the world. (“I’m sad because my cat died. That makes sense. Caring people will comfort me when I’m sad.”) Continue reading

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Part II – “Why Doesn’t She Love Me?”

(To read Part I of this post, visit Adoptees Ask at The Door Opener Magazine Online)

To become unstuck we must do the deep inner work of healing the part of ourselves who believes we were bad or that we did something wrong. My friend, you did nothing that made her not love you. The tragedy is there is nothing you could do to make her love you, either. Healing the vulnerable part of the psyche that is struggling to deal with these realities requires intention, time, patience and love. And a deep, restorative and loving attachment to yourself, usually aided by the presence of a compassionate, loving other. broken heart5362866679_6c201f3801_z

Given the pain that underlies the feeling of stuck I encourage you to try not to dismiss your attachment to your birth mother as “stupid”. Please attempt to honor and understand this part of yourself, even as you feel frustrated by being unable to let go.

This is not cognitive work. While your mind believes, nay KNOWS, that you do not need her love, there is another part of you deep inside that does not know this yet. This part must be sought by you, met in all its messy, disorganized pain, and integrated into the rest of your psyche with the deepest compassion. You must befriend this part of yourself with love, and a trusted guide. When you become trustworthy to your vulnerable self, this part will attach to you, the one person in this world who will never leave.

I am describing the healing accomplished in deep psychotherapy, some spiritual processes, and even some loving and aware adult relationships. It is incremental, but possible, work. To the extent you can say fully, truthfully and with an open heart, “I love myself”, the stuck place will slowly ease, and hold you back less and less.

Namaste. (My soul acknowledges yours.)

Photo credit:  Kate Ter Haar via Flckr

 

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Part II – What You Don’t Know CAN Hurt You: The Beautiful Truth in Father Unknown by filmmaker David Quint

(To read Part I of this review, visit the February 15, 2016 column of Adoptees Ask at The Door Opener Magazine Online.)

What we do not or cannot heal we pass on to our children. Without judging Urban’s mother, we are made painfully aware of the deep damage wrought upon Urban’s psyche and soul as a result the secret she kept from him. Obviously receiving no grace herself for her pain and shame, Urban’s mother passes her unhealed pain to Urban, who passes it on to David. Yet in an amazingly beautiful turning of the tide, David makes a life- and family-changing decision to interrupt the ancestral legacy of pain. Upon his urging, he and his father take a journey across the ocean back to the country where his father was born. What they find irrevocably alters and heals them both as well as others, even as it brings some painful changes to David’s life when he returns to home a different man.

This is an incrediblOpenDoory hopeful story. By banishing a legacy of shame, one person’s decision can heal his own pain, bring healing to the generation behind him and pass that healing on to the next generation. Healing reverberates out in all directions, to all who we encounter and particularly to those who are closest to us.

This is a “truth will set you free” film that will tear your heart open and put it back together again, fuller and richer for the experience.

Photo Credit:  Klearchos Kapoutis via Flickr

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Are You Ready To Change? Get Help From The IAmAwareNow Therapy Reminder App

Let’s face it. Although most of us know there are lots of things we could do to become healthier and happier, we aren’t always ready to make those things happen. Life intrudes. Life hijacks our awareness, or a real crisis actually presents itself.

And then, of course, there is our ambivalence about changing.  8504887233_0df9a570b1_m

So we avoid thinking about change. Or we think about it, but we don’t make a plan of action. At some point, however, we start planning and preparing to change. And then finally….We act!

(Two bright guys named Carlo C. DiClemente and J. O. Prochaska researched and described these recognizable stages of change. The best interventions are tailored to meet your needs depending on the stage in which you find yourself.)

So now you are ready to take action. “I’m going to stop telling myself I’m stupid!” “I will tell myself I deserve love.” “I will take those deep belly breaths when I feel stressed.”

(Prochaska and DiClemente would say you have entered either the “Action” stage.)

But even though you are ready and armed with the best intentions, you might still get busy and forget to take action. Darn! “It’s three o’clock and I haven’t taken a belly breath yet.” “What was that affirmation I was supposed to be telling myself?” Darn, darn, darn. Continue reading

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The IAmAwareNow Therapy Reminder App Is Here! Get Help Remembering, and Implementing, Your Wellness Practices

Is is always a helpful practice to renew and reflect upon our intentions to be do all the things we want to do to be healthier, happier and wiser. Sometimes this means having practical goals, like eating more nutritious food, taking an exercise class, or keeping our desk and home more organized.

But how can we remember to engage in our deeper, more internal wellness practices? Like reminding ourselves that we are deserving of love? That now is the time to take a deep belly breath? Like noticing what we are grateful for each day?
I’ve noticed that it is often really difficult for my clients to carry these more subtle, intangible practices from a therapy session into their busy lives.Blogpic

For many years I’ve brain-stormed with people on how to carry a hard-won awareness from a therapy session to their home and work. How can they jog their memory? A stack of post it notes, placed on the computer or on the fridge? A small personal journal carried around in a pocketbook or briefcase? An object that they can discretely place in their office that will remind them of a personal intention when they glance at it?

Sometimes these things work. But just as often they did not. I’ll sit down with a client and ask, “How did it go this past week? Did you remember to tell the child inside of you that she’s precious, even though her father called her stupid?” Often the response is, “Oh, I did it for a day or two but then got too busy at work”. Or, “Darn! I wanted to but one of the kids got sick and I just forgot about it.” It’s really hard to remember to do something new, to keep your awareness on your good intentions, even when you want to. (Never mind if you have any unconscious ambivalence about it.)

I often found myself musing, and saying out loud, that I wished I could be like a “shoulder angel” perched on my client’s shoulder when they left the session. Every so often I could whisper in their ear. “Say, what are you grateful for right now?” ”Gee, you seem really tense….why not take a belly breath?” Or whatever little gem of personal awareness that had arisen in their most recent session.

Then one day it hit me. What is the one thing that almost everyone has with them these days? A cell phone, of course. And what if there were a way to shoe horn my “shoulder angel” idea into a cell phone? By Jove, I’ve got it! I can make an app for this!

Enter, stage left, the IAmAwareNow app. It is a therapy reminder app that sends you friendly reminders (via push notifications, and a vibration or ring tone) of the personal wellness practices that you are trying to remember to do. The app has some suggested basic practices which I hope have universal appeal. (viz.- “Take A Belly Breath”) And the premium version allows you to input your own, unique wellness practices. (viz. – “I deserve kindness even when I’m stressed out.”)

IAmAwareNow Therapy Reminder App is available at iTunes and on GooglePlay.

I suppose I could have called it The Pocket Therapist. But I wanted to emphasize that it is for, and about, YOU. Your awareness and your life. Are you aware now? :- )  I hope this app helps you to be so, and to help you remember to engage in your personal wellness practices.

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When Do You Tell Your Secret?

“What would you do if you discovered that the people who loved you most in the world had kept a secret from you your whole life? And you’re asked to keep the secret for them?”

Thus begins my review of Lorna Little’s just published memoir, “Mum’s The Word!: A memoir of family secrets reveals the complexities of love, relationships, and coming to terms with change.” Lorna Little, LCSW is a Connecticut-based speaker, media personality, licensed clinical social worker, and youth advocate.  Mumstheword11523379905_a9b71f470f_z

Her memoir was released this past Friday, January 16 at an invitation-only event held at CPTV in Hartford, before a crowd of about one hundred of Lorna’s friends, coworkers and community members. Most of the members of the audience knew the book was a memoir, but assumed that it focused on her career as a local radio show host and media personality. After the welcome, introductions, and a few preliminary questions from the interviewer, the audience quieted.

Lorna took a deep breath and said, “I’m adopted.” Continue reading

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