Comforting Patterns

So JudiLynns’ comment has been bouncing around my head since the day she left it.  Her questioning if I really believe in genetics, have I lost my mind suggesting the existence of a hair color gene and am I perhaps “copying” my daughter have prompted me to think once again about adoption, genetics and what is referred to by Stiffler (and other psychosocial studies types) as synchronicity.

For the blog record, I was joking about the hair color gene. According to many of my readers, my blog posts are emotionally heavy most of the time. Many of my readers have joked they need therapy or a good stiff drink after they read some of my words. I was attempting to be a bit lighthearted and fun while pointing out an obvious enjoyable similarity between my daughter and me. I have been a hair coloring fiend since my early teens.  Imagine my amusement to see the same in the daughter I was not permitted to raise? Coincidence? Science?  Or me “copying” a child I birthed but haven’t been in the presence of since she was three days old? 

For purposes of this post I am going to loosely define genetics and synchronicity as I suspect some (maybe even Judy) are mixing up the two concepts. Others might find the discussion interesting.

Genetics is a science that deals with the structure and function of genes, their behavior, and patterns of inheritance from parent to offspring, and gene distribution, variation and associated change in populations. As genes are universal to all living organisms, the science of genetics is applied to the study of all living systems, from viruses and bacteria, through plants and animals, and naturally, to humans. When I refer to genetics in adoption, I refer to those aspects of an individual that clearly come from their genetic makeup or more commonly known as inherited. A predisposition for a disease like cystic fibrosis (CF) is an example of something that might be inherited.

CF is a disease passed down through families by a defective gene. Millions of Americans carry the defective CF gene, but do not have any symptoms. As a person with CF must inherit two defective CF genes — one from each biological parent it is highly unlikely a child will “get” CF from biologically unrelated adoptive parents. I happen to know a fair amount about CF as it is possible my two sons carry the gene while being free of the disease. Their aunt died of the disease when she was sixteen. My ex husband and I underwent genetic testing focused on ruling me out of the equation as the doctors assume my sons father is a carrier. This suggests that my sons as well could be carriers despite being free of the disease. 

With this understanding of genetics in mind, I was indeed joking that my daughter may have inherited a hair coloring gene due to our striking similarities in that regard. How else could that have happened?  If my daughter had been raised by me one could easily argue it was nurture, she saw me do it, wanted in on the colorful action, and decided to do same. The same argument could be made for her adoptive mother or father. Perhaps they also colored their hair every six weeks.  As there is no documented medically inherited hair color gene, (as there is with CF) it assumed to not exist. 

It is my folly.

Or is it?

Genetics? Coincidence?  Me “copying” my daughter as Judy suggests or might there be something else at work here?

Synchronicity (again as defined by psychosocial types studying these things)  is the “experience of two or more events that are apparently causally unrelated or unlikely to occur together by chance, yet are experienced as occurring together in a meaningful manner.” The concept of synchronicity was first described by Swiss psychologist, Carl Gustav Jung.

In her 1992 book titled Synchronicity and Reunion: The Genetic Connection of Adoptees and Birthparents, author LaVonne Stiffler details “coincidences” in adoption reunion. These events include dreaming of one’s child in specific danger, naming a later child by the unknown name of the firstborn, knowing the day of a mother’s death, vacationing in the same location, making identical purchases, and beginning to search at the same time.

Psychologist Jean Mercer, PhD, spokesman for science-based and humane psychotherapy for adopted and foster children,  challenges Stiffler’s view of adoption and synchronicity in her blog post titled It Ain’t Necessarily So: Mistaken Conclusions From Adoption Anecdotes. In this post she questions the connection between mother and child, the “myth” that a mother has left her “stamp” on her child, as well as the longing an adopted child may have for their biological family.  Mercer explains that “birth mother myth may be a remnant of the old conviction that a pregnant woman’s wishes and feelings would mark her baby both mentally and physically.” She cites the example of a mother wanting a particular food item and being told to eat it for if she did not, her child would “want”.  She goes further to suggest that it is only a step from that food belief “that something happened during pregnancy that irrevocably connected the baby to the birth mother.”

Mercer doesn’t outright call a total foul on Stiffler’s work in adoption synchronicity rather she questions the suggested phenomenon and states “…we can’t build our understanding of the world on a mere assumption that the phenomenon exists”.

With all due respect to Mercer and her work, I will state I believe in the phenomenon but that is of course because I have lived it and can detail many “coincidences” between my daughter and me. That being said, if you are to follow Mercer explanation (and perhaps even commenter JudiLynn) I am making it up, copying my daughter or seeing things I want to see, not things that are necessarily there.  My beliefs are, as stated by Mercer, nothing more than a “comforting pattern”.  To wit, just as adoption professionals profiting from the sale of children will offer, there is no connection between me and my child.

Intellectually I completely understand how this could be suggested. After all, adoptive parents like to believe that the child they adopted was destined for them by god and magical thinking type forces. If one is to believe a magical connection between unrelated individuals, certainly they can also suggest a lack of connection between related ones as well.

Do you agree with Stiffler? Mercer? Jung? Your own experience?

What if I introduce the idea of Fetomaternal Microchimerism to you? Will that sway your opinion one way or the other?

Microchimerism is the presence of a small number of cells, genetically distinct from those of the host individual and an organ. The most common form is Fetomaternal Microchimerism (or fetal chimerism). Said in plain English, fetal chimerism suggests that a small number of my daughters’ very unique DNA cells stayed with me after I gave birth to her.  These fetal cells have been documented to persist in a mother’s circulation for as long as 38 years and in some cases, forever.

Oh so many questions.

Fetomaternal Microchimerism could explain the mothers’ connection to the child but if no such cells stay with the child, how do we explain such events from the surrendered child’s point of view?  Does synchronicity only apply to mothers and if so, how can you possibly exclude the child from that equation?

Research states that 50-75% of mothers retain fetal cells. It also states that maternal cells have been found in offspring though at a much lesser percentage.

Again, I ask, would the presence of these cells create the connection or “homing instinct” Mercer questions? 

Moreover, if science has found the cells have persisted for as long as thirty eight years, might the connection be lost after some longer period, and if so, would that help explain why some older mothers claim not feeling/no connection for their child upon reunion?

Mercer suggests that “to understand whether there are special links between birth mothers and their separated babies, we need to look at a large group of such people and examine the experiences and narratives of all of them, not just those who have been reunited and are volunteering to tell us about themselves.”

While my blog readers will hardly qualify as the large group Mercer is after, I ask each of you to consider sharing your thoughts – for or against – nature, nurture, genetics or synchronicity. Perhaps in doing so, we can each add something to this growing body of work. Perhaps we will eliminate the need to continually question the existence or value of the mother-child bond. 

At the very least perhaps we can demonstrate  that the value of that bond is best determined by those connected by it.

Not Lost in Translation

I have taken a lot of heat over the years from various adoption effected parties when it comes to that name thing.  I have mothers tell me I am wrong to call my daughter by her amended name as it erases her original identity. I have had adoptees tell me I am wrong to call her by her original name as it erases her only “real” identity. I have had adoptive parents tell me they “bought” the right to name the child what they please and that my daughter’s original name went by the wayside once the check was cashed (yes, they actually said this to me). Those same adoptive parents tell me I am disrespecting the “wonderful” people who raised my daughter. (How do I know they are wonderful? I have never met them. More importantly, how do they?).

I will admit the name thing flummoxed me for a few years.  Until I found my daughter, I referred to her by her given, original name, Amber Lyn.  It is all I knew.  Once I found her and learned her amended name, I did my best to refer to her by that. In my own head I would do this quick translation of Amber to [name].  I would force myself to write her amended name when I wrote the few emails I wrote to her.  It was odd. Felt like I was learning a new language. You know that feeling you get in your head when you are searching for a word in a different language?  For me it’s a buzzing, clicking, scanning type of sound. My throat constricts, my eyeballs will look up to the right, and I might even utter words like “uhhhhhhh” while the disc in my head spin in its drive and finds the proper term. I studied Spanish for eight years yet after that I did not use it regularly.  I know the words but it takes me some time, in my head, to say, translate what I would say to what a Spanish speaking person might say. Same thing, sort of.

As the years went by and I was exposed to this or that argument for or against using an adoptees original name, it became more natural for me to say [amended name].  For me, personally, the most compelling reason to absorb this is that this name is what my daughter identifies with.  To establish a relationship with her, I felt strongly, I needed to speak the language that is spoken in her adoption country – not mine.  Her language, to my knowledge, does not include the words Amber Lyn. Were I to utter those words to her, refer to her by that name in any way, I am confident she would have shut down immediately. So I adapted.

Others did not. My mother (as I have ranted about here) did not. Well, she may have, but only recently and I am not sure if that was a permanent change or a temporary slip.  My best friend, she does not acknowledge her as [amended name] either. Some of you dear blog readers and friends of mine?  You don’t either.

I realize this is because many of you don’t know her amended name. Some do. Most don’t.  Most of you refer to her as “daughter” or “my daughter”. A few, more so recently than ever before, say Amber.

I don’t like it. 

Relax. I aint hollerin’ atcha.  I am not upset.  I merely stating that I don’t like it for reasons I mention above. I fear it invalidates my daughters only known existence and if she were to read it here she would bristle. I don’t want her to bristle. I fear she bristles too much where I am concerned.

Beyond that, there is a deeper, more personal reason I don’t like it when others refer to her as Amber.

For me, personally, every time I hear someone refer to her by her birth name I feel it as an emotional slap in my purty lil face. It is a linguistic backhand of the lies I bought into, the fantasy I created contrasted against the reality of who and what I found in reunion. 

Adoption promised me an uber-perfect child would be found upon reunion and there was never any doubt in my mind that I would find her.  It was who and what I found that was the surprise. My adoption caseworker planted the seeds in this wilted garden of hope by telling me all about waivers of confidentiality and registries while simultaneously reinforcing the notion of this fabulous, much better off life she would have.   There is shadow stuff at work here in that the system set my daughter and I up as polar opposites and I bought into it.  I was dark and evil and nasty and festering and if she stayed with me she would be the new and not necessarily improved version of the horrible nastiness. She would inherit the added pus-filled benefit of being labeled a bastard.  If surrendered to adoption however, she would avoid that putrid nastiness (about now you should hear angels sing and see a bright light…you might even see unicorns and fairies).  I surrendered my daughter fully and utterly convinced that I was the scum of the earth and that closed stranger adoption would avoid such a future for my child. She deserved not only better than things. She deserved a better mother than the one someone elses god had granted her.

During the period she was lost to me (1986 – 2005) I found comfort in the beauty of this perfect, glowing, highly educated, utterly beautiful, super kind, peace loving Ghandi-esque child that adoption was nurturing in some far away fairy filled land. This fantasy child was named Amber Lyn. She was going to welcome me upon reunion, introduce me to her adoptive family, be happy to have brothers and more.  (Yes, I know my Kool-Aid is showing.) Adoption promised me this and I took the fantasy image and ran with it. I had to. What alternative did I have? What other information was provided to me via closed adoption to prove me wrong?

I did not find a perfect child (no such thing exists, IMO). I found my child, now an adult, as the closed stranger adoption had raised her. I am not suggesting she is flawed, or imperfect or unlovable or a disappointment to me. I am suggesting she is human and that my thinking was magical. The problem lay in my gullibility and my own thought processes and all the attributes I assigned to my ghost child named Amber Lyn. I crafted this person, this image, in response to my trauma. It was how I survived. I clung to this vision of her (and incidentally, clung to this version of myself as the horrible nasty). It was not until my pseudo-cyber reunion that I began to see the true light.  I saw her as she was (at least partially, since I was not permitted to be in her presence, and do not proclaim to know even the slightest bit of who she is in real life) and what adoption had actually provided. I also started to see myself not as the horrible nasty but as something other, something better.

I agree and understand that my daughter is named Amber and also named [amended name]. I also agree that my thinking was flawed and that I have had to adjust to that. I also agree that she MAY be some of the things I envisioned in my fantasy. She might not even object to some sort of use of her original name. Until I meet her, if I meet her, I don’t know for sure. I can only go on what I have…and I don’t have Amber.  I don’t know what I have but it is not the fantasy I called Amber.

I am not suggesting you cease referring to her as Amber.  I will grant you the same respect I do others. Speak your language and perhaps, someday in the future, we will understand each other. In the meantime, I keep on translating.


April 11, 2012

When I say the words “the situation” what comes to your mind? Do you think of that dude, Michael Sorrentino, from the MTV reality show “Jersey Shore?” Or do you think of something adoption related? Maybe you think of both? Neither? Something all together different?

Today when I heard the words “the situation” I first thought of adoption, felt a bit sick and then thought of Mr. Sorrentino, who is sometimes, call The Sitch. While the colorful reality star has nothing to do with my work place, I will share why I thought of him. I will explain to you my situation (pun intended).

Not quite a year ago, I hired a supremely talented woman to join my web team (I manage a team of web editors).  I liked her immediately not only for her education and experience but her style, her personality. She is someone I would have had as a friend had we met under different circumstances. She is friendly, creative (has these great chunks of red color on her dark asymmetrical bob), fashionable, an English major, web junkie, mother of two young sons and around my age. We have lots in common. During the year or so she has worked for me she has completed an amazing amount of work including helping us push our way into the mobile application space by writing content for our soon to come mobile app while simultaneously managing the editorial efforts of our member portal. Like I said, cool, amazing, talented, someone I really like.  As such, I was a bit nervous when she approached me and asked if we could “talk”. I said “sure” and invited her to sit down on my cushioned file cabinet/seat.  She then asked if we could find a room and talk in private. It was at this point my internal manager alarm went off and I said “uh-oh” quietly to myself.  This type of request usually means, in my experience, someone is resigning or has some other major problem.   We found a room.

“So, I don’t want you to be nervous or anything. It is nothing bad” says editor extraordinaire.

“Okay. So what’s up?” I ask.

She appears nervous and a bit jumpy. This is not her usual style.  If she is not resigning, it’s nothing bad, what is making my usually calm, cool, collected editor so skittish?

“Well, my husband and I are adopting a baby. We just got called a day or so ago. It was a complete shock. We had registered with an adoption agency several years ago. We were able to get pregnant via IVF and have our sons and it was long and hard and expensive but we did it. We totally forgot to take our profile off the active registry with the agency and they called us. They have a baby girl for us…Utah…end of May…leave of absence…situation…four kids…mom 26…dad in his 40… “she says.

She is speaking a bit rapidly (which is normal for her, another thing I like about her as I do it as well) but rambling. Or maybe it’s me?  Normally I could follow her but the adoption word has unnerved me and done something strange to my cochlea.  I am hearing her yet simultaneously reeling inside and trying my best to keep my professional shit together.


I notice my breathing is a bit rapid and shallow.  I let her ramble on while I get my internal feces collected so I can be the professional manager type and not the teenager girl traumatized at the loss of her child that the adult mother found and was told by that child to please go away, I don’t think of you or adoption, like ever.

By listening and doing that internal feces collection, I learn:

  • Baby girl due end of May.
  • Will be induced (kid cannot even pick her own birthday!)
  • Parents are not married. Mother is 26. Father is in his 40s. They have one child, six years old that they are parenting. They have surrendered four (FOUR?) children already. Due to their “situation” they are placing this one as well.
  • She has been invited to be in the delivery room. Squeee! She feels so honored!
  • Oh, I should see the picture of the six year old. The agency sent her a picture and the six year old is all malnourished, unwashed and clearly abused. (Why is the agency sharing a picture of an allegedly abused child and NOT reporting that to authorities?)
  • Mother and father are in Utah.
  • Staff member and her husband are OH! SO. HAPPY.  They are going to proceed ahead with the adoption for clearly this was meant to be.
  • She would like to know if she can take a few months off for adoption leave and come back.

As she finishes and she sits in front of me, waiting for my response, the first words I can muster are:

“Do you know my background?” I ask.

She is clearly utterly confused. What does MY background have to do with what she just told me?

“Huh? What? Uh, no” she responds.

So I tell her.  I share I have a daughter, surrendered to adoption when I was 18 after a five month stay in a maternity home located one thousand miles away from my family and support system. I tell her my agency was a baby broker that coerced mothers, lied to them, made promises and then sold the children to families who had money. I tell her I am an activist in the adoption field and that I support adoption only as a last resort and even then I believe all ties to the family of origin, medical history, etc. should be maintained. I tell her my husband and I are in the process of forming a not for profit foundation that will provide education scholarships to single moms struggling to parent and finish their education.

At this point, I realize I am rambling and vacillating between the 18 year traumatized pissed off mother and my present day self.  My voice is either shaky and on the verge of tears in one breath or firm and resolute in the next.  My cochlea must have fixed itself for now I hear not only her, but my own voice and it sounds, well, a bit scary.

Manager Professional Suz enters the room.

I try to bring it back to her request. I tell her we value her (we/I do) and that I will consider her request and share it with my boss as well. She is very appreciative and continues to go on a bit more about “the situation”.  I share a bit more including telling her to question everything the agency tells her, Utah is a major red flag, and that she should get all the medical history possible, names, etc.

She responds by stating the agency is very ethical, this mothers situation is not like mine was (she said this with a bit of a defensive tone to her voice), it’s legit, necessary, the right thing, etc.  At this point, I note that sweet sugary smell of Kool-Aid dust that wafts up into your nose when you are making, or exposed to the making, of Kool-Aid.   The suggestion that my situation is not like this one and that somehow I am unique or different or whatever has angered me (and invalidated me, thank you very much).  I realize it is time to wrap up the conversation. I let her know I will get back to her, reiterate my sincere belief and liking of her as a person and a professional and we leave.

She returns to her desk and I go to the ladies room and cry.

Adoption at work is not something I have prepared myself for.

Knowing that in a few weeks another baby girl will lose her mama and suffer a primal wound makes me sad.

Knowing that my friend, a woman I respect and admire, has sipped the Kool-Aid and may be in the process of being duped by a Utah adoption agency makes me angry.

The pressure to be the professional non traumatized “birth-mother” overwhelms me. If I could leave the office I would but it is not an option.  I return to my desk and immediately turn to my Facebook (thank goodness I work in ebusiness and we have access from work) and I vent to my private adoption list on my Facebook (you guys know who you are, thank you for being there).


I spoke briefly to my staff member today. Let her know my boss and I support her request and that we will look for a temporary staff member during her leave. I will also look at our current resource plan and see if I can adjust things amongst the other team members. She is appreciative.

I said nothing else about adoption.  I want to but I am still formulating my thoughts. I don’t want to come across as this AntiAdoptoNazi. I do respect and want to retain this person on my team. But how do I help her, help me, help that baby girl?  What do I share? How do I do it effectively and gently?

A few of my friends on Facebook recommended a few books for me to share with her. I ask you now, dear readers, what would you recommend I share with a PAP (or not)? If you were in my shoes, what would you do?

Please note it is highly probable she has, or soon will, google me and find this blog, so, feel free to write your response not necessarily to me, but to her.

Artwork Credit: Julie Rist