You’re adopted! The Ultimate April Fools

funny-adopted-cat-penguin

Imagine everything you thought you knew to be true was a lie. Imagine the parents you loved (or hated, or both) had deceived you your entire life, either with outright untruths, or lies of omission. And not about some small thing that can be compartmentalized, but something that permeates everything: Your origin.

This is what some adoptees must deal with. They find out when they’re a teen, or going into the service, or parents themselves, or at the funeral of their mother or father, or (more and more commonly) after doing a DNA test, that their identities have been based upon a lie. And let me stop you right there if you are objecting to your computer screen. Systematic lying, even with silence, is still lying. No matter how “noble” the reasons for doing it, it is still wrong. It is a betrayal that many can never recover from.

The lengths people will go to to “protect” the adoptee from the truth are incredible. An unforgettable story in “Being Adopted – The Lifelong Search For Self” by Brodzinsky, Schecter, and Henig (1993), a woman called Mildred said she felt so different from her family her entire life that she wondered if she was adopted. Not only her parents, but everyone she knew assured her she was born to them, and they encouraged her to see a therapist about this delusional obsession. She did. A few years later, as the mother lay dying, she called her now 58 year old daughter to her side and said:

“You were right. You are adopted.”

HA HA! April Fool! Isn’t that just a riot? And here she had it all figured out, even with the entire world telling her she was delusional (and probably ungrateful), and she went to the time and expense and humiliation of seeing a therapist, and the whole time…it was true! Oh, I bet she and her adoptive mother had a good laugh over that. I bet it made for a heartwarming moment in the eulogy later.

(I hope my sarcasm is strong enough for everyone to catch.)

This is something so prevalent in the adoption community, there is even an acronym for it: LDA, for Late Discovery Adoptee. It’s the ultimate in having the rug pulled out from under you. I have met several, and the common thread in the aftermath has been: “I thought you knew,” or “We promised not to tell,” both of which are bullshit.

Here are four LDA stories out of England:

http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2010/jan/02/adoption-children-family

Jeff Hancock, co-contributor to The Adoptee Survival Guide, writes with painful accuracy of his experience before and after discovering he was adopted. The quote he opens with is spot-on:

“The worst thing about being lied to is knowing you weren’t worth the truth.”

This does not apply to the classic adoptee alone. This also goes for the “half-adoptee,” usually when an adoptive father is passed off as the biological father. and the mother is the only mother. Sometimes an official adoption never took place. Sometimes the man does not know he is not the biological father. Or he knows and gallantly took the child as his own and said nothing. This may sound noble, but keeping someone from the truth is not protecting them.

A “half-adoptee” I know was made an LDA in adulthood, after she was accused of defrauding the government concerning who she was made to believe was her father. Confronting her mother, the apology was: “I figured it was too late to tell you.” Translation: “Yes, you could have gone to prison, but it was more important to me to keep lying.”

That’s the problem with telling a lie. You have to keep telling it. Until it is layer upon layer of deceit, woven in with enough truth to pass it off as honesty. LDAs can tell you, no matter the reason for telling the lie in the first place, it is not good enough. It is not “done in love.”  The secrets and lies that proliferate in adoption are not funny.

People should not be made to feel like perpetual April Fools. They deserve the truth.

email: ellecuardaigh@gmail.com

twitter: @ElleCuardaigh

Elle Cuardaigh is author of The Tangled Red Thread and contributor of The Adoptee Survival Guide 

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18 thoughts on “You’re adopted! The Ultimate April Fools

  1. Oh Elle, this is exactly what I felt…the subject of a great big joke. My adult mind can grasp whatever excuse people try to give for me not being told….but like you said…it just is never good enough to justify lying about my original identity. Being an LDA…where every day is April Fool’s Day. sigh…

  2. Thank you for this! Lying about adoption is always cruel, whether it’s the nasty “jokes” on April Fool’s or hiding an adoptee’s truth from them. It’s all about selfishness.

  3. One of my neighbors was in this situation as the mother. Her daughter’s father left, she let the new man in her life be named father, and her daughter knew something was off and dug up the truth. This happened probably 10 years before I knew this woman, but I will say that we had a great conversation about it because she wanted to listen, to hear more of her daughter’s side in any way possible, knowing she’d really screwed up in that respect as a parent.

    I found the conversation enlightening because I hadn’t realized how pervasive and damaging the “blank slate” model of infant adoption is — it affects so many people who aren’t even part of the adoption industry. This blank slate idea is what makes people think it’s okay to lie to their children — because they’ll never know, because genetics doesn’t out, because who could it hurt? This is the model that allows even greater lies on birth certificates for children born or conceived with ART, where “intent to parent” trumps genetics most of the time.

    Adults can make all sorts of complicated decisions about forming families. I’m mostly okay with that. But no one should be allowed to lie on a legal identity document for their child, and this culture that encourages lying for anyone’s “own good” has got to come to a screeching halt.

  4. At 47 I have discovered that my Dad is not my biological father. That was 15 crazy months ago. My parents are both deceased so I can’t ask them however it seems so many people knew. I have been asking questions, trying to understand what happened, searching for information. I thought I was just finding out about my Dad however as time went on it seemed that possibly my mother wasn’t my biological mother either. I am waiting on a DNA result that will tell me one way or the other about my mum. I am not sure if it is only my Dad that wasn’t my biological father whether I still qualify as a late discovery adoptee but I sure feel like one.
    Everything I read written by people who have gone through this feels like it is my emotions being expressed. The feelings of loss, of just not belonging anywhere are overwhelming. I have always felt like I didn’t fit in my family and suspected I might be adopted. Pure instinct, no one ever said anything or gave me any indication. But suspecting I was adopted and facing the reality are two very different things. I never asked my parents, it always seemed like a ridiculous thing to ask, I now wish I had of.
    My birth family, at least on my fathers side, I know well. They are family friends. The fact that they choose not to include me as a member of their family just breaks my heart, I don’t understand how they could know I was part of their family and not include me. Some of them are furious at me for continuing to ask questions, they say I am just making trouble and should ‘get over it’, but I can’t. Every time I ask questions I get different answers and I am sure they are still withholding information. My guess is that both my birth parents are from the same family.
    When I started querying whether my mother gave birth to me I went looking for my birth records only to be told by the hospital that I wasn’t born there.
    The story is so complicated and crazy what I have written is just the very simplified version.
    I am finding this all so difficult to deal with, I just don’t know what to do or how to have any peace. Any help any one can offer –books to read, support groups…….., anything would be greatly appreciated.

    • Dear Karen, I am so sorry you’ve been gobsmacked in this way. You do not deserve that treatment. No one does.

      Yes, you qualify as an LDA. I’d say congratulations but we both know it’s nothing to celebrate.

      You have already taken the best course of action: You are doing DNA tests. No one can lie or hide with DNA. Are you doing the tests from all three major sites? (ancestryDNA, FamilyTreeDNA, and 23andMe) Or are you ruling people out with one-on-one results?

      I am not familiar with the laws and resources in Australia or New Zealand (I’m guessing that’s where you’re from), but we do have cribmates there and I’m sure they would be happy to chime in. Also, the LDA smackdown is something discussed in the new book The Adoptee Survival Guide. So if nothing else, know you are not alone.

      Regards, Elle

      • Hi Elle,
        thank you for your reply, I am in New Zealand. I could not ever imagine doing one DNA test in my life but I am now on test number 7!!! I don’t really understand what the sites you mention do. I thought they were to find relatives that may have included their DNA on the sites for some reason. I would love to actually sit down in person with someone who has been through this. Do you know if there are any groups in New Zealand?
        Thanks,
        Karen

  5. Hello, Elle.

    As I mentioned in Dear Adoption, you and I at kindred spirits. And no matter how we may be lied to or blown off or denied, it all is hurtful and just plain wrong to keep the truth hidden. Sooner or later the truth will be known, especially now with DNA analyisis.

    My sister and I were abandoned in 1948; I was just a snitch over 2 years of age, and my sister not yet walking. We were separated and adopted -she to one couple and I to another. As it was a closed adoption and with sealed documents with descendants of Cotton Mather keeping watch over the files, to ths day I have no idea about my sister.

    Your essay speaks to her rather than to me, because she has no memory of me, our brother or th parents who so heartlessly dropped us literally at a dog pound announcing that they didn’t want their daughters, but would keep their son. That was Nebraska then and is Nebraska now. Somethings never change, sad but too true.

    At that time adoptees were never told that they were not the child of those calling themselves parent(s). So it is highly unlikely that my sister ever knew-except for the niggley knowledge their innate intelligence whispered as they began to know that they did not quit belong to those who surrounded them. Granted some deny their suspicions or simply accept another’s ‘Don’t be silly!’ rejoinder. The truth came when she found Nebraska’s boilerplate final adoption decree in a closet, a drawer or a safety deposit with a statement that said ‘Constance June XXXXXXX will henceforth be known as ‘Curly Top Smythe’. There is no other information … just a surname that once was hers and an adoptee birth certificate that says she was born ‘somewhere within the continental limits of the USA’. Unless my sister had her DNA analyzed, and her reports are in the databases mine are, she will never know that I exist. And because of the closed adoption and sealed files which is Nebraska’s curse to all adoptes in that state, I cannot have access to anything pertaining to her adoptive state, and thus canot trace her.

    I am the keeper of memories -those which served me well and helped to fight Nebraska tooth and nail to obtain my own files. But that only after I retrieved a copy of my original birth certificate from the state I had been born in, and having compiled information regarding me that Nebraska never had-all this without GPS, computers, digital files, microfiche, or (bad) records from ancestry websites. I persevered to retrieve my own identity, despite Nebraska’s archaic laws which said NO! NO! and again NO! I’ve always known that an adoptee’s information belongs only to them and not to a state, county , agency or other.

    I hope that my sister had a far better life than did I. I hope that she was loved and cherished. Adn I hope that somehow we can be reunited.

    Keep on kepin’ on. We have our voices to spread the word…. Hopefully it will encourage others to chime in.

    • That is as much heartbreaking as it is infuriating. I encourage you to do every DNA test possible, and to register everywhere with what information you have. I hope one day you are reunited with your sister.

      ~Elle

      • I began DNA testing in 2007 with the very first DNA Ancestry Project, and have done five more since. Registries are really a waste of time-and although I have my sister’s original birth certificate (and my brother’s -and mother’s) I would not violate her right to privacy even though it is probably not even known by her where she was born. My sister will be70 this month. I have passed my 72nd birthday. I’ve been on the search literally since I was five-for myself and for my siblings.

        I was finally able to locate my brother-the one person that may have remembered me; however, by the time I found him he was buried … in a grave near the US-Canadian border.

        Having only the birth name, a date of birth, the state in which she was born and parents’ names-both of whom are deceased is literally nothing. In order for a registry to work both parties need to know information about the other…and even though I am registered in NE and 2 other places, little can come of it again because neither of us has enough information that would help to recognize the other one. I have photos of her -obtained from a paternal uncle-actually from a wife of his brother who is deceased-and had to fight to get that. But I am persistent if nothing else. While my brother and I favor one another -and most likely our maternal grandmother, our sister favors her mother. But these are photos of very young children. I might be able to recognise her as the adult she has grown to be… but she will not be able to recognize me, having nothing to guide her.

        Well as they say, hope springs eternal. I have now 12 generations of paternal ancestors from who I am descended-including one of the 20 who were charged, convicted and executed for practicing witchcraft in Salem, Massachusetts Bay Colony New England in 1692. She was never a witch, but she certainly had great courage and was a martyr, as were her co-defendants. My maternal ancestors are trickier…

        One thing is certain, if I can locate my sister, I can tell her much about herself and from whence she came.

  6. Reblogged this on FORBIDDEN FAMILY and commented:
    Even though this was written for April Fools Day 2015, this is still an excellent blog from Elle Cuardaigh.

    Back in 1974, when I answered a phone call from a woman I did not know, I was a high school senior. I was 18 years old. This woman said she was my sister.

    I knew I was adopted, but I was never allowed to speak of my feelings or my questions. I buried it all deep inside. So when this woman said she was my sister, I knew immediately that she really was my sister.

    And at the same time, I knew that all I had lived for those 18 years of my life, was not real. I felt like a fool. How many people knew? Why was I the last to know? I wasn’t the person I thought I was.

    Imagine being a high school student with final exams and the prom and picking out a college and making life-altering decisions, well, I went through the motions of all of that, but I was in deep, psychological trauma.

    My parents KNEW and chose not to tell me! How could I trust them again? And then there were the rest of my relatives who all knew…

    So, for me, I am not the total unsuspecting person who finds out late in life that she or he is adopted. I knew that I was adopted. I knew there were unknowns about me that were somehow going to be revealed. But that did not soften the blow as to how I felt that day in 1974, and for years later, and even now.

    The shock of finding out the truth, and not from the adoptive parents who ought to have had the guts and maturity to tell me themselves, is something that I never recovered from, Betrayal, lies, fear, mistrust, radical acceptance… yes, this is being A Late Discovery Adoptee.

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