I want to talk about how and why secrets are harmful to adoptees and give you specific examples from my own life. Then I will turn this blog over to others who have been affected by secrets in their own journeys. If you have a story you want to share at this blog, please email it to me.
2016 is the year I decided that I would solve the mystery of who my father is. I knew I could not do this by myself. One of my greatest challenges during the search has been that I do not live close enough to the area of my conception to do research at the library. There are many resources at the library that you cannot get on-line.
I do; however, have an active search team of friends who care and other adopted people who have experience searching who have all volunteered to help me put together a profile of my father. I have a TON of information, much of it conflicting. The adoption agency has provided me with one story, friends and family another, almost completely different version, and then we have what the DNA says.
I dream about this stuff quite a bit. Combing through my DNA matches, trying to understand the motivations of people who lie and/or hide things (a stretch for me, I must admit), and all at the same time getting so emotionally overwhelmed at times, all I can do is just cry.
On top of trying to sort through all of this conflicting information is the thought that keeps popping in my head .. . .why keep a 50 year old secret?
Secrets are harmful to our health and those around us. Lying to people close to you and asking others to lie on your behalf is damaging to relationships, but it is a common thing when we are dealing with closed adoption. We all know that secrets are harmful to the secret keeper, but sometimes we forget that secrets are most harmful to those that the secret is about: the adopted person
This week, my hero of a husband, contacted a person (let's call her Fran) to ask her some details about my father. Fran met my father and knows all the details of how my parents met. Fran even has an adoptee in her close family circle. Yet, Fran refuses to reveal the secret out of loyalty to the one who created the secret.
Fran was not the least bit interested in how this secret has affected my life at all. She didn't ask, but she made lots of assumptions about me. She assumed (didn't ask) I had a great family growing up and that I should be grateful. She told my husband how much my mother loved me (guilt?). She told my husband that it's better to leave things in the past. She denied the information she had already provided in a previous conversation. In sum, Fran felt compelled to enable the secret keeper and have no concern for how this secret affected me and my family. And this is typical treatment toward people whom others keep secrets about.
Fran never asked, but I would like to share with you how these secrets are harmful to me and to other adoptees who are searching for truth. People (and family members) often wonder why I question everything and rarely take anything at face value. Could it be that my very beginnings are such a deep, dark cover-up, that I was set up for never being able to take information at face value? To trust that people will tell me the truth? Talk about a shaky trust foundation! It's a good thing that I have the type of personality where I want and choose to believe others except when their are red flags waving everywhere I turn (like in my search).
My efforts to determine who my father is/was has brought me to a whole other level of understanding human nature and our need to protect ourselves at all costs -- even when the threat may no longer be real. I believe that, in my own case, the threat is this: my father was never told about me.
I see this as a failure on the part of the adoption agency for not a) getting my father's name and b) notifying him of my existence. Had the agency done its job in an ethical way back in 1966, the secret would not have ever been viable. It would have died an early death and shame may have had a chance to dissolve and healing may have taken its place.
I did not create this situation; however, I experience the consequences of it daily.
The secret being kept about my father effects my very identity about who I am, which in turn effects everyone around me. That is not to say that I am not a fully functional, happy adult because I am; however, I am a person with a hole inside of me who is forced to walk around begging complete strangers for any scrap of information they might throw my way. It's a very difficult position to be in the line of fire, when you had no involvement in the secret whatsoever. Some people get really angry when you start digging up a past they want to keep buried, not ever giving a thought to how it effects you, in the process. It's no wonder some adoptees throw up their hands and give up.
This secret effects my father and his entire family. Imagine being a 76 year old man just being told you have a 50 year old daughter? Imagine the betrayal you would feel learning that the mother of your child kept this from you for 50 years. All those lost years with a member of the family that you knew nothing about.
Another effect of this 50-year-old secret is my future health care. I cannot look out for conditions I know nothing about; so withholding the secret of my father affects my future health decisions and those of my son and his future children. One of my husband's family members has been struggling with the effects of diabetes. I have often wondered if diabetes is in my future. Most people can look around them at their relatives and decide pretty quickly if they are likely to become diabetic. I don't have that luxury.
Withholding the secret about my father affects the genealogy of my family and the secret is then passed down after my death to my son, who will then need to spend a lot of time, money and energy (as I have) trying to track down the truth -- a much harder proposition after everybody is dead. Trust me, the last thing I want is for my son to inherit this burden. He did not create this mess and doesn't deserve it.
To date, I have spent several thousand dollars in search fees, DNA testing and transportation costs. I'm sure the time my friends and family have spent searching in terms of hours cannot even begin to be estimated -- but it would be in the hundreds of thousands of dollars if not for the generosity of the people who understand how secrets effect lives and choose to put their energy into helping others, once their own mystery is solved (and in some cases, their mystery can never be solved when it is an international adoption).
The people I am referring to are called search angels in the adoption community. I could write an entire blog about my gratitude and awe for the search angels around me who know how this feels, who understand, and feel compelled to act.
Having a secret kept about you is deeply painful. Until you have lived it, it is hard to grasp. I can tell you this, though, the fact that my parentage is still a secret after half a century, fuels me forward to never, ever give up.
I am thoroughly convinced that if my searchers cannot solve this mystery, that DNA will eventually.
I just hope I am still alive to see that day.