Adoptionland · Lara Trace Hentz

Adoption Reunion in the Social Media Age: An interview with Becky Drinnen

now available on Amazon
now available on Amazon

By Trace A. DeMeyer (author of One Small Sacrifice and Two Worlds)

Becky Drinnen and I are adoptees, writers and contributors to the new anthology “Adoption Reunion in the Social Media Age.” The editor Laura Dennis asked us to discuss our stories in the book and ask each other questions for our blogs. The new book will be released January 27 on Amazon and is available as an ebook on Kindle (for e-readers). (ISBN: 978-0985616847)

TRACE:  Becky and I were both named Laura before adoption… how amazing is that synchronicity… So Becky, you and I began our search the old way, before the internet. If you were asked advice by an adoptee who is still searching, what would you recommend as far as how to search, and what about using social media?

BECKY:  Why am I not surprised that we were both named Laura before we were adopted?  I can’t tell you how many times I have connected with women named Laura!   I think it began with my childhood infatuation with Little House on the Prairie author Laura Ingalls Wilder. (I STILL love those books!) In the past few years I’ve connected with several Lauras — including Laura Dennis, the editor of “Adoption Reunion in the Social Media Age”!

Search and reunion is a very personal experience.  Every search will be unique.  For those still searching, I think it is important to know that many adoptees have been reunited with their parents without access to their original birth certificates.  Reach out to search angels in your state for advice and assistance.  Keep in mind that at times the key to your search may be in a dusty file cabinet or sitting on a library shelf.  Just because you can’t complete your search online doesn’t mean the information isn’t available to you.  In my case, I didn’t even have my father’s name when I started my search.  With some adoptee intuition and a lot of work, I found what I searched for.  Don’t get discouraged!

The Internet has not only put search tools such as Spokeo, Google and Facebook  at the fingertips of those searching,  it has also given adoptees, birth parents, and adoptive parents a public voice.   The Internet gives authors the opportunity to spread the word about their books via Social Media, blogs, and Amazon. And there are many, many GOOD books out there that chronicle the adoption experience and offer search tips and advice.  My advice would be for any adoptee searching would be to get educated!  Read, learn and participate in discussions, and get involved.  And reach out to others.   This will help you in your search and will help you anticipate the variety of reactions you might experience.  And believe me, it will be emotional!  I really can’t say enough about being emotionally prepared for whatever you might find at the end of your search.  When I found my mother, I wasn’t prepared for rejection.  Then, many years later, I met my father and found I wasn’t prepared to be welcomed with open arms.

Social media is widely used by adoptees and birth parents as a tool to communicate and gather information.  Facebook opened doors to me and helped me learn that my brother and I both know some of the same people!  So, here’s what I believe:  What others post on social media sites and make publicly available is fair game.   Feel free to explore what is publicly available.      I also think social media is a great way to keep in contact once ongoing contact has been agreed upon.  However, in most cases, I don’t think social media is a good way to make initial contact with a parent or child.  Social media is a wonderful tool, but it needs to be used carefully.

TRACE:  Adoptees have to deal with “the fog” and fantasy. Usually we guess or dream up what our first parents are like and only know what our adoptive parents tell us.  Did your adoptive parents tell you anything about your first family and did they support you searching for them?

BECKY:  My adoptive parents were always very open with me about the fact that I was adopted.  However, they knew very little about my birth family.  The only fact that they remembered was that my birth mother had red hair.  Of course, once I learned that, every time I saw a woman with red hair, I looked for resemblance.  I dreamed up stories in my head about her searching for me.   As a teenager, I was obsessed with questions about my birth family.  I wonder if I would have been more at ease with being adopted if my parents had been provided with more information — in writing — about my birth family.

My Mom said that my birth mother was mentioned when they first “met” me at the adoption agency, but they were so excited about meeting me that they remembered very little of that conversation.  My parents kept a very extensive file of everything they received, and there was no additional information provided about my birth family in that information.

Interestingly, they were given a booklet called “All About Me”, which contained information about what I ate, sleep habits, etc.  Apparently the adoption agency didn’t feel any background about my birth family was important for me to know.

I did not tell my parents prior to searching.  I knew my Dad would be okay with me searching, but I wasn’t so sure about Mom.  For most of my teenage years, when I was angry with her for establishing a curfew, or sending me to my room for hitting my brother,  I would tell her that my “real” mother wouldn’t treat me that way.  I know I hurt her deeply at that point in time.  By the time I searched, I was on good terms with both of my parents, but I felt strongly that this was something I needed to do on my own.

I did tell them about my search about a year after I found my birth mother.  She declined contact, but I had some limited contact with her sister, my aunt.  My aunt provided me with pictures of my mother, my grandparents, and my brother and sisters.  I started this conversation with my adoptive parents by showing them pictures!   They were supportive and curious.  I’ve always had quite the independent streak, and they knew I’ve always had questions, so I don’t think my search shocked them.   I do wonder if my Mom would have reacted differently if I had established ongoing contact with my mother.

Twenty-plus years passed between the time I told my parents about finding my mother to the time I met my father.  By that time my Dad had passed away.  Once again, I conducted this search without my Mom’s knowledge.  Once again, I opened up my conversation about meeting my father with pictures!  After I told Mom the story about how I learned his identity, then walked up to him at a public event and introduced myself to him, her first comment was:  “I wonder what he thought about how you were raised”?  She is comfortable with my ongoing contact with my father.

TRACE:  I grew up in northern Wisconsin and some of my first family lived there also. But I didn’t know this. I’m sure I’m not the first person to wonder if I dated someone who could have been a cousin, sibling or blood relative. You also grew up near relatives. Is it possible you met someone in your family and didn’t even know? Did that ever concern you when you were dating?

BECKY:  Growing up, no, it never crossed my mind that I might date or be in contact with a blood relative.  I was born in Cleveland, Ohio and grew up in a small town across the state, 200 miles away.  I always felt very far away from my biological family; I just assumed that they were from the Cleveland area, so why would they ever end up in a tiny little town across the state.

When I found my birth mother in the early ’80’s, she was living not in Cleveland, but in Columbus, less than 100 miles from where I live.  That still felt far away to me — I never thought it was in the realm of possibility that I would become acquainted with a family member.  Imagine my surprise when, thanks to that mutual friend feature on Facebook, I discovered that my brother works with a friend of mine, eight miles from my house.  In a moment, I learned that what I never imagined possible was, in fact, real.  And it doesn’t stop there.  As I have become more and more vocal about my experience as an adoptee, I have learned that several other friends and acquaintances know my brother through their work. I do believe that, at some point, I will meet my brother.

I recently saw or read a story about a birth mother/daughter reunion where mother and daughter realized they had been connected during the daughter’s growing up years.   Mother had been a school bus driver, and after some discussion, they realized that she had been the driver for her daughter’s school bus route!  I always felt like I would “know” it if I met a birth family member.  This story illustrates to me that what I believed may not always be true.

TRACE:  Some of us deal with rejection by our first families. My mother Helen chose not to meet me but did send my birthfather’s name after I wrote her a second letter. You have not met your mother (not as yet) but did speak to her… Do you think this new book could change your mother’s mind about having contact with you and suggest a reunion?

BECKY:  Trace, I hurt for you as you ask this question.  And I hurt for me.  I was still firmly entrenched in the “adoption fog” when my birth mother refused contact with me.  In fact, I knew very little about adoption issues at that point in my life.  I SO wish resources such as Laura’s anthology had been available to me to help me through the search and reunion process and to help me understand many of the issues faced by all of those affected by adoption.

I learned how my mother’s sister perceived the circumstances of my conception and placement for adoption almost 30 years ago.  However, it wasn’t until I reached out to my mother again in 2011 and had a conversation with her that I really understood how deeply affected she had been by getting pregnant and being shamed by her parents.  I came away from our conversation with the realization that she has never healed from placing her first child for adoption.  She did what her parents and social workers told her to do… she walked away from the hospital and never spoke of me again. Not even to the man she married three years after my birth.  Yet she still remembered the name she gave me.  And she told me she thinks of me every day.  She didn’t forget.

I can’t pretend to know all of the thoughts that run through her mind.  What I do believe is that she has a lot of healing to do before she will be in a place to be ready to meet me.  And I believe that studying the issues faced by adoptees and birth parents is an important step in healing.  The adoptee and birth parent community has been a tremendous source of information, support and healing for me.  And I believe that, if my mother would read books like “Adoption Reunion in the Social Media Age”, she would begin to have the tools to heal. And the courage to reach out to others who share her experience.   She would realize the impact of adoption for adoptees.  And she would be able to identify with the stories of other mothers who lost children to adoption.  If this were to happen, I believe she might have a change of heart about meeting me.

***I want to thank Becky for sharing her thoughts and story for my website and at American Indian Adoptees. Do you have a question you’d like to ask us?

This is cross-posted at http://www.splitfeather.blogspot.com and at http://www.tracedemeyer.com.

Becky interviewed me and it will post on Wednesday (1-29-14) on her blog: http://puzzlesandpossibilities.com/2014/01/29/adoption-reunion-in-the-social-media-age-an-interview-with-trace-a-demeyer/

BONUS: One lucky commenter will receive a FREE EBOOK (Kindle or pdf) – so please leave a comment right now!

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6 thoughts on “Adoption Reunion in the Social Media Age: An interview with Becky Drinnen

  1. Like both of these writers, I am an adoptee. I was born in June 1943, but only discovered the true circumstances of my birth, and the fact that I had been adopted, in July 2009. I was 66. Needless to say, there was a powerful tremor in The Force. For 66 years I had believed that my mum and dad were my birth parents. I had believed that I came from mixed Italian and English stock. That my Italian grandfather had migrated to Australia from Como in the 1880s; that my English great grandfather and his family had migrated to Australia from England in the 1850s.
    How did I find out? My 80 year old aunt had told my ex-wife, who (eventually) told my sons, who rang my partner Karin.
    ‘What should we do?’ they asked. They thought that I might be upset. After all, I had devoted hundreds of hours accumulating the histories of my parents’ families.
    ‘It’s alright,’ Karin told them. ‘I’ll tell him.’
    ‘Do you think it’s true?’ she asked me. ‘I mean, we’ve got your birth certificate …’
    ‘Anything’s possible,’ I said.
    I had often wondered if my parents had adopted me. By the age of 15, at nearly 6 feet tall, I towered over my 5 foot 2 inch mother and 5 foot 4 inch father. I recall raising the subject.
    ‘Mum … was I adopted?’
    ‘Where would you get a silly idea like that?’
    ‘Well, you’re both short and I’m so tall.’
    ‘Your grandfather’s tall though. That sort of thing can happen.’
    Of course I believed her.
    Throughout my life I always felt like ‘the odd one out’. I didn’t feel like I belonged – not fully. I put it down to the fact that I was an only child, a thing my extended family often made mention of.

    So I said to Karin, ‘There’s one way to find out.’ And I rang my cousin, the daughter of the aunt who had spilled the beans.
    ‘Leeane,’ I said. ‘Apparently Aunty D said that I was adopted. Do you know anything about this.?’

    The long, long silence that followed gave me the answer.
    ‘It’s true, isn’t it.’
    When my cousin finally spoke, her answer was a simple ‘yes’.

    Like the U.S., Australia had a closed adoption system for most of the twentieth century, but in 1984 a law was passed enabling adoptees to access their true birth records and their adoption papers.
    I did my sums. I as 66. My mother would be at least in mid 80s. I didn’t have much time. I had fantasies of finding my mother, images of a joyous reunion, of meeting her and hugging her and being hugged, of being able to get to know her in her final years.
    My partner was much more realistic, more pragmatic, more worldly wise.
    ‘You need to prepare yourself for whatever the truth is … She might be dead. She may have been a rape victim … Anything is possible.’

    I discovered that it usually takes three to six months for an adoptees papers to be located. The office that handles these matters is understaffed, and the number of people seeking adoption details are very large indeed. During the period 1940 – 1990 there were something like 150,000 – 250,000 children adopted, relinquished by single mothers.

    I wrote letters explaining the urgency of my situation … ‘I’m 66 – my mother would be in her 80s. … I may not HAVE six months.’

    Sometimes bureaucrats can show heart, can cut through the process. To their credit, it took less than one month. I had jumped the queue, but I felt no remorse – only gratitude.

    I received my papers on August 24, 2009, at 11 am. I had been born RICHARD CHARLES BERTRAM.
    My mother’s name was GWENDOLINE ESTHER BERTRAM. She was 20 at the time of my birth. She had been living in a country town named Heyfield, around 250 kilometres from Melbourne, Victoria’s capital city, where I now lived. So she had left her home and come to a home for unmarried mothers in the city. Not unexpectedly, there was no “Father’s Name” on the birth certificate.

    Heyfield! I couldn’t believe it. Two of my older cousins had married into farming families and had lived near Heyfield for 40 years or more. I raced home and rang my cousin. Her husband Laurie answered.

    ‘Laurie … My birthmother lived in Heyfield! Her named was Bertram.’
    I heard Laurie gasp.
    ‘What is it?’
    ‘I worked with a bloke called Dougy Bertram for 25 years. He had sisters.’ I’ll go round and see him.

    Laurie rang me back the next day.
    ‘I’ve got some news for you. Not all of it is good,’ he said.
    ‘Tell me.’
    ‘ I was right: Doug Bertram did have sisters. And one of them was named Gwendoline. So he’s your uncle. …’ He paused to let me take it in.
    ‘Unfortunately, your mother is dead. She died a long time ago – back in 1961. She was only 38.’

    I felt a deep wrench in my gut. I’d built up my hopes of her still being alive.

    ‘But there’s more…’ Laurie added. ‘You have a brother.’

    I had been a lonely little boy throughout my childhood, an only child, kept inside for most of the time – kept away from the rough boys of the working class suburb I grew up in, kept away from the germs that were responsible for an outbreak of polio myelitis in Melbourne in the late 1930s and 1940s. I had often begged my parents to have another child, a brother or a sister.

    Ten days later, after teaching all week, I drove the 250 kilometres to meet my brother Arthur. He knew nothing of my existence. No one in the large Bertram clan knew that Gwendoline had given birth to a child she had called Richard Charles in a Salvation Army hostel.

    My mother had had four children in all. Arthur was three years older than me; she fell pregnant with him when she was 16. The father is believed to have been a local dairy farmer, a 24 year old fellow who was a ladies man, a charmer of women who was engaged to be married at the time.

    After giving birth to me she had two daughters – Lynette in 1945 and Glenda in 1947. Lynette was killed in a car accident in 2000; Glenda committed suicide in 1977, when she was 29. Gwen had another pregnancy when she was 35 or 36, and had what in Australia is called a ‘backyard abortion’ – an abortion carried out by an unqualified person. It is believed that the botched abortion was the cause of the cervical cancer that killed her two years later.

    So much sadness, so much loss.

    But there is joy, too. I have a brother and we have regular contact. We speak on the phone every couple of weeks, and get to see each other four or so times a year. For me, finding out the true circumstances of my birth has been life changing. I now know my true heritage. I can lay claim to being what a fellow Australian and fellow adoptee Jack Thompson (one of Australia’s leading movie actors) calls being “Australian royalty”. Indeed, I am part of “Australian Royalty” on two counts:
    1. My great great grandfather Lewis Bertram was a convict transported to Australia in 1833 for the heinous crime of stealing eleven ducks!
    2. My grandfather, Nigal ‘Tiger’ Bertram was a veteran of the First World War. He fought at Gallipoli – regarded in Australia as the spiritual origin of Australian mateship, was at the Somme, and was wounded and gassed. When the war ended, he went AWOL for 30 days – he spent them with his sweetheart, Lily Gentle. They married, returned to Australia, and had fifteen children – the third of whom was my mother.

    When I first discovered that I was an adoptee, a friend said to me: ‘You know, NOTHING had changed – and EVERYTHING has changed.’ She was right.
    I know who I am, where I fit in the scheme of things, why I felt an outsider, why I was so needful of acceptance and attention.
    One of my cousins asked me: ‘Did we do the wrong thing – not telling you?’
    ‘I think we all have a right to know the truth about who we are.’
    I wish I had known earlier – had I been told at the time of my parents’ deaths, in the early 1990s, it would have given me a chance to at least get to know one of my sisters. And I would have had a chance to talk wit my Aunt Nesta, who nursed my mother in her final year of life and who was with her when she died. Nesta is still living – she turned 93 this year – but she is suffering from dementia. There are things that I can never know about my mother and her life.
    In December 2013 I began a PhD at Swinburne University in Melbourne. My topic is: A CUCKOO IN THE NEST – the Lived Experience of Late Discovery Adoptees.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi Trace and Becky, are you personal friends outside of having both of your stories published in the book? If you are not, I think you should be :). Your adoption journeys’ sure share some distinct similarities, including being given the name Laura at birth. What I appreciated especially Becky in your answers is your depth of understanding and compassion for your mother, regardless if she chooses to meet you or not. I often wonder if my mother was still alive, “Where would she find healing in her particular circumstances for placing her baby for adoption? Would she have the same wounded spirit you often hear about in the adoption community, or perhaps her feelings and mind-set might be a little different based on a lot of different factors?” Thanks for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hey JoAnne – Becky and I are new friends since we share being contributors with YOU! Your contribution/chapter The Delicate Matters is so important and yes, the truth heals, even if it is hard to accept. Your 10 special care instructions are not to be missed! Thank you for reading our interviews and making a comment. xox

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  3. “The truth heals, even if it is hard to accept.” <—- YES. This.

    Thank you so much for such an astute interview. The questions, the answers give us such insight into your articles and the emotions surrounding them.

    I appreciate you both!!

    Love,
    Laura

    Like

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