Adoption Reunion in the Social Media Age: An Interview with Trace A. DeMeyer
A new book on adoption reunions is available now on Amazon. I am SO honored to be a contributor to Adoption Reunion in the Social Media Age, which opens up important conversations on the topic of adoption search and reunion. As part of the launch of this new book, Trace A. DeMeyer (author of One Small Sacrifice and Two Worlds) and I are participating in an interview series with the contributors. Laura asked us to discuss our experiences and share these questions on our blogs. The book was released on January 27, 2014 and is available as an EBook on Amazon (ISBN 978-0985616847). A paperback version was released too.
BECKY: “Genetic Mirroring” is something most non-adoptees take for granted. Knowing someone we look like and act like is often missing in the lives of adoptees. You wrote about finally meeting someone you look like. How important was it for you to meet someone you looked like and what advice would you have for adoptees who struggle with their lack of genetic mirroring?
TRACE: Unless you’re adopted with a sibling, you aren’t genetically related or physically resemble anyone in your adoptive family. That is why “genetic mirroring” is a wonderful new discovery – experts finally get it that adoptees need it! I was adopted by strangers who had no clue as to who I was, or my own unique genetic identity… My adoptive parents could not tell me anything. Because of this, I felt isolated, a stranger in the family. Back in 1996, I travelled to Illinois to meet my natural father Earl. For over 30 years, I never looked like anyone – this bothered me to a much greater degree than anyone realized. Finding someone who looked like me was a very healing thing. I saw a photo of my grandmother Lona and knew instantly that this was my family.
I would tell adoptees going into reunion that they will look at the faces and manners and eccentricities in biological relatives and find all kinds of good surprises. It’s like solving your own mystery.
BECKY: Many adoption reunion stories published in the press focus on reunions with mothers. However, we all have fathers, too. Both Trace and I found and reunited with our birth fathers after our birth mothers refused ongoing contact with us. Trace, what are your thoughts on why your father was willing to meet you and your mother was not? What would you say to a birth parent reluctant to meet their child?
TRACE: When I was in my 20s, I was fixated on finding my mother and had not even thought about finding my dad. I don’t know why that is. Then I found a news article about Florence Fisher* who reunited with her birthfather. It opened my eyes and gave me huge hope. *Florence founded the Adoptee’s Liberty Movement Association in New York.
When my birthmother Helen refused to meet me or talk with me, I was not prepared – how can anyone prepare for that? I didn’t get to know her so I can’t even guess why. But I felt rejection and confusion, not love or acceptance. I never expected an apology. I read her letter over and over and felt shock first, then a crushing pain, then deep sadness. Sorting it all out emotionally took a few years. I later met an uncle who told me it was better Helen and I never met. If Helen’s own family felt this way about her, I felt sorry for her actually.
My reunion with my birthfather’s family happened 20 years ago. When I phoned, my dad asked me how soon I could get there. Why birthparents are reluctant or refuse to make contact is actually where they are emotionally, too. If they never told anyone they had a baby and gave them up, they might still be afraid of what others think. I would tell them what really matters is healing yourself – and this can happen once you reunite with the child you lost.
BECKY: As adoptees, we long for information about our birth families yet adoption agencies, laws, and sometimes even our birth families, feel we have no right to know. You met your grandmother (Helen’s mother), without her knowing who you were. If you had it to do over, would you take that step again? What advice do you have for other adoptees that have not had an opportunity to meet a birth family member, such as a grandparent or sibling, because of a birth parent’s desire to keep their existence a secret?
TRACE: I started my search when I was 22 (in late 1970s) and was very naïve, eager, optimistic. I was not aware of what to do or what not to do. There weren’t any books on searching or reunions! Like you Becky, I had no choice but to use my intuition (and phone books).
It’s true that adoptees become genealogists, detectives and search for clues using a single name (usually their mother’s name). It’s tedious work that usually lasts years. In my desperation, in 1993 I did drive to Wisconsin to meet Helen’s mother (my grandmother was also named Helen)… If I could do it over, I’d definitely ask questions about ancestry, family history and medical information, just like I did. This time, on my way out the door, I’d tell my grandmother I am your grandkid and here’s my phone number and then leave.
I am so done with secrecy, to answer your question. Adoptees are human beings yet denied the most basic information others take for granted. I think that is probably one of the most outrageous ongoing injustices in the world. Since I went through this myself, I tell adoptees to meet every relative you find, don’t delay, be brave, make calls or visits and do not stop. We don’t need permission to do this. It’s our information! I also think birthparents and adoptees need to “Man Up” and get therapy if they are not in reunion or too afraid to try. And please read this new book!
BECKY: Trace and her father confirmed their relationship with DNA testing. At the time Trace reunited with her father, DNA testing was an expensive option. My birth father and I also confirmed our relationship with a DNA test. In 2013, DNA testing had become readily available and prices low enough to make it a viable option for just about everyone. In fact, some adoptees that don’t have access to their original birth certificates have been able to find birth family members by using very tedious search methodologies using DNA results. Trace, how important of a role do you think DNA testing will play in adoptee search and reunion in the coming years? What are your thoughts about the importance of DNA testing for adoptees?
TRACE: My mother Helen’s name was on my original birth certificate so this wasn’t a question that needed DNA. But I do think DNA tests will be critical and crucial until we have better reunion services and registries and paperwork for the millions of adoptees out there now. A father is not listed in adoption paperwork if you are illegitimate like I was. Birthfathers will need to recognize this and consent to do DNA tests if an adoptee finds them. If he refuses or is already dead, I tell adoptees to find a paternal relative, like an uncle or granddad, to do the DNA test with you. We can’t wait until our birthparents are ready or emotionally well enough or open to it. Waiting can be a huge mistake.
I want to thank Trace for sharing her thoughts and story with me. Adoption Reunion in the Social Media Age is sure to create conversations in the adoption community. Trace and I would enjoy hearing your comments to our stories…