“You’re Adopted!”

My eight birthday is a day I’ll never forget.

Come sit beside me on the couch. I have something important to tell you,” my adoptive mother Rosella unexpectedly blurted out while nervously extending her hand.

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“Awareness leads to understanding, understanding gives rise to acceptance, and acceptance is where self-confidence and self-esteem begin to grow. Children facing the challenges of adoption want to be mainstreamed and prefer not to be separated out or have to sit on the sideline. They want to have fun and be accepted like every other child. They want to understand the simple truths—and they certainly never want to feel isolated or be left all alone.” —Judith Land

I hesitatingly complied. My senses were heightened in response to her uncharacteristic manner of speaking. The dark living room curtains were only partially open, leaving the air inside muggy and the lighting subdued. I automatically sensed that something out of the ordinary was about to happen. My mother’s odd tone of voice was much too high pitched for this to be an ordinary conversation. I sat rigidly at attention with my hands folded politely on my knees. The couch was ergonomically designed for adults and unfit for my small stature. The bristly fabric was scratchy on the back of my legs. I still remember that it was a dark, drizzly, cloudy day outside. My adoptive mother was not a warm, intimate hugger and her overbearing physical proximity caused me to writhe in my seat. She cleared her throat rather rudely before introducing the topic with a very bold statement.

“I am not your real mother. You had another mother before your father and I adopted you.”

I stiffened my back and sat upright. My mouth was closed; my lips were pursed tightly together. I had nothing to say. I didn’t know how to respond. Prolonged silence heightened the tension between us. Rosella had never understood why I had always been somber, withdrawn, and introverted probably because she had never been informed of the trauma of separation from the loving foster family I had already bonded with before I was adopted. The fact that my internal suffering had never been resolved had imposed a great strain on my adoptive mother. In response, her patience with me had often been overtaxed. I was an only child and when things went wrong and she became flustered with my inquisitiveness her normal reaction was to walk away and leave me in my room to play by myself.

She continued speaking. “You had another mother before me who gave birth to you. She named you Judith. She wasn’t legally married. You were an accident. She gave you up for adoption because you were illegitimate. She was too young to take care of you.”

My eyes became dry from not blinking. I reacted tentatively as I attempted to absorb what she was telling me. My rigid body language probably made a pretty strong statement that I was uncomfortable and confused. I had no comprehension about what the word “illegitimate” meant, and I was completely baffled about why I would ever be referred to as an “accident.” I understood the concept of adoption in an abstract way, but the underlying ramifications were more mysterious than clear. I was merely a child and stood dejectedly off to the side with my eyes lowered with an injured expression on my face. At that very moment, I needed spontaneous love and reassurance. I desperately wanted my mother to stop talking, hold my hand, and give me a big hug, but no warm hugs or reassurances were forthcoming. Our conversation ended abruptly without any sense of resolution. Rosella turned her back and returned to her normal duties in the kitchen. I could tell that she felt an enormous sense of relief now that the moment she had dreaded for so long was finally over. The events that transpired that day formed a lasting memory that I will never forget.

Perhaps, an opportunity for positive bonding could have occurred if my mother had simply hugged me and invited me into the kitchen to help decorate my birthday cake or engage in some other mother-and-daughter activity. Instead, I was coldly left alone to clean my bedroom and finish my daily chores. My adoptive mother had given me a lot to think about. I never forgot that day. I closed my eyes and pensively dreamed of my mystical connection to another mother far away that I knew nothing about.

Judith Land

 

 

 

 

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Adoption—“The Best of Times…the Worst of Times”

There are times when I pause to wonder how the 50,000 adopted children who enter the American child welfare system this year, often due to abuse and neglect, will refer to the best of times and the worst of times, knowing that many of them have suffered traumatic loss and have special physical, learning, behavioral, and health needs?

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“In folk belief, the notion that a portrait falling from a wall as an omen of impending death remains one of the most widespread modern superstitions. Tabloid news values for providing a good story frequently override accuracy and truth telling needed to comprehend serious social issues, including adoption and single parenthood, and the enduring consequences of social ambivalence.” —Judith Land

The number of children born to single mothers in the United States increased from five percent in 1960 to 40 percent in 2014. It is the most impactful, tragic, far reaching, and weighty consequences trending today because children born to unmarried mothers are more likely to experience poverty and socio-emotional problems. Single mothers can expect lower incomes and a greater dependence on welfare assistance. The children are more likely to have low educational attainment, be absent from school, and remain unemployed. They can expect to fare worse across a wide range of behavioral and emotional outcomes. Children born into these surroundings and circumstances are at a disadvantage for achieving prosperity, education, and a Hollywood ending, even in the best of times.

Although doubt will always remain about the ultimate cause for something as widely diffuse as the evolution of social customs, there is no question that public ambivalence about out-of-wedlock pregnancies, single parenthood, and the difficulties caused by adoption has significantly changed our society by decreasing opportunities for affluence and happiness for many children. Ideally, all children would be able to grow up well cared for in their families of origin so adoption and single parenting would not be needed. Pursuing this vision is a crucial international agenda for all countries.

Charles Dickens’ novel, A Tale of Two Cities, opens with the statement, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair…” His story speaks of Paris and London during the French Revolution; two contrasting situations and environments during a period of chaos, upheaval, conflicts, oppression, despair and suffering verses an abundance of human prosperity, joy, hope, optimism, and happiness. It is a cliché that contrasts and compares opposite ways of living with no shades of gray in-between that has the same meaning today as did then.

The “Good Old Days” is another popular phrase that is a product of selective memory and sentiment; a positive belief and an attitude held by people who believe that a previous era is preferable, more desirable, and less demanding than the current era. It is an expression that provides intimate and uncomplicated views of the way things were that reminds us of childhood, sunny dispositions, and untroubled relationships. It is an expression of exuberance, romanticism, and admiration characterizing a golden age when circumstances were positive, our lives were in waltz time, and everything was coming up roses. It’s easy for some people to be nostalgic for the way things were when families ate dinner at the dining room table and things were built to last. Work couldn’t follow you home on the weekend. Airplanes were glamorous and people dressed up to go to the theater. Home remedies solved health problems without the help of expensive medicines. Relationships were respectful and romantic. Face-to-face communication was normal and people knew how to have a conversation.

“What are the best years you can remember when hopes were high; relationships were positive, you had good health, energy, and vigor, and you were content with the way things were? Was it the carefree, heady, and reckless days of youth, middle-aged competency, contentment, career fulfillment and satisfaction, or was it during an era of old age bliss, comfort, resolution, and retirement? Count yourself as fortunate, if you have lived a good life and have fond memories of an interval of time you refer to as the ‘Good Old Days’ because not everyone is afforded that luxury.” —Judith Land

Judith Land

 

 

 

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Adoption—Self-discovery and Moral Character

“When life resembles a shipwreck, don’t forget to sing in the lifeboats—be happy knowing that it is far better to be living during a time when civilization is going to hell in a hand basket and collapsing all around you than struggling to rebuild and work your way back up from the depths of despair.” —Judith Land

Judith Land | Adoption Detective | Moral Character | Self-discovery

“‘Who are you?’ is an enigmatic puzzle that is mysteriously difficult to understand for adoptees whose lives are complicated by a clash of choices and voices ranging from the potentially intensely hurtful pains of self-discovery to the dull pain of unconsciousness that lasts forever.”   —Judith Land

The process of living life is about weighing opposing ethical choices against each other until a pattern of moral consistency develops. Self-discovery is more complex and complicated than simply finding your pedigree and sketching a family tree. Self-discovery is about consistency of purpose, righteousness, fortitude, spiritual beliefs, and moral character. With maturity comes a passion for learning. The challenge of self-discovery intensifies with age as the thirst for knowledge intensifies. Wisdom accrues. The mental ability to comprehend complex ideas expands and strengthens. Images of historic timelines and sequencing of lineal relationships solidifies. Comprehension of abstract concepts solidifies, becomes clearer and less ambiguous. The process of living gradually evolves into a continuous exercise in learning, growing, forming habits and attitudes, and evolves into a predictable structured way of thinking.

Life is ephemeral. It is a miscalculation to assume that today will be the same as tomorrow. Preserving your childhood is not an option. People come and go. The world turns. Time is a linear conveyor belt—an endless buffet of choices. Experiences that are temporarily good today will never be the same tomorrow. Holding on too tightly or too long to the pleasant memories of yesteryear may be the very reason you don’t know who you really are; what you want to be and what you truly desire. Finding your true purpose in life requires clarity of purpose and a coherent path to success.

The purpose of education is to acquire knowledge, illuminate the process of learning, and develop character. Great thinkers, theologians and philosophers consistently persuade us to believe that the virtues and integrity of nations are determined by the loyalty, trustworthiness, temperament, and resilience of its citizens. The moral character of each cultural group is determined by the aggregation of the common habits, wisdom and moral strength of each individual. The collective personality traits of its citizens form the nature of the nation. A strong moral character results from making consistently correct choices in the continuous trials and testing of life. You are never old until your regrets outnumber your dreams.

Judith Land

 

 

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The Stigma of Adoption

A senior newspaper columnist recently asked me about the stigma of adoption.

Reporter: “There are many social stigmas associated with adoption. The unwed mother feels guilt and culpability for her actions. Family members shame her, openly disapprove of her actions, and may even ridicule her. Friends perceive her condition as regrettable and unfortunate. The stigma is even worse when she puts her child up for adoption and gives it to a stranger to bring up. Don’t you agree there is a certain amount of lack of respect for people in these situations? You were adopted. Did you feel the stigma of being adopted when you were a child?”

Adoption Detective | Judith Land | Stigma of Adoption

“Can you feel the pain the phrase ‘relinquishment of a child’ carries? The centuries old stigma of ‘unwed motherhood’ is archaic in some cultures but it remains pervasive in many others. The stigma of being unwed and pregnant seems to be lessened when the mother is ‘engaged’ to be married.” —Judith Land

Judith: “I occasionally experienced the stigma of adoption as a child. I was painfully embarrassed when strangers called attention to my skin tone and hair color, which were different from my parents. Comedians occasionally made condescending remarks about redheaded stepchildren and that sort of thing. It stung when my aunt rudely referred to me as being adopted with the negative undertone of being less deserving and behaviorally challenged. I had deep-seated feelings and concerns about being adopted that continued into adulthood but any sense of pity and misfortune that I experienced were largely suppressed. My fears and emotions largely paralleled how other teenagers feel about acceptance by their peers, achievement and social status, physical appearance, and how others perceive them. The pain of humiliation for many adoptees causes them to suffer an enduring lifelong mental anguish, heartache, and discomfort; feelings that often simmer below the surface like a magma chamber of molten lava. They are saddened, confused, and troubled by the blatant alteration of their life’s trajectory. The sting of abandonment, banishment, and the lack of a true identity agonizes them, feelings that never seem to go away. People are more accepting of adoption issues in recent years but some adoptees will always feel tortured by the stigma of adoption; sentiments that never go away regardless of how much external love and therapy they receive.”

“Unmarried pregnant women are no longer shrouded in so much secrecy as they were in the past and the stigma of treating unwanted pregnancy as a deplorable act has somewhat receded from the public consciousness but disapproval for such behavior is still viewed as disreputable by many people. Judgments about single parenting, adoption, biracial dating, same sex partners, open adoption, and other complicated social and personal circumstances don’t carry the same stigma and degree of humiliation as they once did but vestiges of prejudice and loathing still exist in many countries and punishment for these actions remains severe in some cultures. A Pew Research Poll in 2011 showed that Americans are increasingly tolerant of all kinds of families, with one exception—single women raising children alone; almost 70 percent believe that single women raising children on their own is bad for society.”

“When we engage in the act of judging others and intentionally shaming and hurting them by dragging their reputations through the mud our actions carry the same social stigma and negative feelings of hatred, disrespect, culpability, consciousness of wrong, and humiliation that they always have in the past. The stigma of adoption has declined but we still have a long way to go before a change in social acceptance is fully mainstreamed. Younger people are more tolerant than previous generations primarily because they are being taught that bullying others for the sole purpose of shaming and humiliating them is in and of itself a disgraceful and disrespectful act.”

“There has been a correction in the social pendulum and a societal change in the consciousness of wrong. The reduction in the negative stigma of adoption is worthy of attention, but it certainly hasn’t disappeared—I’m curious to know how other adoptees feel about the stigma of adoption? Thanks for asking.”

Judith Land

 

 

 

 

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Adoption—Shadows of Ancestors Past

An adoption reunion changed the way I look at everyone around me—the more time that passes, the more I bend my philosophy to match the story of our common early human ancestors. I find it remarkable that so much of who we are today is so deeply rooted in the past and illuminated by our consanguinity, kinship, and heritage.

Adoption Detective | Judith Land | Ancestors

“Searching for who you are and solving the mysteries of life leads to the discovery that human nature is inexplicably connected to the thousands of generations of life on earth that came before us.” —Judith Land

With age come wisdom and the ability to look at the world from a philosopher’s perspective and appreciate the mystery and interconnectedness of all people. When we initiate a quest to discover the individuality and distinctiveness of our ancestors and succeed in finding out who they were some remarkable traces of our evolutionary past are revealed and a new level of consciousness is achieved. Archeology and the history of civilization have always intrigued me. Finding one’s roots is an interesting way of weaving storytelling, history and science together. My mother was adopted. She never knew the names of her parents or where they came from which is similar to many of us who are too short-lived and far too little informed of our parentage beyond several generations back. My mother was mildly curious to learn about her parents but her adoptive parents indignantly refused to tell her anything about her past. Researching my mother’s family history later in life and the eventual discovery of the identity of my grandparents provided significant clarity and peace about my own life, my own imperfections, and my own mortality.

Being passionate about life and those who came before us leads to exciting views into the forces that shape our family pedigree. Delving deep into the origins of man and the evolutionary heritage of life itself demonstrate the intrinsic similarities and relationship of all cultures and human life. All life is finite and irreversible and completely at the mercy of time. Life is an evolutionary process that explains the basic mechanisms of evolution, natural selection, and genetics. Our past is a story of luck and natural selection that highlights the history of civilization and returns us to our origins. The social and cultural characteristics of our ancestors parallel the history of all human societies because we all share the same origins. Regardless of the region of the world where our ancestors came from, the amount of wealth they accumulated, the level of education they achieved, and their social status in life, every cultural group was exposed to the same ancient fears, grief and vulnerability to illness, complex emotions, altruism, love, and procreation. Social behavior patterns, methods of raising children, education levels, emotional intelligence, technical skills, ability to communicate, and ways of making a living are all reflections of learned behaviors from parents and cultural influences. The theme of each individual’s legacy is vividly personal but remarkably similar to the behavior and history of everyone around them.

Our genes provide an exceptional case for returning us to our true origins. They were inherited from our ancestors and they will live on in our children. Our genes provide scientific links to the past and future and help to explain adaptation in the entire human chain of evolution. They provide a slant on the dramatic way we became to be who we are and deliver an illuminating explanation for behavior manifestation. It is through the study of the shadows of ancestors past that we truly learn to understand where we come from and learn to appreciate the basics of innate human tendencies, cooperation, ethics, altruism, compassion, love, art, intellect, and caring for our fellow human beings. Self-reflection is a powerful tool for cultivating a fulfilling, meaningful life—a journey that is worth taking.

Judith Land

 

 

 

 

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Adoption—Individual Choice verses Collective Action

Why is it that so many individuals in leadership positions are so impassioned about adoption issues and zealously exert their authority with such an overtly feverish intensity? Is it even possible today to make a personal choice about adoption without being overwhelmed by wholehearted individuals representing dozens of agencies and organizations with a myriad of contradictory points of view depending on their professional background and the side of the adoption triangle they are on?

Judith Land | Adoption Detective | Collective Action

“When faced with a difficult decision pertaining to adoption unclutter your mind and unleash your willpower to do what’s best. Stop to think before jumping to conclusions. Focus selectively on issues of importance. Never give up hope of a favorable outcome.” —Judith Land

Let’s face it. Everyone is vulnerable. Most individuals have no first-hand knowledge or experience dealing with many of the complex and unforeseen issues associated with adoption. Adoptees whimsically daydreaming of reuniting with a lost parent may be exposed to intense primal emotions and sensibilities that outsiders don’t fully comprehend. Mothers thinking about relinquishing a child may lack vision and understanding of the degree of difficulty their child may experience later in life and naively lack empathy for the severe duress adoption may cause her child. Adoptive parents aspiring to expand their family may initially be unmindful of the complexities of adoption and psychological issues their child may face in adolescence. More often than not, public administration is a struggle for many individuals to conquer that takes extreme fortitude and strength of character to work through the myriad of legal and financial issues and moral dilemmas before the desired results can be achieved. Difficult choices that are private often require a disciplined, principled, and blameless perspective, open-mindedness toward ineptitude, a tolerance for fatuousness, and a bulldozer to dispose of barriers, stumbling blocks, and persistent opposition.

Ultimately, adoption is a personal choice that is intimate and confidential that affects the private lives and relationships of specific individuals but when you act independently and alone it is easy to become overwhelmed by the demand for an adherence to rules and overcome legal and social barriers that are difficult to navigate. Regardless of the position you find yourself in, or the side of the adoption triangle you are on, it is important to avoid making impulsive and temerarious decisions and refrain from being coerced into positions that you may later regret. As a first step, pause to think about the collective actions and wisdom of previous generations and learn to understand how outside influences may sway your opinions before finalizing your decision.

Who makes adoption policy and how does it come to fruition? Special interest groups with a specific purpose form societies, organizations, and associations to arouse concern, influence public opinion about adoption issues, prompt action, and campaign for change by lobbying politicians. Attorneys write laws for legislators hoping to enact new policies. Judges interpret and enforce the laws through the courts. Religious organizations struggle to address ethical and moral interpretations and guidance policies in response to evolving social priorities. Social service agencies establish written protocols and policies for dealing with specific issues leading to expanded manuals and internal training sessions. The media writes editorials and politicizes every aspect of the matters in question. Administrators create alternative action plans in response to new legislation requiring larger budgets and increased staff based on new aggregated procedures and a plethora of revised forms. Universities track statistics, conduct research, postulate about avant-garde theories, publish dissertations and hypothesize about a variety of suppositions. Book clubs expose leading authors and exchange opinions. Specialists in a broad range of agencies invent new legal, political, income tax, and social career niches. Support groups share intimate thoughts and feelings and personal stories. Psychologists invent new terminology to explain recently developed theories, revise diagnostic techniques and prescribe alternative treatment remedies. Nations pass treaties, accepted codes of procedure and behavior protocols for diplomatic occasions, and create a system of rules governing affairs of state regulating child trafficking and adoption policies. All of these actions collectively spur organizational changes, hiring of new personnel, increased training, budgets and a plethora of red tape. Any questions?

And you know what? Despite all of the collective actions of an ever-expanding assemblage of special interest groups and agencies, every action related to an adoption ultimately remains a personal intimate matter, regardless of which side of the adoption triangle you are on. The only circumstance when you absolutely can’t make an individual choice or overcome the bureaucracy is when you fail to try.

Judith Land

 

 

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“Woo Hoo!—I found my Grandparents.”

I recently discovered the identity of my maternal grandparents. My mother was adopted. She had never seen an image of her parents and was uncertain of their names. When the mystery of their identity was eventually solved and I viewed their faces in a photograph for the first time, I felt immediately connected with them and culturally linked to the past. My reaction was quietly introspective, overtly affirmative, and genuinely positive. I was overcome by immense feelings of joy, healing, and understanding produced by a deep sense of connectedness, belonging, and genealogical closure.

Adoption Detective | Judith Land | Grandparents

The overwhelming majority of grandparents think being a grandparent is the single most important and satisfying thing in their life.

The cognitive knowledge and reactivity in response to those who are familiar to us is heart-rending. Emotional intelligence has a profound influence on our instinctual confirmation of identity. The psychological reactions produced by great works of art, and the feelings they evoke in the viewer, has been the subject of extensive study by artists and psychologists for many centuries. Understanding visual stimuli and the linking of personal memories to what is being viewed suggests that the experience is highly complex. The major neurological stimulus the photographs of my grandparents triggered in my brain were the same passionate, dramatic, and compelling emotions produced by the world’s greatest works of art—the equivalent of the Mona Lisa—deeply profound and eternally remembered.

Photographs are a slice of time and place that will never happen again. The visual images I have of my grandparents are priceless to me. Knowing the historic highlights of the pivotal points in my family’s history is timeless and enduring. Their memory, preserved in the black and white images of their faces that were left behind, creates a nostalgic sense of yesteryear of precious times gone by. My grandmother was an attractive young girl of German heritage who had a fling with a flamboyant Italian man of questionable character. He was a young, prosperous, married man with a family and a notorious reputation, but to those who befriended him, he was a good person. His wife and children and extended family loved him. He was a leader within the Italian community and a respected godfather to many individuals.

Story telling fascination brings to life tales of our ancestors and their accomplishments. This is how we learn about legends of the past; life lessons are taught; meanings behind family traditions are understood; and factoids become the ties that bind. Discovering the identity of my grandparents and seeing an image of their faces for the first time has been a surreal mix of fact and melodramatic fantasy.

Judith Land

 

Adoption Detective

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