“Woo Hoo—I found my maternal grandparents.”

Judith Land | Adoption Detective

Seeing images of my grandparents faces in black and white for the first time was the climax of a surreal fantasy of discovery that triggered powerful emotions and a nostalgic sense of times gone by. Self discovery is an evolving growth process. Seekers must possess an insatiable thirst for truth and knowledge, and an enduring lifelong desire to fulfill their destiny. The mysterious riddles of the past are often described as an unsolvable labyrinth, an emotional roller coaster, and a complex journey of the mind. The adoption stories I like the best are the ones with many chapters and happy endings.


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 linked to their 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.

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 and 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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Adoption—I found my “foster parents!”

Monument Valley |Judith Land | Adoption Detective

Driving through Monument Valley at night on our way to Tucson, Arizona, to meet my foster family. My foster parents were a perfect couple with four lovely daughters. Reuniting with them after thirty years was a highly memorable event—much greater than I had ever imagined.


The quest to discover the identity of my birth parents had consumed three long years. The journey had been emotionally exhausting—but highly rewarding. Finding them was the highlight of my life. I was much happier and contented knowing my true identity, cultural heritage, and thankful for the positive connections I had made with my birth family. The mystery of my origin was solved; I was comforted knowing the reasons why my life’s trajectory had been so significantly altered. It was time to relax and pursue other life goals. As my husband and I soaked in the world’s largest hot springs pool under a quiet starlit sky, I whispered in his ear through the warm vapors, “There is just one more thing I want to know. Who are William and Priscilla Engelmann? Their names appear on my baptismal certificate. Yet, I have no idea who they are.” My words hung in the foggy mist of the cold night air. “Just help me with this one little thing,” I demurely pleaded with a coy smile that I knew he couldn’t resist…

I scanned telephone books from across the country and began cold-calling every person named Engelmann to inquire if they knew anyone named William or Priscilla—no luck. My long distance telephone bills had grown as large as our monthly car payment. After several months had passed, I finally gave up and sat down to watch the evening news. I noticed the name of the anchorman was Engelmann. I called the station immediately to ask if he knew William. “Sure! He is my brother. He used to live in Wisconsin but he lives in Tucson, Arizona, with his wife Priscilla. Would you like his telephone number?”

Was it was fate or good luck? I dialed the number. Priscilla picked up the receiver. Without preparation or forethought, I peppered her with a stream of questions. “Hi! Priscilla? Did you ever live in Milwaukee? Are you Catholic? Were you ever a foster parent? Did you ever baptize a child named Judith Ann? This is Judy.” The response I received was beyond anticipation. “You must be our missing foster child Judy. You were one year old when they took you from us. We were always hoping we could see you again some day.” “How about tomorrow?” “Okay!”

I hung up the telephone and ordered my husband to pack an overnight bag. We jumped into the car, took turns sleeping, and drove straight through the night to Tucson, Arizona, arriving on a Saturday morning. The heartfelt welcome I received was beyond anything I ever imagined. There were tears and hugs and much reminiscing about my early childhood—we had three decades of catching up to do. The experience was priceless. They made me feel like a celebrity. It was amazing to meet the “foster family” that had opened their hearts and home to a wee baby urgently in need of natal care so many years ago. They were a loving couple with four very sweet daughters. The girls had treated me as their sister; pushing me in a baby stroller, dressing, feeding, playing, reading to me every day for the first year of my life. Priscilla presented me with a baby book filled with baby pictures and photographs I had never seen, as well as, my hospital baby bracelet, and several childhood mementos. I was overwhelmed with emotion when my foster sister Barbara said; “I carried this picture of you in my wallet for thirty years, always hoping that I might see you again someday.” I hugged her and expressed my joy with tears. Speaking for everyone, Priscilla said, “The separation from you was very traumatic for all of us. It was the only time the girls ever saw their father cry. He even hired a detective to try to find you. We had applied to adopt you, but they said we already had four girls of our own. We thought of you as a member of our own family, and in honor of your memory, we set an empty place setting at the table and prayed for you every Christmas. We are so glad you found us again.”

The warm response I received raised my spirits and enlightened my faith in humanity. It was the loveliest reunion any foster child could ever receive. We have remained friends until this day. Thank you William and Priscilla, and foster parents everywhere in the world, who strive to enhance the lives of innocent children and make the world a better and safer place. Without their kind generosity and unselfish efforts there would be far more trouble in the world.
Judith Land


adozione | adopsjon | vedtagelse | usvojenje | принятие | przyjęcie | Verabschiedung

foster parent | family & parenting | adoption | Adoption Detective

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What’s a “Foundling Wheel?”

Foundling Wheel | Judith Land | Adoption Detective

The practice of using foundling wheels to dispose of unwanted children was commonly used in medieval Europe. Moral, legal, and social discourse over the use, function, and appropriateness of foundling wheels, baby hatches, and designated safe havens used to prevent infanticide is an unresolved centuries old debate that has yet to be resolved.


Child abandonment is one of the most painful dramas imaginable; regardless of the century a story takes place. Leaving a baby on the doorstep is a centuries old social problem that puts an infant’s life at risk and in most countries is a punishable offense. The plight of outcast newborns during the Middle Ages was a social and moral issue; many of the same questions and answers remain equally relevant today. The problem of unwanted newborns has been documented in Italy since Roman times when babies abandoned next to a column in a forum were either taken home by strangers to serve as slaves or left to die. Pope Innocent III was shocked by the large number of dead babies floating in the Tiber River, the main watercourse of the city of Rome. In response to this societal catastrophe, he institutionalized the “foundling wheel” in the 12th century as a solution for dealing with the large number of foundlings—infants abandoned by their parents and left to die or be discovered and cared for by others.

Foundling wheels were set in the exterior walls of medieval churches, convents, and hospitals to allow an abandoned baby to be left anonymously and safely without fear of punishment. Infants were carefully placed in a revolving crib through a circular opening and rotated into the building. The practice of using foundling wheels to dispose of unwanted children gained in popularity and became a common practice in medieval Europe. In Italy, foundlings were given names such as Esposito (exposed), Proietti (throw away), and Innocenti (innocent) and individuals with these names can often trace their family pedigree to a foundling past.

The problem of what to do with abandoned children raises as many concerns today as it did in the past and the foundling wheels of today function much the same as those in medieval times. Multilingual posters in modern Rome read—“Don’t abandon your baby! Leave it with us.” The practice of placing unwanted infants in a modern foundling wheel, heated baby hatch, stork cradle, stainless steel baby box, maternity ward, or designated safe haven is a practice that is still used today in many European countries and the United States and the practice is gaining in popularity throughout the world to combat child infanticide—a practice that is as painfully traumatic as it ever was.

Judith Land


adozione | Verabschiedung | adopción | adopsi | vedtagelse | adoptare | 采纳 | 양자

Adoption Detective

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“Adoption—picking up the pieces from here on after”

Judith Land | Adoption Detective | Martin Hudacek

For those who suffer the heartaches, barrenness and desolation of parent-child separation, life is about pain, mercy and forgiveness. Sculpture by Martin Hudacek.

Some adoptees are like glass—opaque, darkened, and difficult to see through. The past is mysterious, paradoxical and unfathomable to them. Their lives are confusing, ambiguous and semi-transparent. Relationships are perplexing and contradictory and events of yesteryear are obscure and incomprehensible because the truth has been hidden from them. Incongruity creates confusion and a solicitous sense of abandonment.

They stand by the window forlornly looking through the pane (pain) on an overly melancholic kind of day, wondering if the raw feelings of spiritual emptiness that plagues their soul will ever wane. Their memories are cloaked in haziness and mist. They shroud and veil their sense of being and hide their unfeigned emotions about the pivotal events in the springtime of their life because the memories of the earliest days are distressing, blurred, and abstracted. Their external facade is an illusion, a pretense, and a masquerade manifested to conceal their lonely countenance from others. They are as fragile as stained glass, colorful and nice to look at, and opaque enough to allow others to see through the cracks and stains and cobwebs, but not enough to truly know the soul of the human being inside.

Not knowing their true self-identity, place of origin, culture, language, dynasty, and heritage are troubling and make it difficult for them to crystalize and elucidate their deepest thoughts. Images of the past stimulates a nostalgic sense of a bygone era, a disharmonious time that stirs up murkiness, mysteriousness, and dreams. Thinking about the life and relationships they might have had, or wished for, creates a clash between their public persona and their subconscious mind. Who were the individuals from long ago, they wonder, that so drastically altered life’s trajectory through no fault of their own? Why did this happen? Who will love them now? Will the joys of other kindred souls, bringing the gifts of unconditional love and grace today, be enough to help them make it through the day, and overcome the perils and obstacles still lingering from yesterday?

Adoption has many facets on all sides of the adoption triangle with enduring collateral side effects that may last an entire lifetime. When a true self-identity is lacking, relationships may turn sour, become toxic, or even go missing altogether, leaving many wanders and seekers prone to falling through the trapdoor of despondency. Lacking energy and focus, they may have trouble maintaining concentration, spontaneity, or interest in life. Their hearts are as brittle as glass, and when shattered, they are at of risk of being left alone from here on after to pick up all the pieces in solitude. When we see their pain, do we look the other way and feign not to know—or sincerely ask ourselves, “What can I do to help this wandering soul overcome the strife of separation and build a better life?”

Judith Land, Adoptee



adopción | verabschiedung | 采纳 | adozione | 양자 | تبني | a ghlacadh | benimseme


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“Adoption stories are like bad knees and sore backs!”

How good are your listening skills? The best stories and memoirs are those that carry along the personal experiences and ideals of the audience. The most common response to a good story being: “Oh my! But, that’s nothing! Let me tell you my story.” Judith Land, Adoptee

Judith Land | Adoption Detective | Good Listening Skills

Speak less, listen more and learn more. Sound waves funnel into the ear via the external ear canal. The bigger our ears, the better we can hear. If our ears were the same size as bats, this is what they would look like. Bats are especially good listeners. They can hear sounds beyond the human range.


“Diddli-squat—wait until you hear about my bad back and artificial knees!” The phenomenon of comparing stories is particularly rampant in retirement communities where half the population has artificial hips and knees, grandkids, and dwindling savings accounts. The idea of trumping one story with another newer story is a common element of human psychology and ancient dialogue. It is a behavior that is common in sports, travel adventures, life experiences, and injuries. This way of responding is especially common in adoption. If you have ever had the experience of listening to an adoptee passionately describing their life experiences to another person, the audience will inevitably interrupt the adoptee and trump the story with an elaborate fabrication of an even more exciting, dramatic, and harrowing personal story of their own. Unfortunately for many adoptees and old people, this way of responding doesn’t provide the comfort and warm sympathetic response they feel intimately personal and sensitive about, nor does it provide the emotional support they may have anticipated.

Thoughts about yesteryear stimulates a nostalgic sense of a bygone era, an olden time that stirs up murkiness, mysteriousness, and dreams about the reasons for an adoption. The effects of a lack of knowledge of one’s true self-identity, place of origin, and heritage are difficult for many adoptees to assess and nearly unfathomable for some of them to put into words. The topic of adoption is highly personal and each story is unique. Adoptees suffering from post traumatic stress and other symptoms attributed to adoption have a difficult time exposing their deepest thoughts, and often remain guarded about exposing their true feelings and emotions to others. Telling someone else about how they genuinely and sincerely feel about their adoption, their relationship with the birth parents, their deepest secrets about the people  in their lives, and the pivotal events in their life are difficult for them. They prefer to confine their remarks to close friends when exposing their true and confidential feelings. They do so because they seek sympathy, reassurance, and advice, but the responses they receive are often less than satisfying, irrelevant, and in the worst cases unsympathetic to their feelings, especially if the listener responds by telling their own stories and exposing their own problems.

The best things listeners can do for an adoptee speaking from the heart about the unexplained variations in their life’s trajectory, or an old timer quietly complaining about creaky old knees and a sore back, are to express sympathy and offer support—be a mentor and lend a helping hand. A sympathetic response starts by putting on your bat ears and being a good listener—there will be plenty of opportunities in the future to share stories of your own.

Judith Land



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“Adoption—saints, sinners and the salvageable”

Who are the saints, sinners and the salvageable characters of the global adoption narrative? Orphaned, fostered and adopted children at the center of the debate have no authority to speak for themselves in a court of law—their life’s fortune resides entirely in the hands of strangers. Social workers, lawyers, politicians, churches, relatives, agencies, nurses, caregivers, clergy and do-gooders rush in to fill the void and speak for them; each outsider having a different stake in the outcome. The debate about what to do with orphaned children is far-reaching and international in scope. Adoption is one of the most contentious issues of modern society that rouses the passions of righteous individuals throughout the world. The plethora of divergent and clashing points of view about the fair and ethical distribution of abandoned children is an ongoing debate between countries, states, politicians, clergy and social groups. The diversity of opinions and conflicting stakes in the outcome is a struggle for power and domination. Solutions create arguments, fervency, polarized points of view, and foment anger leading to speculation and accusations about personal integrity. Divergent social and cultural outlooks give rise to drama and fiction. The clash of conflicting philosophies, passions and diversity of judgments is a global struggle between “affairs of the heart” verses the “wisdom of the intellect”.

Judith Land | Adoption Detective | Saints, Sinners and Salvageable

Why are so many people in the world still haunted by the same afflictions experienced by previous generations when decades of experience suggests that anonymity between birthparents and adoptive parents and sealing all information about the birthparents from the adopted child has damaging effects on all three parties? Relinquishment of a newborn child is profoundly damaging to birthparents and causes lifelong pain and suffering. The process of developing an individual identity is more complicated for adoptees missing an essential part of their personal history. Adoptive parents are unable to answer questions about why their adoptive children were given up, what their birthparents were like, and what happened to them in later life. They fear that these parents will reclaim the child and that the child will love them more than the adoptive parents.

What happens to discarded children experiencing loss and grief because they were placed in adverse chaotic and intense disabling circumstances through no fault of their own? Are their primary relationships salvageable? Can they be retrieved, rescued, repaired and saved from the perils of the ordeal? Every year individuals and organizations receive commendations, bonuses and accolades for their annual accomplishments, effective leadership, and efficient handling of adoptions. Some of them are even considered saintly because their primary concern is for the health, safety and well being of the children. But—if this were true—why are so many people in the world still haunted by the same afflictions experienced by previous generations? In this age of mental illness and anxiety, social media is laden with haunting personal narratives, pleas for empathy and clemency, retribution and atonement, and rhetorical questions of morality, spirituality, and connectedness. Who is pointing fingers and accusing others of being trespassers and sinners responsible for the problem and calling the wrongdoers morally corrupt scoundrels destined to go to hell because they are transgressors who have behaved immorally, dishonestly and illegally? And, what about the devoted and pious angelic saints who give of themselves every day to sooth the fears and heal the wounds of the lonely, abused and unprotected? Are the individuals attempting to salvage the souls and spirits of the afflicted always pure in spirit, morally honest, virtuous, devote, righteous, uncorrupted and as pure as they are portrayed? Who has the most to gain or loose?

Today is a good day to pause and reflect on what we all mutually share in common—a desire for peace, harmony, freedom and respect for the God-given inalienable rights of all mankind. As a first step, we need to be more civil, stop pointing fingers, stop trying to score points and win arguments. We need to end the never ending emotional tug-of-war of words and assigning blame. We need to clean up our language, be more respectful of other points of view, forgive one another, and lower the tone of the adoption narrative. We need to listen more carefully, respect those who seek redemption, absolution, forgiveness and recovery, and mutually pledge to honor and respect innocent children throughout the world forever and always. Today is a good day to avoid labeling the sinners, handing out undeserved platitudes to the saints, and work with the salvageable.

Judith Land

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“Adoption—life is like riding a bicycle”

Life is like riding a bicycle—maintain your balance and keep moving forward—but know that when fate hands us a flat tire or a unicycle life’s challenges are greatly increased. If we move too slowly our steadiness decreases. Our equilibrium wanes; we become less stable; it becomes increasingly difficult to keep our balance. As our knees begin to wobble our sense of style and grace disappear. We loose focus and forget about our planned destination. We panic. All that matters is self-protection. Events unfold in slow motion. Knowing the inevitable is about to happen, our survival instincts take over. Our eyes frantically scan the sidelines seeking the least harmful place to crash. “Wham!”

Judith Land | Adoption Detective | Bicycle

Adoptees must learn to maintain their balance and keep moving forward to live a healthy lifestyle and achieve their life-long goals and aspirations. When they come to a jump or rough spot in the road they must double their concentration, stay focused on positive outcomes, and adjust their speed and trajectory accordingly.

The phenomenon of loosing our balance and accidentally straying off-course is a reoccurring nightmare for adoptees seeking clarity and purpose in their lives, as well as, race car drivers, ski racers, athletes and risk-taking dare devils. Goal seeking individuals who challenge themselves have more work to do and more reasons to worry about straying off course. They must concentrate, stay focused, and continually adjust their speed and trajectory. What kind of person are you? Are you an adoptee challenged to find your true self-identity? What happens when you feel yourself hopelessly deviating from your primary goals and objectives in life? Do you dramatize the event by letting go of the handlebars and drawing attention to yourself by screaming obscenities and flailing about wildly with your arms in the air to create a theatrical moment worthy of an award winning America’s Funniest Home Video? Or, are you the strong silent type who suffers embarrassment from the ridicule of others, the torment of going off course under darkened skies in the cold and rain, endures the pain of injury and a sense of loss in your dreams, and suffers internally from emotional heartache in solitude?

I worry about adoptees who bottle up their feelings and lick their injuries in silence because there is nobody there to guide and support them. The child who hides his or her wounds in the darkest subconscious corners of their primal brain, where they remain hidden but never healed, automatically responds by saying, “I’m okay! Don’t worry about me. I’m tough! I can solve my own problems. I don’t want to rock the boat or cause problems. You wouldn’t understand how I feel anyway.” They internalize their feelings and reject offers of sympathy and conceal the depth of their emotional suffering from others. The sense of isolation they experience leaves them feeling unheralded and anonymous. They struggle to express their true feelings and depth of their emotions with words because they view the topic of adoption as an esoteric subject with a language of its own that can only be understood by other adoptees who share the same experiences. It is easier for them to internalize the pain of isolation and separation and conceal the depth of their emotional suffering from others who don’t understand them.

Providence does not shine equally on all adoptees—the lucky ones are handed a silver spoon, chocolates and ice cream, a comfortable bed to sleep in, a good education, and a wonderful loving family to support and care for them; while others receive nothing. I pity the adopted child who struggles to maintain a balance in their life and keep moving forward toward a positive and healthy future without the adequate support and unconditional love they need, and the care of others to comfort them. I encourage adoptees who say they have never experienced any of the negative feelings commonly associated with adoption to lend a helping hand to those who do, by being their mentors, spiritual guides, big brothers and sisters, foster parents, friends and the counselors they so desperately need.

Judith Land



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