Monthly Archives: November 2014

What’s in a Name?

I am preoccupied with names. As an adoptee of course, I wonder what my name would have been if I had been raised by both of my natural parents.

I could have been a Winter had I grown up with Lillian and her husband as parents. Winter sounds kind of elegant, less common than Miller and not a name you associate with beer. (My high school geometry teacher used to greet me by saying “It’s Miller time.” That’s all I remember about geometry.)

Winter wasn’t my natural father. I think bio dad was some other guy, a nameless, faceless fellow who may remain a mystery to me forever.

Every time I log into my Family Tree DNA account, I look for new names among my living cousins and their ancestors. My bio father’s surname is in here somewhere but how to find it? Could he be a Smith, a Jones or a Wilson? Those are the top three surnames among my DNA matches.

Is my bio dad's name here?
Is my bio dad’s name here?

One of my new cousins contacted me recently. She comes from a family with many Millers and wanted to know about me. Bob Miller was my father but he adopted me so we don’t have any biological connection, at least not one I know about.

I have at least eight Millers among my DNA matches. If everyone explored their ancestry long enough, wouldn’t we all find at least a handful of Millers in the family? Seems likely. But wouldn’t it be funny if I found out there actually was a bio connection between me and Bob?

Either way, I like having a name that’s easy to say and spell. Miller reminds me of my wonderful father, the dad who drove me to school, played tennis with me and helped me learn to drive. Miller sounds friendlier and more approachable than Winter, don’t you think? Winter reminds me of Rebecca de Winter from the 1940 Hitchcock movie, Rebecca. The late Mrs. de Winter was beautiful and glamorous but more than a touch cold.

Myths and Truths About Birth Mothers

Elle Cuardaigh’s thought-provoking piece about birth mothers and stereotypes reminded me of the day I found out who my birth mother was.

Before I knew the facts, I assumed my mother had been really young and naïve when she got pregnant with me. Not true. Lillian was a 28-year-old married woman when she gave birth to me in Skokie, Illinois in the 1960s.

Married? If she had been married, why would she have given me up for adoption? Married women don’t do that. My husband, Tom, and I figured she must have been lying about her marital status to make herself seem more respectable.

We were dead wrong. Turns out Lillian was indeed married, the mother of four young children. Her husband was convinced I was not his child so he ordered Lillian to give me up which she did. Not long after that, Lillian and Dick split up and she remarried a few years later.

My birth mother, Lillian, was a married mother of four when she had me
My birth mother, Lillian, was a married mother of four when she had me

I found out more surprising things about Lillian’s life including the fact that she had attended college, something my parents had never achieved. Birth moms are asking, “why is that surprising?”  Forgive me for making assumptions.

Searching for the truth about my birth parents has opened my eyes to so many truths, myths and lies about adoption. It would be an understatement to call adoption complicated. Every adoptee, birth mom and adoptive parent has a unique story.

Way back when I was a journalism student, I learned the folly of making assumptions. “If you a-s-s-u-m-e, you make an ass of you and me.”

I no longer make assumptions about the parents who brought me into the world or for that matter, the parents who raised me. That would be stupid.  I think it’s safe to assume the longer I pursue the truth about my roots, the more surprises I’ll turn up.

Adoptees: Insiders or Outsiders?

I told you about my odd childhood, how I grew up feeling like an outsider  in my family. Well it turns out I’m in good company. Many adoptees feel the same way, based on the comments I heard from my Facebook friends who are adopted.

I guess I hit a nerve. Many readers said they also felt like they did not belong to their families, even when they were wanted, cared for, protected and loved, like I was, by their adoptive parents. Of course we also don’t belong to our original families.

The house where Lillian raised her family
I felt like an outsider gazing at the house in Northbrook, Illinois where my birth mother, Lillian,  lived with her husband and four children.

Each one of us has a unique story. Some adoptees grew up knowing they’re adopted and feeling second class compared to their parents’ biological children.

Some were told by their parents to never tell anyone they were adopted. In other words, being adopted is really bad and you better keep your mouth shut about it. What does that do for anybody’s self worth?

Like me, some people never knew as children that their parents adopted them. We grew up feeling different, not like our parents at all, and not knowing the truth, which could have explained the feeling of not fitting in.

While the comments from my fellow “outsiders” were plentiful, I also heard from a handful of people who completely disagreed. They said they never, ever felt like outsiders in the family. How is that possible? Since I can’t identify with the insiders, I can only speculate on how they and their parents pulled this feat off (and try very hard not to feel envious).

A few questions for those of you who don’t suffer from the outsider complex:

ŸŸ  Did your parents bend over backwards to make sure you felt at home in their home? How did they manage to do that?

ŸŸ  Did they tell you the truth about how you joined the family?

Ÿ  Did your aunts, uncles and cousins treat you like one of their own?

Ÿ Ÿ  What would you tell potential adoptive parents who want to make sure their adoptive child feels like a real member of the family?

I would love to hear your stories.