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What They Usually Don't Tell You About Adoption

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CRAIG GIESECKE
Craig Giesecke
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I was watching the local TV news this evening and the station had a wonderful story about a pair of adopted twins who had done something great. Their family was gathered around them, all agog at their accomplishments. It was one of those feel-good stories that stations use to end the newscast on an upbeat note. We've all seen them, though I didn't get all the details before "Jeopardy" came on.

But I kept thinking about those 13-year-old twin boys and where they came from and how and why they were adopted and how happy they looked. They were apparently much loved and supported and, if they're as lucky as most adoptees such as myself, will grow up to live fulfilling, productive and wonderful lives. Few stories are happier than those involving a parent or parents who badly want a child, find a child in need and raise that child with as much or more love and encouragement as any biological parent could hope to give.

But (how do I say this?), speaking as an adoptee, I can't help but raise a flag or two about what goes through that child's mind as they get older. Not really a red flag, since I've certainly not lost any sleep over my biological past. Neither have I ever had a desire to find my biological parents, who would, by now, be in their eighties if they are alive at all. But there are some things I want to know, y'know?

What I know of my own story, according to the records, is that I was the result of a fairly serious relationship that ultimately didn't work out for a single 21-year-old redhead. That was a much bigger deal in 1954 than it is now. My dad had dark eyes and dark hair, like me. But what else?

The official term for my curiosity is genealogical bewilderment. It's a condition still very much debated and yet very much real in virtually all adoptees I've known, no matter how happy their upbringing and surroundings. It can also affect children of anonymous donors, and for some it can be a very big deal.

I have my own biological children. I see in each of them the combination of genes and chromosomes from their mother and me, from eye shape to how they smiles to the type of hair on their heads and how they stand. On their mother's side of the family, many of these traits are also evident in cousins, grandparents, an aunt and, if one pulls out the old photo albums, back a series of generations. It's how families work. "Oh! She looks just like Great Aunt Minnie! Look at this!" My older son, for instance, looks tremendously like his maternal grandfather -- who died before I ever entered the family scene. But there he is, the son born in 1983 smiling from a faded 1937 photograph.

On my side of the family, the resemblance stops with me. While my kids were fortunate enough to get to know my wonderful folks, some cousins and others, there was no physical continuity. Moreover, aptitudes and attitudes than can be physically passed from generation to generation go only back as far as me. Where and who did they come from?

My parents (and that's who they were to me) were always very honest about my being adopted. One of the first books read to my sister (also adopted) and me told us we were not only born, but chosen by our family because of how special we were. Because of this early knowledge, it was no big deal that I didn't have the same physical traits as my cousins and other relatives. I didn't question it, no one ever mentioned it and, honestly, it was never an issue. My folks also said if I wanted to find out more when I reached adulthood, they stood ready to help and support.

I was born in an adoption facility in Texas, where law permits release of pretty much all information about an adoptee's biological family except the names. For information taken in 1954, mine is surprisingly complete -- including a notation about possible heart problems on my mother's side. Further, Texas law also allows establishment of registries that facilitate contact between biological parents and children if each independently expresses interest. Law also wisely requires some counseling before such a meeting takes place.

More recently, groups such as the Louisiana Adoption Support Alliance are trying to take this a step farther by backing legislation such as HB921. The measure would allow adoptees to obtain a full copy of their original birth certificate. The bill provides for the biological parent to list themselves as "no contact," but still requires completion of a family history document to fill in some of the gaps that so often come to light in an adoptee's mind -- particularly as they grow older.

Having an original birth certificate can, of course, be a double-edged sword, and I'm not prepared to launch a complete defense of or opposition to it. But I think my goal in having one would be to launch some genealogical research to get a better idea of when my biological family came over, where they came from, possibly why, what they did when they first got here and where they moved around. It's pretty basic family stuff that anyone can find through any number of research sites. I can find my adoptive family, but my biology remains an erased slate. Though I don't care about contacting anyone, it would be nice possibly find out about some things they might not have known to ask in the mid-1950s.

Another part of the reason for this is the continued research into the theory of genetic memory. Our DNA remains such a mystery, and some scientists believe more than simple phobias are the result of genetically transferred experiences of our forebears. Is this why we feel more at home in some environments? Can this explain some feelings of déjà vu?

Despite my Texas upbringing, I feel most at home along the bayous of South Louisiana, and it has been that way since I first traveled there in my early teens. Yet I was in my late 30s before I discovered my biological father had identified himself as "Acadian" on an adoption form. Was this merely a location identifier or an indication of ethnic heritage? Is this why I share so many physical traits of those in your average Thibodaux LA grocery store? I don't know.

I would imagine, though I don't know, many of these questions are amplified when an adoptive child is of an obviously different ethnic heritage than an adoptive parent. I used to work with a young Nicaraguan man who was adopted as a baby during that nation's civil war of the 1980s. He is obviously Hispanic. His adoptive parents are not. He knows there's a very good chance he's alive today because he was taken out of Nicaragua, so he's grateful. He has no desire to find his biological family, even if he could. But he wonders -- not so much about specific people as about some of the facts.

I'm fortunate in that I was raised well enough and I'm experienced at life enough to not wonder who I am. So much of who we are is made up of our experiences and the people we've known. But I can't help but think the picture would be more complete if I knew more about the events leading up to June 19, 1954.

The bottom line is I know I've been a lucky bastard (literally). I'd just like to find out more about how lucky I've been.