Wrestling With Ethics; an adoption post

In the beginning of January this letter and response appeared in Ask Amy, "I am OK with leaving this woman alone now. However, now I would like to contact my half siblings. They probably don't know anything about me. But I would like to at least try." A week or two later the following rebuttal letters appeared arguing against contact, found here and here. These articles got me to thinking, and thus the following article was born;

I am an only child.

My parents adopted me when I was a baby and shortly after my father was transferred to another state and my (much older for that day and age) parents had to make a decision. Either he left his job so that they could stay within the state and adopt another child, or take the transfer knowing that they would be aged out before the process could be completed again in another state. Obviously, given the opening statement of the piece, we know how it turned out.

I am an only child…except I am not.

In fact, I have two half-sisters who live in California. I have two half-sisters who I am sure have absolutely no idea I even exist. I have actually known about them for over a decade now and have regularly tracked them on social media for most of that time (even from all the way back when one of them was still on MySpace).

I won't lie. There have been times that I have felt weird tracking their lives. I have felt strange when I have found pictures of a baby shower shot by a professional photographer who put them on her web page. I have felt weird watching them update their public information to include degrees earned, weddings attended and babies added. I even found a bio for one on her company's website and I wish I had copy and pasted it because it was so eerily similar to my own life and interests and I don't think it is up anymore.

Before you think I am a total internet stalker (although I really do feel like that sometimes), it isn't like I spend hours of my time on this (also, they are my sisters).

Often times I go trolling late at night when I can't sleep, or if something happened that made me think of them, or the overwhelming need to reach out and contact them becomes too much for me and I feel like I have to do something. It is then that I will cast out the net, typing in their names and following leads that I come up with. Since most adopted children unintentionally become expert online researchers, I am usually pretty successful coming up with new information. Not always of course, but when I do find new information it usually assuages my need to click that "Friend" button on Facebook or the "Follow" button on Pinterest.

It would just be soooo easy to click it. One click, one message and the proverbial cat is out the bag, the beans are spilled, the skeleton is out of the closet. One click and….SURPRISE! But then I pause.

Is it really fair to them?

Is not contacting them fair to me?

Where do the ethics lines lay?

I don't know. And until I am sure, it isn't something that is fair to anyone. And so I leave the button unclicked, the email unsent and Pinterest board unfollowed.

My Mom and her birth daughter insist that it is just fear talking when I say it isn't time yet. The two of them pressure me to contact my half-sisters almost every time we all get together. But, to be fair, they also pressured me to get a mediator to contact my birth mother and that didn't exactly turn out like the fairytale they assured me it would be. Their credibility is a bit shot at this point *sorry guys*. My default sister, as my mom's birth daughter calls herself, regularly threatens to contact them on my behalf because she thinks it is mad, crazy, insane that I don't just ring them up and let them know I exist. The problem is, if I allowed her to do that (I am fairly sure she wouldn't do it on her own.....pretty sure anyway) I would feel like I was acting in a very vindictive way from the rejection of my birth mother, and not in an effort for positive growth. That is certainly no way to begin a potential relationship with family.

I am lucky enough though to have been adopted from the sunny state of California, one of the primary champions of the adoptee rights movement. As a result I have many options available to me. Since I am over 21 (although we won't mention how over) and my half-sisters are over 21, I can petition the courts to legally contact them regardless of any birth family objections (statue referenced here). I have actually been three quarters of the way through that process for about two years now, but I have been sitting on the last bit of paperwork because I am torn.

I want to be fair to my birth mother. It was very clear both from her rejection letter to my mediator and through conversations with my birth father's family, that I am most likely a closely guarded secret. I have to admit, it is weird knowing that you are the skeleton in some one's closet, the scary thing you don't want coming out, the deep dark secret that should be hidden from the light. It is an odd identity for any person and I won't lie, sometimes it makes me angry. It is a lot of power to wield over someone’s life, and as the saying goes, “with great power, comes great responsibility.” So, I continue to stay my hand, so to speak.

On the other side of the coin though, I watch my sister and my Mom together and I see how far they have come. When she first contacted my Mom it sent my Mom into a tailspin. She had to dredge up and face some of the most horrifically painful times in her life, and it was really hard for her. I watched her struggle, and cry, and rage against all the things she had buried for so many decades; the shame, the heartbreak, the anger, the uncertainty, the trauma. Ultimately though, I have watched her blossom into a better person. After processing through most of it (not all yet) I have seen the two of them dig deep and connect and understand each other in a way that my Mom and I have never understood each other. God bless genetics, right? I am so proud of how far they have come and how much they have processed through and that fact alone gives me pause. Maybe I should reach out. 

The saying goes, "the truth will set you free," and that is what I want for my own birth mother. I don't want her to think that I regret her decision. I don't. I love my Mother, and all she has ever wanted to do is look my birth mother in the eye and thank her for her generous gift. She told me many times that she just wanted to thank my birth mom for giving her and my Dad the opportunity to raise me. This was especially true after she gave her only child up for adoption and delivery complications meant she would never again carry a child to term.

If contacting my half-sisters forces the truth out into the open, isn't that a good thing? Doesn't it fall under the greater good, or acting in her best interests or something along those lines? Isn’t forcing her to face things she has stuffed deep down inside a positive thing? Or would it be more prudent to adhere to the responses of the Ask Amy writers and, "leave that poor birth mother alone?" Is living in denial and anger really a life worth protecting? Or does some pain run so deep that it is best left buried?

And last but not least, what of my half-sisters? Don’t they have the right to know that they have another sibling in the world? Isn’t that something that should be their choice, not something kept from them? What about their rights?

I am grateful for my new sister. I am grateful that she went out on a limb and forced my Mom to face her worst fears. I love her for it. She is a wonderful, generous and caring person and now that she is here, I can’t imagine our lives without her in it. Don’t my birth sisters deserve the same thing? Or am I just being selfish?

Please comment. Help me work through the philosophical conundrum of this crazy adoption journey.

What do you think?

Would you want to know if you had an unknown brother or sister?

Whose feelings do I defer to first? My own? My family’s? My birth family’s?