Adoption, Law & Ethics

Two years (2017-2019)

“Things come apart so easily when they have been held together with lies.” Dorothy Allison

by Michelle Riess

This week it has been two full years since I made the unexpected discovery that I am adopted after getting a DNA match to one of my three full biological sisters. I was forty years old at the time and had never been told that I was adopted. This was obviously a very shocking thing to discover about yourself as an adult, especially when you grew up believing you were an only child and wishing for siblings. (you can read about my adoption discovery here)

I can’t believe it’s been two years already! It feels like it was a lifetime ago and just yesterday all in the same breath. I feel like I’ve known my family forever even though we only met each other for the first time two years ago. I still can’t believe all of this has happened–I don’t think I will ever be able to fully process it all because it’s just so extraordinary. The number of times we’ve been told that our experience is like watching a movie or reading a novel is well into the hundreds at this point, so I know I’m not alone in my utter disbelief. Lol!

Just a quick recap of the timeline of events: I got the initial Ancestry DNA match to my sister, Jamie, on September 11, 2017. That was followed by about four days of uncertainty between Jamie and me as we tried to make sense of things. By the fifth day I already knew the truth in my heart. Finally, I received verbal confirmation from the adoptive family on September 17, 2017 after directly questioning them about my origins. The entire process lasted only one week.

Now at two years since this discovery, I’ve had time to process more of the facts surrounding the adoption, and the people involved, with a much clearer mind. I have absolutely no regrets for any of the decisions I’ve made and continue to move forward with my life. However, a few things still trouble us deeply. For example, we do not understand why the extended adoptive family wasn’t more aggressive in encouraging the adoptive parents to do the right thing. Also, why didn’t the State of New Jersey ever follow-up with my adoption, especially after the indictment/conviction of the attorney who arranged it for the adoptive parents? It’s incomprehensible how so many people knew the truth, but all seemingly believed that I would never find out–even long after sites like Ancestry.com came around. It’s honestly mind-blowing, especially since the adoptive parents knew I was heavily involved in genealogy and that I had even done DNA testing. The DNA testing alone should have been cause for them to finally tell me the truth (albeit about three decades too late by that time!) I don’t know if it was arrogance or pure stupidity, but clearly the adoptive parents were out of touch with reality in regards to my adoption and their long-term responsibilities as adoptive parents.

I’m not going to dwell on the negative, especially since there is an abundance of happiness in my life today. I really want to take this opportunity to ask people to be more honest with the people in your life, to be fully accountable for your own actions, and when you do mess up to accept the consequences with grace. Also, if you know someone in your life is harboring major secrets or is actively deceiving others for their own personal gain, do not just let it go—confront them. Be understanding, but also be direct. Firmly state that what they are doing is wrong, especially if it involves deceiving a child or someone entrusted with their care. Encourage them to do the right thing, to make better choices, and to make positive changes in their life. Eventually, the truth will find it’s way out, as it always does.

“Anything is better than lies and deceit!” Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina

For four decades, almost two of which I was a minor, I was lied to, manipulated and programmed to believe completely fabricated “facts” about myself and, by default, misled to believe I couldn’t be anything other than their biological child. Yet we’ve never felt that the adoptive parents truly regretted their actions; only that I found out the truth and haven’t kept quiet about it. I do not believe any reasonable, informed person would disagree that the highly questionable circumstances of my adoption, and the fact that I was never told that I am adopted, were unethical and should have been handled very differently. If you cannot agree with this, then you are probably part of the larger problem that I am referring to. No amount of money, gifts, fancy vacations or material goods bestowed upon me by the adoptive parents in any way excuses their choices or their behaviors in regards to my adoption. There is no justification for any of it.

I wrote this statement last year in a different post, but it is definitely worth repeating:

“All adoptive parents have a moral obligation to be open and honest with the child they adopt about their own genetic origins. To intentionally withhold this information from an adoptee of any age is selfish and unethical. If you are not able to follow through with these clear moral obligations, you are not ready to adopt.”

There is no legitimate reason for any adoptive parent(s) to withhold the fact that a person is adopted. While some details about the adoptee’s background could be very upsetting and might be best to withhold until they are age-appropriate (and ideally with the guidance of a licensed therapist) the fact that a person is adopted should never be withheld, under any circumstances. It is never too early to start talking about adoption and is something all adoptive parents need to be prepared to talk about openly over the years; it should never be viewed as a one-time disclosure and then never discussed again.  [Relatedhow to talk about adoption with your child]

On a much more positive note, my family and I have been enjoying getting to know each other better and building a relationship with a strong foundation rooted in love, honesty, openness and mutual respect. It brings me so much peace and joy knowing we are together now and that nothing can ever separate us again. I am continually blown away by the power of genetics and the striking similarities between us all despite the fact that I grew up without them or even knowledge of their existence. It really is amazing. My three children love spending time with our family as well, though I do wish we could all get together more frequently. Life is very busy for all of us, but I definitely need to find more time to spend with them on a regular basis. I feel so at peace knowing my children will always have the security of our family even long after I am gone, and the same for their children. That is a level of security that I have never known until this discovery and is something that money and material wealth can never alone replicate. It is so empowering knowing the truth and knowing where I really come from, especially since there were always major discrepancies between what I was told by the adoptive parents and what I felt inside. I feel completely at home with myself now, which is kind of a foreign feeling to me, but I welcome the change. I am constantly working to deprogram myself from the beliefs I was trained to accept, versus reality. It’s a difficult process, but I am making great progress and living a very happy, peaceful and fulfilling life.

Thank you to everyone–my children, family, friends, co-workers, other adoptees, other birth mothers, and even complete strangers from all over the world–for your continued support and enthusiasm. My family and I are always blown away by everyone’s interest and how moved people are by our story. We feel so fortunate that our story had such a beautiful ending despite having to wait four decades to get here! We will continue to share news, stories and updates on this website and on our Facebook page. I’m also hoping that my mom, Hollie, and my sisters might write about their experiences here as well. So many people have also expressed their desire for us to write a book about our story, so that is something that might happen in the very near future as well. There may also be some other exciting things coming up in the new year, too…. Stay tuned!

Love,
Michelle

 

© Christina George / Michelle Lyn Riess / Riess Family Adoption Reunion, 2017-2019. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author  is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to this site with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. By visiting this site, you agree to the terms of use for this site.