Full show notes: http://www.adopteeson.com/listen/98
Episode Transcription by Fayelle Ewuakye. Find her on Twitter at @FayelleEwuakye
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Haley - You’re listening to Adoptees On, the podcast where adoptees discuss the adoption experience. This is episode 98, Karen. I’m your host Haley Radke. Welcome friend, I’m so pleased to have you join us today to hear another adoptee’s experience. And I just want to give you a little update. You might have noticed there’s a show in change in show numbering. And I started out doing the podcast in seasons. And also biweekly. And I had a lot of things that I’m shifting towards doing strictly episodic, we’ll have series from time to time where we are focusing in on a theme. But for right now, we’re gonna be doing episodic numbering. So that’s why that change is in place. And I also wanna let you know, somewhere we are going to be able to meetup in person again very soon! And so I will tell you a little bit more about that at the end of this show. I wanna introduce you today to Karen Pickell. Karen is the author of An Adoptee Lexicon, and today she share’s candidly about how growing up she felt intensely different from her adoptive family. And we talk about how challenging it is to know who you are when you don't know where you came from. Karen also tells us the realities of what adoption reunion really looks like for her and what role nature versus nurture plays in her life. We wrap with some recommended resources and as always everything we’ll be talking about today are available at the website, adopteeson.com. let’s listen in.
Haley – I’m so pleased to welcome to Adoptees On, Karen Pickell, welcome Karen!
Karen - Hi Haley, thank you so much for having me.
Haley - Well I’m so excited to talk to you, ‘cause we’ve been friends for a while and you know, and internet friends and we’ve done a couple of book clubs together and I've read your book and seen you, oh my gosh, we’ll talk about lots of that stuff in recommended resources. But I’ve seen you blogging and doing so much work, but I feel like I don't have a good handle on your story. So why don't you start off with that, why don't you share your story with us.
Karen - Absolutely. And thank you by the way for blurbing my book, because you know, that’s kind of a high pressure like, please read my book and please say something nice, kind of a thing. So thank you so much, I appreciated that so much.
Haley - My name is on your book, come on!
Karen - So cool!
Haley - It’s the first time! I felt like a big deal!
Karen - Yeah, so, you know, I have been kind of writing about adoption for a while now, and then kind of involved in the online adoption community for a while, but I tend to not talk about my own story too much. I try not to be you know, I think I'm just kind of uncomfortable talking too much about myself so today, you’re gonna get it all out of me.
Haley - Alright. Let’s go, it’s been building for a while, this is it..
Karen - Yeah, here we go. So I was born in Cleveland, Ohio in 1968. And shortly after I was born, I was taken to a place in Cleveland called the St. Vincent DePaul Infant Home. And I was there for about 3 and a half months before my adoptive parents took me home with them. And then I was with them for a year before I was officially, legally adopted in 1969 which I guess is kind of standard, how things were done back then. And I’m guessing I probably found out or began to understand that I was adopted, probably around the time that my parents adopted my younger brother which was when I was 4. And I always understood, they always were very open with me and told me what they understood about my adoption which was that my mother had been a teenager when I was born, and so of course she was so young, how could she have taken care of a baby. And that was why I was put up for adoption. So I always knew that. And they had told me that I was born at a particular Catholic Hospital in Cleveland which was kind of the hospital that, the Catholic hospital where girls went when they had babies they were going to be giving up for adoption. So I knew all that and when my brother was adopted, you know, we kind of knew a similar story about him. So it was, you know, it was just kind of accepted for us that, okay, this is how adoption’s done. And you know, we kind of just a regular middle class family, and we were very Catholic family. My parents were Catholic, my brother and I went to Catholic elementary school from kindergarten all the way through 8th grade. I went to an all-girls Catholic high school. And my parents were not very social. They weren’t the type where they were having people over all the time, we weren’t out talking with our neighbors or doing stuff like that. They kind of kept to themselves mostly. Most of the socialization I had when I was very young just came from the few times during the year when we would get together with my aunts and uncles and cousins but like, before I went to school, in kindergarten, I don't remember ever, there were no like neighbor kids I was playing with or anything like that. So I was always happy to go to school, I enjoyed school, I enjoyed being around the other kids. I was kind of what you’d call a joiner. Like any time there was something that would come up at school where they’d be like, here’s a club or here’s an after school after activity, I was always going home going, oh I wanna do this, I wanna try that. Which was really kinda opposite to how my parents were, because they were so just kept to themselves, and stayed home, and never went anywhere. They never had a babysitter for us, and went out on mom and dad date night or anything like that. They were just kinda like, always home and with us. My dad would go to work every day in the morning before I got up, come home early evening, sit down and watch TV. My mom was home with us, she wasn’t working when we were kids. But, and she’d be talking on the phone to mainly to her mother or her sister, the occasional friend. But we really didn't see people. So for me, it was a pretty lonely childhood. And the older I got, the more I started to realize how different I was from my parents. And not only in that sense of wanting to be more social, but also in the sense of, my parents were very practical. Everything was, I don't even know how to put it. Everything was very, came down to whether it was, how expensive was it going to be, how much effort was it going to be, the house was very, always very clean and very organized, and there was never any clutter, and there was never anything extraneous and I was always very much more creative, more in my head, more imaginative.
Haley - Did you write, did you write as a child?
Karen - I did. Started probably when I was, maybe around 5th or 6th grade. I started spending a lot of time in my bedroom. And started just writing in notebooks and keeping a journal. Started writing poems and I was very, very into music when I was a kid. And so I was always listening to the radio, and I would start, I would be sitting in my room with my notebook and I would listen to the radio and listen to songs and I’d listen to the same songs over and over, and I would start to write out the lyrics for myself as I would catch them on the radio, from what I could pick out. And I would write them on my notebook and then I would kind of look at the words on the paper and kind of see how they were organized. And that’s kind of how I started writing poems, was in studying lyrics of songs. And I also very much wanted to be a singer when I was younger. And I used to go to my room and close the door and spend hours just singing certain songs over and over, to try to learn how a particular singer was hitting those notes. And I would just try to imitate and I would just keep practicing and practicing. So when I was in school, I was joining, if there was a chorus, I was joining it. You know, if there was a musical production at school I wanted to be a part of it. So that’s kind of how I was. I was much more wanting to do something creative and wanting to do something that was more outwardly focused. Whereas my parents were just kind of always like, to themselves and for them, it was difficult for them to understand those kinds of desires to be creative in that way, to be expressive in that way. Because they were the type of people that never wanted anyone to know their business, didn’t you know, they weren’t the type of people who were gonna be expressing emotions. They weren’t very outwardly affectionate which doesn’t mean that they weren’t loving in their own way. But they weren’t demonstrative. And not even with us, like I don't have memories of being a child and like, getting hugs and kisses every night before I went to bed. Or I don't have memories of my parents saying, I love you every day to me. I don't have those memories. So they just weren’t, and it doesn’t mean that they didn’t care about us or that they didn't love us in their way, but I was a very, more demonstrative, more affectionate child. And I wanted those outward displays of affection. So all of these things, kind of combine together, started to really make me, as I got older, feel very different from the rest of my family. And for my brother, I think for him, he was more of a personality type where he was able to adjust to them, maybe is a way of putting it, easier than I was. Because my personality type I think was so different, that it was really difficult for me to be in that environment. When I wanted to be so much more outwardly expressive.
Haley - So you knew that you were adopted, did you like, fantasize about your biological parents?
Karen - I did. And again, because as I got older and started to realize how different I was from my family, and you know, when you’re in school and you meet other kids and you start to go to their houses and you start to see how other families interact. And then you really start to realize how your family, maybe, is different than other families, right? So, then I started to think about, you know, well everything maybe would be different, and everything would be better if I was with my real mother. And that’s how I used to think about it. And you know, that term real mother is kind of a trigger term for some people, right? But in my family, that’s how my birth mother was described. We never used the term birth mother when I was a kid. I didn't know that term until I was probably in my 20s. When I was a kid, my parents always used to talk about my biological mother and my brother’s biological mother as our real mothers. And there was no—
Haley - Whoa.
Karen - It didn’t bother them to talk about it that way.
Haley - I’ve never heard that before, Karen.
Karen - You’ve never heard that?
Haley - No.
Karen – Okay.
Haley - That to me, it like, there’s so many adoptees that are you know, if they're trying really hard not to disrupt the grateful narrative, they will say something like, my adoptive mother is my real mother. And there’s so much of that. Like, that’s what the real mother is.
Karen - Right.
Haley - I’ve never heard an adoptee who’s adoptive parents have called your first mother as your real mother to your face.
Karen - See, and that was different about my upbringing too. And that’s one thing I think is different and it’s a generational thing I think in large part, because at the time I was growing up in the 70s and having been adopted in the late 60s, my parents weren’t looking at it, my adoptive parents weren’t looking at adoption in terms of any kind of a you know, it wasn’t like a biblical mandate for them. It wasn’t something that they were doing because they wanted to be good people. It was, because they couldn’t have children of their own. And because they were Catholic, they went through Catholic Charities and they looked at it as, almost like they were doing, almost like a good deed in a way by taking these children whose parents just were simply unable to raise them and they never had any kind of, I never felt there was any animosity toward my biological mother or my brother’s biological mother from my adoptive parents. I felt like they looked down on them in any way. It was just, it was really presented to us as if, this is just the fact. The fact of the matter is, your mothers were very young and couldn’t take care of you, and we were wanting to have a family, and so we’re taking care of you. And it was just kind of matter of fact and so for them to say, your real mother in their mind, she was real because she was our, she was my biological mother. And there was no conflict in that for them. ‘Cause that was always that was never hidden, everybody knew we were adopted. There was no trying to pretend that you know, we were only theirs and we didn’t have other mothers. So, yeah, that wasn’t an issue. That word was not an issue in my house.
Haley - That’s so fascinating. We’ve talked before, right, about how language and adoption and you talk about that in your book. And it’s just, it’s so interesting.
Karen - Well, and it’s so interesting that every, different adopted people have such different experiences when it comes to how their adoptive parents handled certain things, you know?
Haley - Yep.
Karen - And so you really can’t assume that everybody had the same experience.
Haley - No, for sure. Okay, so you did think about your real mother coming sometimes.
Karen - And when I was about, 11 or 12, my adoptive mother revealed to me that she knew my original birth name, my first name. And she told me that she had accidentally seen it on some paperwork during the adoption process. Whether or not this is the whole story, I am still not sure. But this is what she told me. And she told me at that time that my birth name had been Kimberly. And so I knew from that time, then going forward in my life, I knew what my original first name was. And that kind of reinforced for me, really some of the fantasies that I was having about my birth mother and how I would have felt perhaps more comfortable in my life and in my own skin if I had remained with her and been raised by her. I just had all these, I just had a very, very, very strong feeling of it being unfair that I had had to grow up in a situation that didn’t suit me. And that if I had stayed with my mother, maybe I would have been in a situation that was more in tune with who I really was inside, because I always felt so different inside, from how I was growing up.
Haley – So when you hear the name Kimberly, to you that’s, oh what kind of a person would choose that name. Like that’s like a clue to your biological mother’s personality.
Karen - It is. And it’s also because of the fact that you know, many of us as adoptees don't have that visual mirroring of seeing someone who looks like us as we’re growing up. And so even though I was matched to my family largely because of my supposed ancestry, because they were told that I was Welsh and Slovak. And my adoptive mother is 100% Slovak and my adoptive father was half Irish and I guess they figured oh, Welsh, Irish, it’s the same area of the world, close enough, right?
Haley - Yup, close enough.
Karen - So this is how they did the matching back then, right? They tried to put babies into families where they would blend in. And it wouldn’t be noticeable that a child was adopted. So yeah I was matched because of those things and yes, in many ways I was similar maybe to my adoptive family. In that, we were all white people and we had some kind of the same heritage. But, I was always looking at other faces and trying to find somebody who had my features. And I was always paying attention like, to the other kids in school who had red hair like me, or had freckles like me. And being a redhead is, really makes you stand out in a way that you know, if I had had brown hair like my parents, maybe I wouldn’t have felt so odd. But when I was very young, my hair was more of like a bright orange. So that stands out and so I think as an adoptee, anything that makes you feel like you are separate from your family, leaves an impression on you. You know, because especially for me because I was always feeling so separate inside, and I also felt separate on the outside as well because I didn’t feel like I looked like my parents. So when I heard the name Kimberly, the name Kimberly of course to me sounds more perhaps British or Irish or something from that area of the world. And it felt to me like it matched better how I looked. So it felt more like what my name should be.
Haley – And you were just 11?
It was like 11 or 12, something like that, yeah. So went through high school, and these feelings just increased all through high school. And so it came time to figure out what to do after high school. And I was always a very good student, made good grades, and so it was just kind of assumed by the guidance counselor that of course I would go to college. And so I kind of drifted into college and I kind of drifted into a major in college, not necessarily based on any kind of good advice. But based more on the idea that my parents had always emphasized that you needed to find a steady job, and you needed to have a good health insurance plan and you needed to have a good pension plan and so, they were very practical about these kinds of things. And so, security was everything to them. So that’s kind of the mindset that I was raised with. And I was also raised with the mindset of well, you know, as a girl, what you choose to do after high school in terms of work, probably doesn’t matter that much anyway because you’re going to get married and you’re going to have children and you’re going to be the mom and you’re going to stay home. Because my mom was a stay at home mom and that was our family structure, you know. So neither of my parents went to college, they didn't care if I went or not, they had not planned for me to go to college, they had not put money away for me or anything like that. So my going to college was just kind of because I had gone through high school having all honors classes and the kids in the honors classes, of course they were going to college, what else would you do? And so I just kind of drifted into it. And I drifted into majoring in computer science because I was in high school, I had a number of math classes, I did fairly well in them, and we had some computer classes at school that I was interested in, and I did well in those. And supposedly this was an up and coming thing, and you could make good money, and have a good job, a steady job, and I said okay good, I’ll have the stability, I’ll go do that. Meanwhile, what I really wanted to do, was sing, and write songs. And I even joined a band and was singing in a band at the time, and there was a point in college when I was close to the end, I was close to graduating, and I was at my internship and I hated it. I hated everything I was doing in my internship, I had already decided that all the math that I took in college was a waste of my time and hated that too. When I started off in college I thought that I was gonna use my computer science degree for something scientific. Then I took some science classes in college and decided no, I didn’t wanna do that, okay now what should I do with it? So I decided well okay, I guess I’ll use it for business, so then I started taking some business classes, I was just all over the place. And by the time I got to my internship, I was in a business doing this kind of marketing internship where I had to write this computer program. I hated it, I hated the whole environment, I hated the whole corporate thing. And I came very, very close to dropping out of college at that point and just saying that’s it, I need to stop, I need to take a break, I need to figure out what I’m doing, and I wanna go and try to be a singer and I wanna go and try to be a songwriter. Came very, very close. And in the end I decided not to because I had put so much time and money into it. And a lot of it my own money because I had started off working part time, had a partial scholarship which ended after the first year and then after that I couldn’t afford to keep up with the tuition anymore. So I had to get a full time job and I switched to going part time to college to finish up and by this time, I’d put so much of my own time and money into it that I decided I couldn’t just waste that and throw it all away, I’m gonna finish, I’m gonna get my degree. I’m gonna get a job, get secure, and then I’ll figure out what to do.
Haley - Well, you know, this sounds like lots of young adults don't know what they wanna do, right?
Karen - That’s absolutely true.
Haley - But also you're, so the first one in your family going to college and you don't have the mirrors and nor the encouragement or the push from your adoptive parents so.
Karen - ‘Cause they didn’t really care if I finished college or not.
Haley – Wait. Are there any recordings from that band?
Karen - There are, yes.
Haley - Okay. Well I’m gonna need you to send me some. Okay, so you did not drop out to become a singer/songwriter.
Karen - I did not. So then I went after college and started interviewing for a, my first permanent full time job, right? I was terrible. I had no idea how to interview, I didn’t know how to dress, I didn’t know what businesses were looking for. I had no clue to what I was doing, I had no mentor, I had no advisor, I did not know what I was doing.
Haley – Is adoption stuff in the back of your head during this time? Or are you like, I wonder what my birth parents did? Like are you thinking about that at all?
Karen - Oh yeah. It’s kind of like a pot that’s kind of like simmering, simmering, simmering inside of me. and it hasn’t boiled over yet, but it’s always there, simmering inside of me. And whenever I was feeling lost, I would kind of get into this headspace of going into this fantasy in my mind of, if I had been raised by my real mother, my life would have gone differently, and I would know how to handle things, and I would know how to talk to people, and I would know what I should be doing. And you know, in my mind, it kind of became sort of, you know, this would have been the solution to all of the problems in my life. If I had been raised by my real mother, that would have made everything in my life easier, everything would have been better. And so it really became a very, very, very strong driving fantasy for me. And I ended up getting a job in information technology and I worked in that job for about 9 years. And all through my 20s. And when I got to my late 20s, at that point, I became so stressed out by the job, I hated the environment I was working in, I also had gone through several just disastrous romantic relationships. Again, because I didn't know who I was. I didn’t know how to be myself with anyone. Because I had spent my entire childhood, trying to fit in with people who were so unlike me that not only did I go and I just started spending more and more time in my own room, locked behind a door when I was a teenager. I would just spend more and more time out of the house and at friends’ houses. And I just kind of hid myself away. And the deeper I hid myself, the harder it became to allow my real identity to ever be seen by anyone. And so I gave in to relationships and I desperately wanted to be in a relationship, I wanted the affection, I wanted someone to understand me even though I would not let them see me. And I desperately wanted to get married and have a child because I wanted to have someone that it was related to. And that became a driving force of my 20s, was find someone and get married and have a child. And I had relationships that were just disasters because I would be trying to bend to kind of fit in with this other person and I would not be allowing that person to see who I really, actually was. And it would finally come to a breaking point and then it would have to end. And it happened repeatedly. And these people were not the right people for me but I didn't have the wisdom to be able to make good choices for myself.
Haley – Well if you don't know who are, how do you show who you are to someone else?
Karen - Right. Exactly. So by the time I got to my late 20s, I had an actual physical breakdown. Where I became so ill that I had to take a leave of absence from work for a while. And my medical doctor actually recommended that I go see a psychologist. So I did. And so I saw him for about a year and a half. It was one of the best things I've ever done in my life. One of the best things I could have done for myself at the time. And even that being said that I will tell you that, that entire year and a half, I never mentioned to him that I was adopted. Never talked about it with him. Never told him that I thought about my birth mother. Never went into any of that.
Haley – Do you know why?
Karen - I think I mean, deep down inside, I knew that there was something there. But I could not deal with it yet. I could not allow it to come out yet. I could not even say those, I couldn’t even speak about any of those things that I thought about with another person.
Haley - Too scary?
Karen - I never spoke about it with anybody. I didn’t speak about it with my best friends. I mean, I didn’t speak about it with anybody.
Haley - Just ‘cause you didn’t wanna open the door? Were you scared to know what was under? Like, I’m just wondering like, why? Or ‘cause did you kinda knew that something was there but it was just too—
Karen - Yeah, I think it was too overwhelming at that time. Because you know, I think I kind of knew deep down, that once all that stuff came out, now I have to deal with who I actually am. Now I have to deal with this conflict that I’m having. And I would have to somehow reconcile the pieces and I wasn’t ready to deal with it. And so I got good advice from the psychologist that did help me, because my thinking had gotten to be so circular, I was stuck in this circular pattern of thinking where, that was kind of like, if only this had happened, if only I had been raised by my real mother, then I wouldn’t have grown up in this situation and then I would be a different person and then good things would have happened and it was kind of a, woe is me, kind of a circular pattern of thinking. Where it was like, I almost, I almost really believed that somehow, I could go back in time and things would be different and I could have a different life. And it was, this is really hard to explain. And it sounds a little bit crazy. But in my mind, I wanted to escape from my life. And so, when I would get into this way of thinking, I was trying to figure out a way that my life could be different and the only thing I could think of was to go back and have it start over from the beginning and be different from the beginning. Even though that was absolutely impossible. And the psychologist really kind of helped me, even though I wasn’t telling him all the details of what I was thinking. I was telling him enough about my romantic relationship issues and my work issues, that he understood that I was stuck in some kind of a loop, you know. He understood that much, that I was stuck. And so he helped me to realize that all this going around and around and around wasn’t doing anything. And that if I wanted my life to be different, I had to decide what it was that I wanted, and I had to ask for it. And I was like, woah, no, no, no, no, no, no, no. I don't get to ask for things and have them happen, that’s not my life. My life is, things happen to me, and I have to deal with them. My life isn’t, if I want to be this kind of person and if I want my life to look like this, then I can ask for it, or I can take steps to make that happen. You know, what is that, crazy talk? But after a year and a half, he got me convinced and he really kind of rewired me, he rewired my brain is kind of how I think about it. And around that same time, is when I met my husband and we started seeing each other. And so at this point I was 30. And thankfully, I met him at the time that my brain was being rewired because if I hadn’t, if I had met him a little bit sooner, we might not be together today. Because at one point, I went to the psychologist with an issue I was having with him. And I was ready to call it quits on this new relationship, I was ready to walk out, I was done, and again, the psychologist, no, no, don't do that. It sounds like he really does care about you, give him a chance, right? Told me hey, this is what you want. And what you want is not unreasonable. So go talk to him and tell him what you want and give him a chance to respond. I’m just like, oh my God, really? This is how it works? This is how relationships work? So here we are today. So I’m grateful for that advice. That was kind of a turning point for me in my life. So then things started to kind of, things started to change in my life at a really rapid pace after that. During my 30s, the entire landscape of my life completely changed. The entire landscape of my family completely changed. I, you know, my husband and I worked out our issues and we decided to commit to each other, I gave birth to my first child who was the first person that I can remember ever seeing who looks like me. And I try not to say he’s the first person I ever did see who looks like me, because I know that as a tiny, tiny infant, I did see my biological mother but I had no conscious memory of that of course. So having a person in my life now, who was actually physically related to me was just mind blowing and I know other adoptees have talked about this. This is kind of a common thing. But it was mind blowing for me. Then a couple of years after that, my adoptive dad unexpectedly passed away. And I had, I can’t say that I was ever super close. I never felt super close to either of my adoptive parents, but I felt closer to my adoptive father. So before he had passed away, and before I had given birth to my son, I had spent some time lurking on internet search boards in the early days of the internet. I had posted some of my own information out there, just in the hopes that hey, if someone’s searching for a baby girl born on this date in Cleveland, maybe they’ll, maybe I’ll get a phone call someday, right? Never got an email, never got a phone call. Nobody ever responded to any of those messages. And I was always, timid about taking any real steps towards searching. And looking back on it now, I think one of the reasons was because, I think deep down I worried that, how my adoptive father would take it. Because I felt like maybe he would be hurt by it. And so after he passed away, it was like something freed in me. And I decided to go forward and actually search. So the year after he passed away, I actually started searching for my birth mother. And ordered my non identifying information from Catholic Charities. And while I was waiting for that to arrive, my husband’s father became very ill. And we needed to go be with his parents for, we were with them for a little over a month. And his father passed away. And I actually received my non identifying information while I was there at my in-laws house when my father in-law was getting ready to pass away. So it was not the right time.
Haley - No.
Karen - But then after we got through all that, the beginning of the following year, I actually contacted, I did some searching on my own on the internet because why not, right? To see what I could figure out from my non identifying information, couldn’t get anywhere. And so I finally took the step of calling Adoption Network Cleveland. And they have all kinds of services for everyone involved with adoption. And one of the things that they do is they will help adoptees with their birth parent searches. And so I contacted them. And gave them the information that I had. And I wanna say, it was within a few days, no longer than a week. I got the phone call back from them saying they believed they had found my birth mother. So it was just a matter of me deciding to be ready and it was that fast that I was able to figure out who she was. So, I wrote her a letter. And mailed it and as soon as she received it, she emailed me immediately. And it was very much, you know, I’m so happy that you found me, I’m so happy that you searched from me, I’m so happy to hear from you. I’ve been thinking about you all your life, I've never forgotten about you, I’ve always loved you, I wanted to keep you. And so it was very positive. And so I was, thrilled. It was like my dream come true, I was so happy. Then I learned her side of the story, right? And her side of the story was a little bit different than how I had pictured it when I was growing up. Because her side of the story, you know, the way that I had always thought about my story was that, you know, okay, my mother was a teenager and of course she’s a kid, how could she take care of a baby. So of course, she didn't have a choice and it’s not a big deal. It was kind of not a big deal in a way. But in a way I knew it was. And after I spoke to her, her side of the story, the way that she always viewed it, was more along the lines of, I was taken from her. I was, she was forced to give me up. She didn't want to and she fought to keep me. But she ran into so many roadblocks that it was impossible for her to keep me. And it was devastating for her. And I don't think ever in my life before that, I had really thought about what it must have been like for her. I was so focused on what it had been like for me. I had never really put myself in that position of, what would you do if you were having a baby and you desperately wanted that baby and you desperately wanted to raise that baby, but you could not find a way to do it?
Haley - Oh my goodness. So you hear from your mom this story that you really did not process before. And like, how did reunion go? Like this is a huge upheaval for a lot of people. So what did that look like?
Karen - Well it started out, I thought, really positive, right? We were both very excited. We talked all the time, we were emailing back and forth, we saw each other numerous times. But I started to pick up on that you know, maybe she was not so comfortable telling some other people in her family that we had reunited. And maybe she was having a little bit of trouble with one of her other children about the situation. And then I got resistance from her when I would ask who my father was. And she really didn't want to tell me who he was. And we got into one of the biggest arguments that we ever had over that. And I finally got enough information from her that I actually was able to figure it out myself, who my father was, or who I thought my father was based on what she had told me and based on what was in my non identifying information. And then we got into a whole other situation that she revealed, while she had actually been seeing someone else at the same time as well. So maybe it was someone else.
Haley - Oh.
Karen – And so, I actually had to convince everyone involved to have a DNA test done. So with myself, and my mother, and the two candidates for my father, we all went and had a DNA test done.
Haley - Really? Wait, okay. I don't want you to skip over this. Because how do you contact two different, like what do you say to someone who doesn’t know they have a kid likely. And say hey, you might be my dad, can you do a DNA test and I’m like, what, you’re 40 years old at this point? How old are you?
Karen - Well, I was at that time, oh Lord. I was in my late 30s.
Haley - Okay.
Karen - Almost 40.
Haley - Okay.
Karen - Yeah, almost 40. So the person that she had told me about, knew that she had named him as my father back in the day. Back when I was born. So he was aware. So when I contacted him, he had already been aware of the situation. And when he replied to me he told me, I understand why you, basically, I understand why you reached out to me. But I think you should ask her about this other person as well.
Haley - Oh.
Karen - So that’s when I went back to her, and that’s when I got her to admit that yes there was someone else.
Haley - Okay.
Karen - And then once I got his contact information, I sent him a similar letter. He came back to me saying, yes, I’m your father and I’ve known about you all this time and my whole family knows about you. And we’ve all been praying for you and I’m so glad that I’m going to know you now, basically.
Haley - Okay! So he was okay with a DNA test because he was like, on board to be a dad. Okay.
Karen - And the other person, like, really was saying it’s not me, it’s the other guy.
Haley - Okay.
Karen - Right? So we went and I said, at this point, I think I had come to realize, even though I really didn’t want to admit it to myself, but I had come to realize that, I really couldn’t completely trust the information that I got from my birth mother. So that’s why I pushed for the DNA test. Thankfully I did, because the guy who was on board, was not my father. And the guy who wasn’t on board, is my father. So, after the results came in though, my birth father was, since the results, he’s been 100% on board.
Haley - Okay.
Karen - 100%. He just honestly did not think that he was my father. He honestly thought that she and this other guy had been trying to blame it on him. Back in the day.
Haley - My goodness. Okay, well, so that’s a lot.
Karen – Soap opera.
Haley - That’s a lot. Okay, so you can’t trust what your birth mother is telling you, is what’s in your head. And now you know who your father is.
Karen - So now I’m trying to go forward with a relationship with him. And she’s basically freaking out because she feels that he, she somehow in her mind blames him for the fact that she was forced to relinquish me. Because she feels that if he would’ve taken responsibility at the time, that maybe there would have been a way for her to keep me. And the only way that that makes sense, if she’s thinking that maybe they would have ended up married or something. But they weren’t, they really weren’t even dating. It was really just a one time thing. I'm really the product of, if you wanna call it a one night stand, call it whatever you want. I’m the product of a one time thing. And I’m okay with that. But she seems to want to paint it as something more than what it was. And she has a lot of really, really negative feelings towards my father. And so anytime that she would hear that I was having any kind of interaction with him, she would just kind of lose her mind honestly. It’s sort of like a jealousy thing, like I can’t believe that you want to know this person. And it was almost like a competition like, well you can’t, you should want to know me, why do you want to know him? It was very strange. And it made it to where I really couldn’t, I really had to stop telling her anything about him. So I got to the point where, if I talked to her, I would only talk to her about things that had to do with her. And I wouldn’t talk about him at all. So I can’t tell her anything that’s going on with him and I try not to talk about with anything with my adoptive family either, because she really couldn’t deal with me having relationships with other people that were parental figures who were not her.
Haley - And so where are you now in reunion?
Karen – But at the same time, she has never been able to come to terms with the fact that we are reunited. And she has never been able to be open and honest with everyone in her life about me.
Haley - So you’re still a secret.
Karen - And so that came to a head because I’m still secret with too many people in her life. And that all came to a head and blew up. And I decided that for the sake of my own mental health and for the sake of my children, because her hiding me means she’s also hiding my children. But I was not going to participate in that type of a relationship. I wasn’t going to, if you wanna have relationship with me, then we’re gonna have a relationship openly. If you want to keep me a secret, then we, our relationship can’t go forward. So we are stuck there, that’s where we’re stuck. And I don't consider it that our relationship is over, I look at it as, our relationship is stuck in that place. That we’re at an impasse.
Haley - And do you still have a relationship with your biological father?
Karen – I do. And you had a show recently that really, really touched me. because you had your biological father’s wife on the show.
Haley – Yes.
Karen - And my situation with my father is kind of similar to kind of, similar to some of the things you talked about on that episode. Because we’re at a little bit of an impasse and I feel that it’s in large part to the fact that his wife has had a lot of trouble accepting the situation. But I’m still, you know, I’m still in communication with him. We still keep in touch, but you know, the relationship, you can’t progress in a relationship with someone if the other important people in their lives aren’t on board. I mean, that just makes it really, really, really difficult to continue.
Haley - Yeah.
Karen - So I’m really not sure what’s gonna happen there. I’m still hopeful.
Haley - That’s good, that’s good. Being hopeful is good. Okay, we’ve talked about so many things in your story. and you know, one of the things that you talk about in your book a lot is, while, is just this whole concept of identity and knowing who you are when you don’t know who you are or where you’re from. So you know, can you just share your thoughts on that before we do our recommended resources? And how you have processed since the psychologist and when you never talked about adoption. And since your reunions, and I know this is a really broad question, but I just wanna give you an opportunity to kinda share your thoughts on, becoming who you are in this world. Not as an adoptee, just who’s Karen, who’s Kimberly, who are you?
Karen - Right, right. Well you know that’s interesting, because you said who’s Karen and who’s Kimberly? And you know, I have my original birth certificate as well as my amended birth certificate. And so I truly feel now, after having been in reunion for more than 10 years now, I really feel like I am both Karen and Kimberly. And I am not one or the other. And it’s not even that I’m more one than I am the other, when you talk about the whole nature versus nurture thing. It’s very clear to me, that there’s so much of who I am that comes from my biology, from what I inherited from my parents and from my other ancestors before them. But it’s equally clear to me, that a large part of what I value and things like traditions that I have that I pass down to my children, even something as simple as my family sitting down together every night at dinner time and eating a meal together and that being important to me, there’s certain things that I have taken forward with me from my upbringing even though I felt so out of place in my childhood. There are things that I absorbed and things that just feel right to me, because this is how I was raised and this is what I grew up and these are the values that I learned. And this is how people should be behave. These are the things that people should do. And just because I now know who my biological family is, doesn’t mean that all that stuff that I learned as I was growing up, somehow gets tossed away. So this idea that we can somehow, you know, reunite with our birth families and somehow go back to being who we may have been if we had not been adopted, really is a fantasy. Just, that fantasy that I had when I was younger. That is not at all how reunion works. There is, there really is no way to go back. There’s no way to become the Kimberly I would have been if I had never been renamed to Karen. I can never be that Kimberly. But I am still Kimberly inside of me, there’s still a big part of me that is still Kimberly. Because I had inherited things that I would not have ever, ever learned through the environment that I was raised in. So, an example of the nature side, okay? In the whole situation with my two potential birth fathers, right? I had written letters to each of them, emails, right? And I had received responses in writing from each of them. So I had these two letters. And I had one letter from a person saying, I really don't think I’m your father. And I had another letter from a person that said, oh gosh, I think I really am your father, right? And I’m so happy about it! But when I read these letters and I held them side by side and I still remember taking them and having the actual paper in my hand and taking them to my husband and going, you know, I know what these say. But I really feel this person is like me. Because when I read this letter, it sounds like me.
Haley - The person that didn’t think he was your father?
Karen - Right, right. This letter sounds like a letter I would have written. These are words I would have used and I would have put them together in this way, I would have structured it like this, it was just so me, the way it was written. And I thought, I just had such a strong feeling, it’s such a strong feeling that when that test came back, that it was gonna prove that. And I was right. And that to me it was like, you know, all my life I’ve had this feeling, that my brain doesn’t work the way the brains of the people I’m living with works. And here I had these two letters and I really, really felt like this one, this person’s related to me, this person thinks like I do. I can tell by how this is written. And that’s what I was missing. That was probably the biggest thing I was missing in my life. Was somebody in my life whose brain functioned the way my brain functioned. But then I also want to, real quick, on the nurture side. Now having been in reunion. When you go into reunion and you meet your biological family members, you know, it’s like when you get married and you're first getting to know your in-laws. And your in-laws have certain traditions and they have certain things that they do and the way they are in their home and things that they expect. And some of these things are foreign to you and you kinda have to learn how to mesh with their family, right? That’s how it’s been with my biological families. Just because we share that biology, doesn’t mean that, you know, if I sat down with them at a holiday dinner, I’m gonna understand the foods they serve or what’s their custom, what are the things that they do at the holidays, or stuff like that would come up. Has come up over the years. And it just reminds me that even though these people are related by blood, I still have all these assumptions that I have about how things should be that came from my upbringing, and that’s not gonna change.
Haley – So you’re both! You’re Karen and Kimberly.
Karen - That’s right. and I think that’s, I think if we can accept that, I think that’s the key to dealing with a lot of the stuff that comes up in reunion.
Haley - So much. Okay, thank you so much for sharing your story with us, Karen. And I wanna recommend your book. And I’ve done it before on this show, but since you’re here with us, I really wanna talk about it with you and, your book is called An Adoptee Lexicon. And you talk about a lot of the things that we have today. Only more in depth. And I love the way your book is structured. You have all of these different words that we hear in adoption land. All the time. Okay, I’m gonna do a quick flip. Redact, primal wound, lost, surrender, adoptable, kin, Baby Scoop Era, activists, mirror, so many really, really critical topics that we talk about on the show all the time. Things that, you know, we have struggled with, a lot of us our whole lives. And you have essays on them or little thoughts, little vignettes, you have pieces of your story and it’s so beautifully written. And there’s parts that make me angry and there’s parts that are poignant and parts that I know people will identify with no matter what their story is. And I put a little note on here and it’s not even, I don't know, I’m gonna just read a couple lines if that’s okay with you. I was just rereading your book yesterday and this just like, stuck out to me so quickly that this is something I’m living right now. And it’s in your section called Child. And it says, “No child can ever be kept, they all leave. They choose their own lives and their own loves. She who cannot leave childhood behind is trapped, always small, yet wearing an adult façade.” And yeah, there’s so many things in here that you can just think about for, that’s just been with me for days. So like.
Karen - Oh Haley.
Haley - So like, thank you but also not because it’s also bringing up some stuff for me.
Karen - And now I wanna interview you and find out what’s going on!
Haley - Oh no, that’s for the Patreon side. That’s too personal. Anyway, so I definitely recommend people check out your book, it’s An Adoptee Lexicon. And then the other thing, wonderful thing that you do in adoptee land, and I have talked about this on the show before. But is, your website Adoptee Reading. And it’s just, oh my gosh. you know, I brag about that we have resources on my website, but your site is so comprehensive. There’s so many books written by adoptees in all kinds of different genres. There’s memoir but there’s also fiction and poetry and anything that people are interested in, there is a book written by an adoptee, which is pretty amazing. Why don't you tell us about it.
Karen - I don't think people realize how many books there are written by adoptees. Which is why I did this.
Haley - Yeah! Totally!
Karen - Yeah, I mean I did it because I wanted to be able to find these books. I mean, I wanted books by people like me, speaking to my situation. And I think that’s what we all want, we all wanna find those books that speak to our own situation. So you know, I really am very focused on adoptee centric kind of resources. Because I really feel like, we do get the stories kind of pushed onto us from external sources. And we really need to take control of the adoption narrative. And I really, really, I feel so strongly about that.
Haley – Can I just tell you something Karen? This very week that we’re talking, I just got another email from a publicist trying to pitch an author to come on the show. And she’s like, oh this new fiction book she’s written and it’s so great and it’s about adopted people and their experiences and everything. And I looked it up and I was like, I replied back and I was like, is this by an adoptee? And she’s like no, no, no, she’s an adoptive mother.
Karen - Yeah, I get that too. And I may not have, I don't know how much more plainly I can state that, we’re looking for, at Adoptee Reading, books written by adoptees. We don't need you to keep writing about us, we can write about ourselves. But yes, still get those.
Haley - Same. Girl, same. It makes me so mad.
Karen - It’s like, did you read anything I had listed there? Does this qualify? No!
Haley - It’s in the name of the show. Like, did you read the name, no. Okay. So thank you, I’m so appreciative of that resource, it’s a gold mine. And so I always send people there because there’s so many, there’s so many. And we definitely should be supporting each other in that way.
Karen - Absolutely.
Haley - I’m going on and on. What is your resource, it sounds so good, I’m so excited!
Karen - Okay, so after talking about how we need adoptee written books, I’m gonna recommend a book that’s not written by an adoptee—
Haley - Oh my gosh! That’s okay, you can’t pick your favorite baby from your website, that’s okay.
Karen – this is a book. It’s called The Emotionally Absent Mother: a Guide to Self-Healing and Getting the Love you Missed. And the author’s name is Jasmin Lee Cori. And I hope Haley is going to put the resource up on her website because the author’s name has a little bit of an odd spelling and I want everybody to be able to find it.
Haley - Yes, links to everything in the show notes, for sure.
Karen - But the reason I recommend this is, because I think there are lot of adoptees similar to myself out there who feel unmothered, who either have had issues or lack of attachment to their adoptive mother, and/or, their biological mother, or have experienced as I have that secondary rejection from their biological mother. And I found this book to be just amazingly helpful because she lays out in this book why mothers are so important to a child’s identity formation. What a mother really means to a child and why the severing of that mother bond is so damaging. And then how we can recover from it. And it’s not just kind of high level you know, a lot of these self help books, you get a lot of real high level, yes we can all recover from it if we just do this. And then there’s no practical information on how to accomplish that, right? And one of the things I love so much about this book is, she gives practical exercises that you can do to help yourself recover. I’m not gonna say heal, because I’m kind of skeptical about that whole idea of healing. But recover from this break in the bond that should be the most sacred bond between a mother and a child. So I just found it really helpful. And I’m still, it’s a book that I’m gonna keep using for a long time because there is so much in here to help you recover. And recovery is slow, it’s not something that, it’s not like you’re gonna read the book and then whoo, I’m fixed! That’s it, everything’s better!
Haley - Yep!
Karen - So yeah, it’s a book that I keep right next to me, and it’s a book that I’ve been kind of working through.
Haley - Oh, it sounds so good, I was looking at it online and thinking, I could probably use this. Thank you! Thanks so much, I love that. Karen, where can we connect with you online?
Karen – Many, many places, too many. But probably you can find all of them by going to my website, karenpickell.com which is where my blog is. My blog is called Between, fittingly enough. Because I feel always that I am between. And then from there you can link to Adoptee Reading, you can find a link to where you can buy my book, so yeah, everything’s there.
Haley - Yes! And your social media profiles, all that.
Karen - Yes, yes.
Haley - Awesome! Wonderful, thanks so much for coming on this show. I really, really appreciate it and I loved hearing your story.
So I mentioned at the top of the show, that there is gonna be an opportunity for us to connect in person. I was invited to speak at the American Adoption Conference which is coming up in April 2019 in Washington D.C., and I would love to see you there. So if you are in the D.C. area, or if you’re able to travel there, I’d love to connect with you. You can find out more information about the conference at americanadoptioncongress.org. And I will also be putting links to where you can register in the show notes or find me on social media and I can DM you the link. I’m so honored to be able to share with you there and of course I will be speaking about the value of adoptee voices and how we can change the conversation about adoption. Because I truly believe that. So please let me know if you’re coming. So that we can say hi. As always I wanna just say a high thank you to my Patreon supporters. Without your monthly support, I would not be able to do a show every single week. And your support pays for editing and hosting and all the costs of running a podcast. If you’d like to join with my monthly supporters, you can go over to adopteeson.com/partner and find out details and all the bonuses that you get when you sign up to be a supporter. And I’m just so, so grateful for you. Thanks so much for listening! Let’s talk again next Friday.