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228 – You Should Be Grateful

Angela, from Seattle Washington, grew up in a home full of adoptees whose adoptions were prioritized because of perceived medical needs, including her own. Angela pursued reunion, expecting she would search for and find her birth mother and they would look just the like,

Instead, Angela first found a man who was loved by his community and when she appeared there in his town where she was born, everyone knew exactly who she was because of her close. paternal resemblance.

Angela’s maternal reunion started with a jarring introduction that initiated with what she thought would be a reunion rejection, but eventually evolved into a maternal connection. Angela is the author of “You Should Be Grateful: Stories of race, Identity, and Transracial Adoption”.

This is Angela’s journey.Who Am I Really?

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[00:00:00] Damon: Hey. Recently I heard from Dr. Lynn Zubov from Winston Salem state university. She's a birth mother in reunion with her daughter and she is working on a study called a preliminary exploration into adoption reunions that is collecting information on a number of adoption related topics and reunion issues. You can find information about the study on the study Facebook page. Lynn asked me to help her team a little bit to develop their survey, which is collecting data that they hope will provide society with a better understanding of the aftermath of adoption, as well as identify some variables that may influence the quality of adoption reunions. I have seen some interim results and they have collected some compelling data already, but they need more.

So I want you to lend your voice to the adoptee data being collected. Please search for a preliminary exploration into adoption reunions on Facebook to learn more. Lynn [00:01:00] said you can email her for a link at Zubov L that's Z U B O V And she'll get you the link. Again, the study is called a preliminary exploration into adoption reunions. Please take some time to contribute your opinions about adoption reunions to the survey.

Okay. You ready? Let's go.

Cold Open

[00:01:34] Angela: Think as an adult, I'm now in my mid thirties. I still wish for that exact moment. I am completely capable of understanding trauma and have done a lot of research around attachment and bonding.

And I feel like. What I am still chasing after is going back to that moment where I could just be held by my biological mother [00:02:00] after that first moment. That's what I want.

Show Open

[00:02:02] Damon: I'm Damon Davis. And today you're going to hear from Angela. She spoke to me from Seattle Washington. Angela grew up in a home full of adoptees whose adoptions were prioritized because of perceived medical needs, including her own. Angela pursued reunion, expecting she would search for and find her birth mother.

And they would look just the like, Instead, she first found a man who was loved by his community. and when she appeared there in his town where she was born, Everyone knew exactly who she was because of her clothes. Paternal, resemblance. Angela's maternal reunion started with a jarring introduction. That initiated with what she thought would be a reunion rejection, but eventually evolved into a maternal connection. Angela is the author of "you should be grateful stories of race, identity, and trans racial adoption".

This is Angela's journey.

Angela was adopted from foster [00:03:00] care from the state of Tennessee in the south to go home to her parents all the way across the country, in the state of Washington, up in the Pacific Northwest. She describes herself as a black gal adopted by white parents, into a family of adoptees of multiple races in a mostly white community.

Her parents primary focus was in supporting children with extra medical needs, including Angeles.

[00:03:22] Angela: However, my medical needs were really more of mis attribution by the doctors. So I think my birth parents maybe abused drugs while I was in utero.

And so I. My initial diagnosis was spastic quadriplegia, that I would not be able to walk and that is just not true. And that's something that's fascinated me because my parents ended up adopting me thinking that I would need lifelong medical care and there were three black families. that were [00:04:00] interested in adopting me from foster care, but said no after learning about the diagnosis, which turned out to not be true.

I went on to do collegiate sports and I think it was really more just drugs in my system that needed. To get out and not having guardian or somebody to, to challenge that diagnosis. So interestingly, ended up with my folks out in Washington state and growing up in a large family where everyone is adopted, except for one meant that adoption is really an free flowing, easy conversation that was always discussed.

[00:04:41] Angela: And some of my siblings had biological. parents in the mix that would be present. And so getting to being in a closed adoption, it was always interesting and maybe a little jealousy to see some of my siblings get to know their roots and know why [00:05:00] they needed to be adopted and all of that. And then conversations about race were also really widely discussed in the home.

and helpful. I do think that my parents were trained under the love is enough sort of guise by the adoption agencies when they were adopting, but they have a sense of a genuine interest in the world and difference and so that allowed them a real natural entryway to talking about race with importance, although they may not have known that it was important.

in the ways that we talk about it now, I think it was just a byproduct of who they are, which is great.

[00:05:46] Damon: Yeah, let me ask you a couple of questions. You've touched on so many things, not the least of which is that an adopted person, especially from an infant stage, literally has no ability to express themselves and [00:06:00] self advocate.

And in the absence of true in depth knowledge about that child, there's going to be some misconceptions. In your case, it was that the presence of, illicit drugs, it sounds like. were unfortunately a path to a misdiagnosis of what you're likely inability to be physically active ended up being.

And it's just, that's just one of the things that you touched on. Something else that I thought was really interesting is the notion that a family can have such an array of adoptees in it that you do get some mixing of closed adoptions semi open adoptio that I would imagine it was pretty tough for you sometimes for you to see

some of your siblings being able to see their families and wondering to yourself, , how come I don't get to see mine, right? Where, when are they coming back,

[00:06:59] Angela: yeah, I don't [00:07:00] know if it was tough back then. In retrospect, I Think it was tough, but at the time it was just life and it was, I didn't know any different and I didn't know, like you said, how to advocate, to understand.

It was just the lot, we don't know where your birth parents are. We don't know who they are. We can't know. And. So it took time to develop the awareness that perhaps it didn't have to be but that's going into my twenties when I was legally allowed to apply for my original birth certificate in the state of Tennessee.

I did that thinking that my original birth certificate would have my biological mother's and father's full name on it. And Thus be able to find them and learn the story when in reality, [00:08:00] I applied for my original birth certificate, paid for it. And it was hard to pay, I think it was 500 to the state of Tennessee.

I was an undergrad, I guess sophomore in college. So I borrowed money from my parents to be able to pay for that. And then what I got back was the same birth certificate that I already had, which said my adoptive parents names on it. And so that was really frustrating. And then. That's what really fueled the desire to not just find my birth parents because I wanted to, but the injustices of it all.

[00:08:36] Damon: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. Do you mind going back for a moment to your family? One of the things that I've heard from Other adopted people who have had other siblings who are adopted, especially those who do not share the same race as the parents and their siblings, is that there's a feeling in the family that if everyone is adopted, then nobody's different from each other, right?

That you're, we're all adopted. So this [00:09:00] is a nice, plain thing that is just us. But in fact, when there's no mirroring, you also don't get any kind of, centering grounding either. So it's a six of one half dozen to the other, right? You're both, everybody's adopted. So it doesn't matter, but then there's literally you can look in the family portrait and see that nobody looks like you.

And that can also be weird.

[00:09:22] Angela: Yeah, I know. I've counseled many adoptive parents who ask, Should I like if they've adopted one child, they'll say, Should I adopt another so that the other one doesn't feel alone? And I'm like, Ah, that's not how it works. I don't think it cancels everything out like that. Sure there is a little bit of sameness in the fact that the others are also adopted, but the adoptions are all so different, that it's not like even some of my siblings who are black as well, their reason for [00:10:00] adoption, their age, a adoption, their journey in foster care. All of those things are so different that it's not just apples to apples.

Yeah. My sister who is not adopted she's my parents, biological child. We were really close. So that piece I really think is a falsity and not just for the reason of, yeah, there's no racial mirroring or genetic mirroring, but also the adoptions themselves being so different. And each of us having different perspectives on feeling deracinated from our culture or.

removed from our families that all matters. My personality, I'm pretty curious. I love reading and thinking and writing and asking lots of questions. My previous life was probably like a journalist or something, but that's not the same for many of [00:11:00] my siblings who don't really care to get into all of.

The why and so their outlook and perspective on the need to talk through adoption and make sense of it differs. It also has to do with some of their abilities and disabilities. I have siblings who have feel alcohol syndrome and so cognitively it's they're not. Really able to have the depth of linking things like Jim Crow laws to transracial adoption and maybe even without fetal alcohol syndrome, they wouldn't want to, but something like I do.

Yeah, I think there's so much difference that one aspect of being adopted does not equal ease for everybody in the family.


[00:11:48] Damon: hmm. So I'd like to know a little bit more about your relationship with your adoptive parents, This is a transracial adoption. You have understood [00:12:00] from them, at least now that their intent was, it sounds like altruistic to provide a loving home for children who. As is demonstrated in your own case, three families of black parents, for lack of better words, passed you by and you ended up in a transracial adoption.

Tell me a little bit about how you got along with your parents and your thoughts on their vision for providing a home for Children who ultimately might not get one.

[00:12:29] Angela: I have a great relationship with my folks. This weekend, I'm headed to Arizona for a book festival and my mom is coming with me and it's, I'm going to be there with eight other adoptee writers.

So I'm excited about that. It'll be fun to do some desert hiking with my mom and the and that's been the case growing up that I've had a good relationship with my folks. I think we're wired a little bit similarly, [00:13:00] especially maybe my dad and I with. The desire to learn and curiosity and learning history and reading and my parents loved my athleticism.

It gave them into a window of something that they hadn't had before going to all the sports and very supportive. Also very supportive of my lifelong yearning. And that was evidenced by me. Saying things blatantly, like I really wish I knew who my birth parents were, or I hate being the only black person in my class. And my parents response was typically like, we wish we knew who your birth mother was too and then conversations about growing up in a predominantly white space and the conversations usually took the form of.

talking about why the Pacific Northwest is so predominantly white, talking about the [00:14:00] history of sundown towns and Bellingham, Washington, where I grew up was one of those, which meant that, black people couldn't be seen after nightfall. And this gets to the crux of your question, like debating whether their ability to provide medically for all of us, Outweighs my disconnection from my culture.

That was like a fundamental question I still wrestle with. I think my parents are part of a huge system. You know that my parents did a fine job raising me and the kids and my siblings. And it's a result of America's White supremacy, and even thinking about black families choosing not to adopt me because [00:15:00] of my medical issues is a conversation around blackness and black history with, medical institutions, so having conversations about black distrust and how that could play a factor, we don't know, we don't know anything about these individuals as well as my birth mother, but those conversations, I'm just really thankful that I could have them.

And I still do with my parents without them having any. I never experienced a feeling of they are mad at me or thinking like the title of my book that I'm not grateful for what they've provided. I didn't have that sense. Instead, it felt like they understood why this is confusing without conflating that with she's not grateful for all that we're doing.

you brought out so many interesting things there. I think, the notion that. A child could [00:16:00] be passed over for medical need by black families. I hadn't really contemplated the distrust of the medical system, whether they actually even thought about that or not, but that subconsciously people of color have been taking advantage of experimented on and neglected through all kinds of health inequities and disparities that may have in fact played into.

[00:16:25] Damon: Do I want a black child who is going to potentially need a lot of interaction with the medical community, a community that I have not necessarily thought to myself. This is a factor in this adoption, but a community that I also do not trust, and so it was an undercurrent potentially of at least probably one of those couples.

That's a really interesting fact that you brought out there. I hadn't really I've never contemplated that before. It's really interesting.

[00:16:53] Angela: Yeah, obviously, I don't know. For a fact, I wish I could know who those families were and what their decision making process [00:17:00] was. But a few years ago, I Okay. a group of black middle to upper class adults in Seattle and In an effort to find out why the disparity continues to have so many white people fostering and adopting black and brown kids.

So I brought together all these black folks in Seattle and asked that very question. Like why aren't you stepping up to the plate in formally fostering and formally adopting these kids of color? Because we know of course black folks are informally raising kids, but we need. Many people to do it formally too.

So I was asking, why aren't you doing that? We need you. I needed you. And the response was one of this aspect, not just around the medical, but around distrust of [00:18:00] authorities. So many of the people in this convening, we're saying things like, we know that white folks will allow social workers into their home with glee.

And. No fear. Like Come on in to do the home study, check out my house, ask me all the questions about how I parent asked me to provide you my social security number, my salary information and references and all that stuff. They were like, as black people, we, This group of people, social workers, CPS workers, they kind of lumped them all together.

Historically have used that information against us. I'm not going to just open my door to them and I'm not just going to fill out all their papers willingly and let them dissect me because we've seen what that does. So I felt like that was really interesting.

[00:18:52] Damon: Yeah, that's powerful. I mean, What they're basically telling you is there's generational trauma there.

That people have been sensitized to somebody [00:19:00] knocking on the door and asking for information. And it was how they grew up and how their parents grow up. The generational, it's really fascinating. Wow.

So at 20 years old, Angela had accumulated enough money to pay for the application for her original birth certificate or OBC. She said she had always had the fire within her to search for her birth family, but she also recognized the importance of pursuing the information through legal means playing the game as it had been laid out by the system. When her OBC came back with information, she already had, she felt like it was a confirmation that she had permission to travel her prep. To travel her path to reunion her own way. All bets were off and she was going to find whatever information she could through, whatever means were available.

Angela started by revisiting and more closely reviewing her adoption paperwork from when her parents had adopted her Deep within the pages. There were a few areas where her birth mother's name had not been redacted. But her birth [00:20:00] mother's name was so generic. It wasn't helpful. Angela's husband who was as dedicated to her search as she was found a place were Angela's birth father's name was not redacted and his name was very unique.

[00:20:13] Angela: His name is Otiris, which is really unique. And then we could tell the whited out last name was like a short last name.

And so we just Googled Otiris and then the city where I was born, Chattanooga, Tennessee. And found a guy who had a short last name, which is Bell, B E L L, googled that. Eventually up came a photo of this man who looked just like me. And it was undeniable. So we then tried to get in touch without just flying there and knocking on doors.

By sending letters to a whole bunch of addresses that we had found. We weren't sure if any of them made it to either my birth mother or birth father. [00:21:00] And I came to the decision that I had as much of a right to know my story as my birth mother has a right not to share it. And so with that, I decided I'm going to go find her and knock on the door.

[00:21:16] Damon: I love that you expressed that 50, 50 piece, right? This is a hundred percent of a story. And 50 percent of it is your right to decide whether you want to tell me or not. And 50 percent of it is I get to decide whether I'm coming to find it or not. And that's a really important thing that I think a lot of folks don't necessarily weigh with the kind of equality that you just expressed it And I think that's really valuable and I'm really glad you said that. I want to go back for a quick second though, because you said something really interesting that you've Googled a man with a unique name, And found a picture online. Can you tell me about that moment when you basically saw your face on another person?

[00:21:58] Angela: I don't even know how to [00:22:00] describe that. After 20, I think it was 23 years at that point of never seeing anyone that looks like me in my family, my dad and my sister, the one who is not adopted have these piercingly beautiful Caribbean blue eyes and growing up seeing them. That was one area that I was always jealous of.

And they're so blue that everyone would comment on them and I would Just listen and watch and wish that I could have that. So my, some of my defining features are that I have a smile. That's like half the size of my face. It's really

[00:22:42] Damon: ear to ear. Absolutely. It's amazing.

[00:22:47] Angela: And I, growing up, it was just me, but, and I also don't have a resting face.

I just, I smile all the time. And even if I'm not doing [00:23:00] anything or nothing's exciting, just smiling. So The moment we saw this picture of a man with so many teeth, just like me, like a smile across his entire face. It was just like, wow, I cannot believe to try to articulate the feeling. I think there was an underlying question that doesn't make any sense, but I grew up feeling like I just, Wasn't really conceived.

Like I was, I just dropped in the planet somehow. I knew how sex works. I knew that two people had to make me, but I didn't really believe it. I don't think until seeing this man, I'm like, Whoa.

[00:23:46] Damon: Yeah. You do definitely separate the. Companionship, the sexual act, the relationship for what it was for what it actually means for you to be placed on this [00:24:00] earth, right?

A lot of times it's hard to fathom that continuum of what had to happen for you to be there. You just pop up in adoption and you just start living your life over in this other lane without this, having realized someone was in this first lane and, the adoption system basically put on its blinker and moved you over to the other, it's just, it's a weird disconnected. I think a lot of people don't. And I'm sensitive to that because I absolutely had the same thing. When I first saw my birth mother, I was, I literally was looking at her going, holy crap, that is my face on another person, right? It's unreal. And as you said, at 23 years old, never having seen anything that remotely resembled that.

And in contrast to your sister and her father, your father, who, have these piercing blue eyes and it sounds like they resemble each other. There's also that. Constant commentary of, oh, you two look alike, which also signals you don't look like anybody, Angela, right? Weird.

[00:24:57] Angela: Yes. And I think the other piece that was [00:25:00] stunning in that moment is I really had focused on my birth mother, those two decades in my ghost kingdom, which is just the fantasy world where I'm making things up at my birth mother.

Is the person who looked just like me and acted just like me and my birth father, just, I really didn't think much about him. And so that was an overwhelming realization. A, that I didn't think about him much and then B that I could resemble him.

[00:25:32] Damon: Not only have you not thought about him, but you look so much like him, right?

Yeah, it's crazy.

[00:25:37] Angela: And then after meeting my first family and my birth mother, I don't really look like her at all.

[00:25:43] Damon: So tell me, you were about to say that you were trying to decide what you wanted to do. You felt like you had the right to this information. You found this guy online and it sounds like he was definitely in Chattanooga still.

What happens next?

[00:25:55] Angela: My birth father, the way I found him online is that he had a fan [00:26:00] page because he was this homeless guy who the whole city fell in love with. So he was a local celebrity a bit of a vagrant by choice. He had a lot of family in the area. My uncles and aunts all were nearby in Chattanooga and all.

knew where he was, took care of him, and he enjoyed living on the streets. So it was that aspect. And then his profession was he would panhandle flowers. So floral shops in Chattanooga would give him leftover flowers that didn't sell. He would go around in the bars at night and give people flowers. And he was just this smiley, jovia, cartooony almost a guy.

And so this fan page, this Facebook fan page was just full of all these [00:27:00] testimonies. Like I love his nickname was Sandy. Sandy, you're the one who helped me find my wife 14 years ago. You gave me a flower and I gave it to this woman who I saw at the bar. I thought was cute. And now we're married and we have kids.

And thank you, Sandy. Just all these stories. And

People loved him. And not only did I see this photo of him, but I also got hundreds of other people's love for him.

And that was really interesting. So my husband and I then did some outreach to some of the people who wrote comments and worked out times to meet up with these people who said, we know Sandy's route usually hits this bar, then this bar. So if you come out at night so we flew to Chattanooga.

And went bar hopping and people were like, Oh, you just missed him. He was here 10 minutes ago. I don't know where he is. And so we're looking around. And at that same time, [00:28:00] people were saying to me like, you're Sandy's daughter. Like they would say that before I said, I'm adopted. I'm looking for my birth family.

But they're like, you look just

[00:28:09] Damon: wow,

[00:28:10] Angela: that we've loved. So for so many years, that was, That was something I'd never experienced. It was similar to how my sister got to hear about her eyes looking like my dad's finally, I'm in this city. I've never been in before, but people are like, you look just like your dad.

[00:28:25] Damon: Yeah. You're getting this residual positive attribution about somebody, but you've never even met this dude. That's crazy.

[00:28:32] Angela: Yeah.

[00:28:34] Damon: That's incredible.

[00:28:34] Angela: Getting. In touch with him and he never knew that he had a child. So he found out when he was looking in my face saying, it looks like I'm looking in a mirror that he had a child.

And I'm just,

[00:28:50] Damon: where did you finally connect with him?

[00:28:53] Angela: Outside of his mother, my grandmother's apartment complex. He was [00:29:00] riding his bike, which he does with all his flowers. And we flagged him down. I think you're, I think You're my birth dad. That's what I said to him.

[00:29:09] Damon: I can't even imagine saying that to somebody who does well, you know what?

I lie because I absolutely did that. To be honest with you. Like I found my birth father through ancestry DNA, but I didn't actually walk up and say it to him. I wrote him a letter and I described my journey, but you actually had to think to yourself, all right, this is the moment. I think I know that's the guy I've seen his face online.

Everybody I've seen has said, you look just like that, dude. Yeah, you have to go up and actually speak these words to him and inform him. If he, and you probably didn't know if he knew or not, right?

[00:29:44] Angela: I had no clue, right? Cause I hadn't met my birth mother yet and I didn't know the story. And another piece that was tricky is that I was there with my, Mom, dad, sister, her husband, and my husband, [00:30:00] all white people.

And we had this rented SUV suburban and we're in a poor area of Chattanooga. So we looked wealthy and I was like wearing my best clothes. Cause I love. I love clothes and fashion and shopping. And, but the message was like, these people aren't from here. And so that I wonder for my birth dad, how that felt being flagged down by this crew.

That's a little intimidating.

[00:30:32] Damon: Yeah, and, I'm not being crass when I say this. If he was, they were in the hood and a bunch of white folks roll in it doesn't look like it's going to be a good scene probably for those who are there and have had the history of what happens in a black community when white folks do decide to venture in there. It's not usually for something exploratory or reunion oriented. And so I could imagine that while you may not have necessarily seen it all, there was probably a whole [00:31:00] bunch of eyes on y'all watching to see what was going to happen next. You could probably

[00:31:03] Angela: feel it.

I wonder, yeah. I was in school. It was such an overwhelming moment. And we did capture a lot of this on camera because I asked my husband to film thinking that these might be the first and last times that I get to see people like my birth mother, my birth father. So thankfully we have that and I can watch back Since it was so out of body.

[00:31:22] Damon: and that's really cool. Because a lot of people don't have one. The forethought to think this is about to be a huge moment. And a lot of people don't have the opportunity to actually get that either. Some of these reunions are surprises. Yes. They're so nerve wracking.

You can't even think to yourself. Oh, I should have somebody record this for me. It just, there's so much to think about. There's so much emotion in it. It just, I can imagine that must've been really crazy. So how did you spend your first couple of moments with your birth father, with your family there?

And then what did you learn about your birth mother?

[00:31:59] Angela: My first [00:32:00] few sentences were, do you know a woman by the name of Deborah Johnson? And his response was, I think I remember that name. And so that clicked to me I think this is the right person. And then my second comment was, we're not here to get anything from you.

I'm not trying, we don't need money. Like I needed to diffuse the situation a little bit somehow. So once I did all that, then he said, he was like, please come back in a few hours. We're going to have a family reunion.

[00:32:36] Damon: I want you to

[00:32:36] Angela: meet everybody.

[00:32:38] Damon: In Angela's book, you should be grateful. She describes a poignant scene unfolding at her paternal family reunion held in a cramped apartment. Amidst the familial warmth and bustling atmosphere. Angela navigated her complex emotions of meeting her paternal family while reflecting on the intricacies of adoption reunions in this small space That [00:33:00] amplified the breadth of connections she had discovered through Sandy's family. Naturally, I was curious about Angela's attempt to make a maternal reunion. This is a woman.

Angela just assumed she looked most alike and whom she got prioritized finding. Angela said her maternal reunion was stressful. She had, sleuthed a few addresses that could have been her birth mother's address. During her paternal reunion, Angela asked her newly found extended family.

If they knew her birth mother. New the woman back when Angela was conceived And if they knew where she could be found at that time. One of them said yes. So Angela and her family hopped in their rented SUV with Herbert father to dry to drive by and just see the woman's house.

[00:33:44] Angela: .

And when we got there, my birth dad jumped out of the car and he ran up to the door and knocked on the door, which was not planned. And I was in one of the cars just watching and eventually a woman who turned out to be my birth mother came out and [00:34:00] they talked for a minute and I felt like I needed to join the talk.

So I went over and just said, I think you might be my birth mother because clearly she knew my birth dad. She was not happy to see any of us and just said, no, I've never had any kids and I don't know who you are and get off my property. So we left it took a year later for her to call me because she had received one of the letters that I had written.

way prior to that knock on the door. And in the letter, I wrote this is who I am. Here's a picture of me. I think you're my birth mother. Here's my number. Here's my email. So a year later, she calls and says, I actually did get your letter. I knew who you were when you came up to the door. I just, she shared at that point, nobody knew you were born.

I needed to take care of stuff before I could allow you in. And so [00:35:00] that's then when we just, she invited us back a year later and we had an official get together where I met my biological siblings and biological aunts and uncles. And that was really really stressful, completely different than my birth father, who he didn't know who, that I existed.

And so once he found out, it was just like, Oh, here's a present, this new daughter

[00:35:24] Damon: let's throw a party too, right? Local. I'll be back in a few hours that we're going to have a family reunion, like immediate celebration.

[00:35:30] Angela: This is all exciting. And all of his. side of the family came and they're like, welcome to the family and just no questions asked.

But for my birth mother, it was complete opposite in the sense that for her to tell her siblings that she had not just me, but one other child who we still can't find in a time period when one of her siblings really wanted children and had five miscarriages. [00:36:00] And just for them to realize. how distant they were at that time, not knowing all that my birth mother was going through.

That all made for a lot of complexity. And then for my birth siblings who didn't know they had not just me, but another, we have another sibling out there somewhere. It was just a different tenor.

[00:36:23] Damon: Absolutely. It, those two situations were absolutely, Almost diametrically opposed to each other. One literally was a party and one was an absolute rejection in the moment.

They're very opposite of each other.

[00:36:36] Angela: Let me ask

[00:36:37] Damon: you something. I've periodically I go online and I'll talk a little bit about it. This notion that I have of secondary rejection, a lot of people call it secondary rejection. I have chosen to call it adoption, reunion, rejection.

[00:36:55] Angela: Okay.

[00:36:56] Damon: The reason I say that is because. In my [00:37:00] belief, in my understanding, having spoken to some birth mothers and etc, not every woman rejected the child at the moment of birth. They were coerced, they were forced, they were pressured by society, and many of them have said, If it was up to me, I would have tried to keep you or it, I was forced into relinquishing you, and then I felt like I wanted to get you back.

So for me, With that foundation or for at least some of the women, I don't feel like the attempt to find a birth mother and then being rejected at that moment of attempted reunion is a secondary rejection to me, that, that's not. If you are rejected at that time is the first rejection. So I've chosen to separate the two that when you attempt to find your [00:38:00] biological mother and she rejects you at that time, I identify that as adoption, reunion, rejection.

I'm I'd be interested to hear your thought on how

[00:38:11] Angela: I really love that. I have not heard anyone parse the terms in that way. It makes so much sense right now. I'm reading the book relinquished by Gretchen Sisson, who I'll interview in a couple of weeks and her book is all about women And the choiceless choice of choosing adoption and that notion of society likes to say they chose adoption, but really, whether it's something as egregious as outright coercion or something as unseeable societal pressures that it isn't.

A choice to reject and I definitely believe that for my birth mother [00:39:00] that some part of me thinks maybe it's easier to accept perhaps a loss by thinking about the history and stuff. But I think about my birth mother who was poor and how often we conflate poverty with. Neglect or not wanting something in reality. That's not the case. I don't think that was her case. And so this secondary, quote, secondary rejection I actually think in the same terms as the first time when I was placed in foster care, that, although it did feel like a rejection, I think it has more to do with my birth mother got zero support.

23 years had passed in my life, but for her it was basically, A day had passed. Not a single person had worked with her or counseled her on the loss of all of her children. There wasn't. Like not a lot had changed for her in the [00:40:00] sense that for me, I had, like we talked about a lifetime of supportive adoptive parents of understanding what adoption meant as much as I could have thinking through race of social class of status, I had collegiate education at that point.

And I was coming from a very different place than her. And so for her to just see me without having any therapy was an automatic trigger back to the moment that she lost me. And I, and so I really like your reframe and I think it's important. I think it's probably unfair to my birth mother and to others to consider it just outright rejection.

[00:40:48] Damon: Yeah I'm really glad to hear that it resonates with you because I just it was bothering me that we were just summarily calling every rejection [00:41:00] at the time of reunion a secondary one when it in fact could have been the first one. And I like what you've identified there this notion that a birth mother who is meeting their child for the first time.

is basically rewound right back to the time of the trauma and in the absence of any kind of support love, even being able to talk about it, when you read books like the girls who went away and if you listen to, birth moms, real talk podcast with the Yvonne Rivers, wonderful podcast, by the way you end up hearing a lot of these stories of what the birth mother actually went through, not just what society believes that they will just be fine and not what we make up as adoptees as to what the situation was.

The real story is is borne out by these women. And I think there's a lot of power in recognizing that we don't know what we don't know and that these women [00:42:00] are in fact directly triggered back to a time when someone said, You're going to go have that baby when you come back, we're not going to talk about this.

And so you don't get to talk about it. You don't get to process it. Your body has changed. You're now, and I don't mean this to be crass, but like you've literally expressed and done the thing that a woman's body is designed to do. And you've gone from teenager, or, not having had a child to having a child like there's a lot to process there and everybody in your world has told you we're gonna shut this out.

And so your child walks up to you at your front door and says, you're my birth mother. Just imagine that 100 times rewind back to that moment when she had to relinquish you. It's impossible to expect a woman to receive a surprise like that in a way that would be favorable to the adoptee.

[00:42:51] Angela: Yeah. And the one thing, the one detail my birth mother remembers is giving birth and then having someone say to her, you can't hold her.[00:43:00]

And to me, that message of whatever state you're in right now, you're not good enough. You're not a good parent. You're not a good mom. You cannot do this. And To then have me show up 22 years later with these people who've been deemed good parents, these white folks who got the honor of, you're better, you can do it.

That has seeped into the relationship that I've formed over the last 10 years with my birth mother. Her trying to articulate To me, like I've only known a handful of white people in my lifetime and they haven't been kind. And so now to meet your parents, she's on one hand, she'll act as though my parents walk on water and can do no wrong because there's a need to show respect to the white person in my birth mother's mind.

And I think, [00:44:00] but then what is it doing on the other hand, just continuously reinforcing this is something that you could have never done. And I can't imagine how hard that would be to make sense in your brain.

[00:44:11] Damon: Yeah, you also just hit on something interesting. I've never really thought of, which is, at the time of birth, the child is crying, the mother's emotional, and each wants to comfort the other.

The mom wants to comfort her baby. Who was crying has just come out into this world. Never been here before. That's the natural inclination. Let me take my baby and comfort my child. And at the same time, the child wants to be comforted by their mother, whose voice they've heard. Who's. Genetic material they share, there's a bond there because just seconds earlier they were together and now they are apart and neither one gets to comfort the other, which, a lot of times in the adoptee space, people say adoption is trauma that actually is.

Probably one of the very first ones, after the point of [00:45:00] deciding, I have to give this child up and, but I'm going to give birth to this child, I would imagine that's a huge one. And so I just wanted to underscore that because you said that your birth mother didn't get to hold you.

That inability for the two of you to ever comfort each other was absolutely extinguished and it is in the way that you said,

[00:45:19] Angela: I think as an adult, I'm now in my mid thirties. I still wish for that exact moment. I am completely capable of understanding trauma and have done a lot of research around attachment and bonding.

And I feel like. What I am still chasing after is going back to that moment where I could just be held by my biological mother after that first moment. That's what I want. And I feel like for my birth mother, this is true through what I wrote about in my book, which is that she has baby dolls that she has anthropomorphized [00:46:00] in the sense that she Cares for these baby dolls like they're her children. She does. It was really shocking for me to see the first time how she will talk to them and say, is it time to take a bath? Which means she'll put them in the wash. What do you want to watch?

And she'll turn on the TV and prop them up. And I was, it's the sadness about what I know she's doing. Huh. Is so profound. And that's exactly what you're saying for both of us. We are still trying to get that need met.

[00:46:38] Damon: And I've spoken to some adoptees. I don't know if you've had this on your show or in your therapy work or in your groups, but I've had adult adoptees tell me that they've found their birth mother and they've literally crawled into bed and snuggled up next to them as an adult.

Yeah. Next to this woman. This, infantilizing themself almost to [00:47:00] get back to that moment. It seems is really fascinating.

[00:47:03] Angela: Yep.

So in our final moments here, I would love for you to talk about your book. The book is called You Should Be Grateful. Stories of race, Identity and transracial adoption.

[00:47:14] Damon: I have to tell you, I'm so glad I get to look at you and tell you this. I could not put the book down. I'm serious. I was flying back from Los Angeles and I had just gotten it and I carried it over to LA with the intention of reading it. And I read it almost cover to cover in five hours on my way back.

I just could not put it down. I was so wrapped by both your infusion of your experience. Into the story as well as the ideas and concepts and things that you wanted to share with the world. So tell me a little bit about your work to, to write this book. You should be grateful. Why that title of all titles?

[00:47:56] Angela: The title felt like a slam [00:48:00] dunk. I think it was my dad, my adoptive dad who actually helped me come up with it. My book is it's not a memoir. It's. creative nonfiction. So I'm sharing my story for the purpose, for strategical purpose, to enlighten about ideas. And then I infuse other adoptees who I've mentored their stories in as well.

And the totality of all these stories is something akin to this comment that adoptees hear so often, you should be grateful. And I was excited when I finally nailed down that this would be the title because it's so both evocative and obvious and I feel like that's the case with adoption it's both So big, emotional.

And then when you break down some of the components, people are like, Oh, of course, that's a trauma, but until someone breaks it down, [00:49:00] people are like, adoption is beautiful. Oh my gosh. So this title is exciting because adoptees understand it immediately. And then. Non adoptees and the folks that I'm trying to help understand adoptees a little better may pick that up, knowing that they've said those words and then hopefully gracefully and kindly start to see how those words can harm.

[00:49:27] Damon: I'm with you 100%. when I saw the title, I absolutely had a yeah. That's yeah, I should, you should feel grateful is absolutely something I've heard. At least to other people in the adoptee community. Not necessarily to myself. I'm very fortunate to have a supportive community around me, but 100 percent I've, I've talked to over 200 adoptees on the show.

And that is clearly something that a lot of people express and it's out of some ignorance. You get the [00:50:00] conflation of adoption and abortion. And I always remind people as I learned very early that, they're not two sides of the same coin. They're two different coins. They're not a parallel decision.

You can't make one decision without having made the prior decision. If you've decided you will not carry the baby, there is no adoption decision. So they have to be considered differently, but that's only one of the things that people say you should be grateful that.

[00:50:24] Angela: You weren't important.


[00:50:26] Damon: exactly. And there's so many other things that people think an adoptee should be grateful for another thing. So I'll tell you, I'm part of a charity that helps grant families to apply for grant funding to Adopt children. And I struggled with it mightily for a while when I was first in it, because I was wondering to myself, am I part of the machine?

And, but what I realized is the machine is running without me, regardless. If I decide I'm not showing up, that machine's going to keep going. However, what I've also come to realize is [00:51:00] that one, we, as the adults have a responsibility to these children who do not have the voice that we now have. And we have to speak up for them.

And I've seen my presence in the gift of adoption fund born out in my expression of the adopt the experience and reminding people that while we think adoption is awesome, because we have this Disney amazing con conception of it the truth is, as we talked about a moment ago, adoption starts with a trauma, I always remind people.

Adoption never starts from a great place. I've never spoken to a single adoptee on this podcast, over 200 plus episodes, not a single person has said to me, when I found my birth parents, they said things were going really great. We just decided that you should be adopted. It never goes that way.

Something's always going on that forces an adoption. So there's the challenge of the birth parents, whatever they're going through. That [00:52:00] is the reason the child is adopted. There is the child who is now available to be adopted, but that child is separated from their birth parents. So they're in a situation themselves that they can't often articulate, especially in an infant adoption.

And then frequently, not always, And it doesn't sound like it was the case in your parents home. But frequently, there's a reason that adoptive parents have to, or need to, or choose to adopt. And so they've got their own stuff that they need to deal with. So when you think about that continuum of these at least three participants, and there's more in the adoption constellation it never starts from a positive place.

So these are the kinds of things that I try to remind myself that it's good to be in this space for, because I've heard people say, Oh, we rescued that child. And I said to myself, first, keep it cool. But number two, think about how to express this to someone. And when I've said, I've come up with this analogy, like [00:53:00] if a birth mother was standing in the middle of a forest fire and a helicopter comes down and they can only take one person.

That mother will probably say, take my child and you know what the child will do? The child will reach back for their birth mother, right? Do you see what I'm saying? So, so this thing that we are rescuing a child, we think to ourselves, this child comes over from an African country or some third world country and they are rescued from being in that place to the, to America, the land of opportunity.

The challenge with that notion is you've forgotten that you've separated that child from their birth mother.

[00:53:37] Angela: Yeah.

[00:53:38] Damon: And so I just, I like to remind people of these scenarios that while adoption can be awesome and mine, I was very lucky was a good thing for me. It is not a good thing in its entirety.

And that's an important thing to be mature about thinking through. So tell me what your thoughts are on some of the things I said. And it's especially as it applies to your book where you [00:54:00] talk about race, identity and transracial adoption.

[00:54:02] Angela: Yeah, it's true. Also the premise of my book that I also had a great with loving adoptive parents.

And what I had often heard when people are able to understand that adoption may not be ideal. It was only in cases when kids were severely abused or neglected that general society could be like, Oh, that was traumatic for the kid to go through all that. And I'm glad they're adopted now. So part of my book is trying to say, no, it's not just that we can have really loving adoptive parents.

And this is still really hard and traumatic.

[00:54:47] Damon: Yeah, I can. And I can be thankful for the life that I did leave live. And be super curious about the people that made me part of this world, such that I could even have this life, right? Yeah. [00:55:00]

[00:55:00] Angela: Or the way I often feel and say is I am thankful and grateful for my adoptive parents.

I am glad that I have a beautiful relationship with them still today. And I wish that I was never adopted. I wish that I never had to be adopted. Yeah, both of those things can be true.

[00:55:21] Damon: Yeah. And this is, I've been doing some writing myself and this is one of the ideas that I try to bring forth is that adoption is one of those interesting places where you can have two absolutely conflicting motions at the same time.

And they're both right. Yes. I'm thankful for my adoption and I wish that I had grown up with my birth parents. They're both right.

[00:55:42] Angela: And this is, Adoptees are especially powerful and I hope that we are in. The seats of Congress and making big decision makers, CEOs of companies, because we have had a lifetime of experiencing two kind [00:56:00] of conflicting things to be true at the same time.

And that's really what we need for so much of the change in our. Laws and society. And like how are we going to resolve this border issue? If we have two stark opposites, a Biden and a Trump, I get political because I think the act of transracially adopting is political. And then what we have experienced allows us to.

communicate with such, communicate with ease around different cultures, and that's not everybody's gifts. So part of gosh, we should be helping inform on really crucial issues because of our learned ability to sit with the discomfort All the time.

[00:56:51] Damon: , I agree 100%. Angela, for anybody who wants to find you your work, where can people locate you [00:57:00] and your amazing adopted life stuff?

[00:57:05] Angela: My website is angela I am working really hard to build up a new nonprofit called the Adoptee Mentoring Society right now, which And that is. a beautiful space between having a friend and a therapist, but for adoptees being able to be mentored by other adoptees who I'm training in this role, I think is a Absolutely imperative.

So I want all adoptees to have an adoptee mentor. So I'm building that up and so folks can find me either of those websites. And then I'm on Instagram at Angie adoptee, where I'm always just spouting off my thoughts of the day on stories and also sharing other life joys that don't have to do with adoption sometimes too.

[00:57:58] Damon: Excellent. Excellent. [00:58:00] Excellent. For one last time, the book is called, You Should Be Grateful Stories of Race, Identity and Transracial Adoption. Angela Tucker. It has been absolutely amazing to chat with you today. I'm so thankful that you're in this world, that you're doing this work, that we're doing it together.

It was great to meet you when you were in DC and thanks for writing an amazing book.

[00:58:19] Angela: Thank you so much. Thank you for having me on. This is lovely.

[00:58:22] Damon: Absolutely. My pleasure.

Anytime you come back to D. C. Please let me know. I'd be happy to take you around and I'm looking forward to supporting you at your keynote as well. So all the best to you. All right,

[00:58:33] Angela: bye.


Hey, it's me. Angela grew up in a family where adoption was such an open topic. She always felt supported in exploring her identity as an adoptee. When her attempt to get information about her birth family yielded, no new information. She took it upon herself To re-examine her birth parents adoption documents, Where she uncovered some detailed [00:59:00] clues as to whom she was searching for. Expecting to look like her birth mother and prioritizing the search for her. Angela found her birth father first and learned that the man who was so beloved by his community was also the source of her ear to ear smile as she was his spitting image. Angela had the good fortune of a paternal reunion celebration, but the unfortunate initial maternal adoption reunion rejection, that many adoptees experience. As she said it took a while, but the woman did come around to admitting she was Angela's birth mother And their reunion relationship began to build thereafter. Like I said, Angela's book is amazing.

[00:59:42] Damon: So I hope you'll pick up. You should be grateful stories of race, identity, and trans racial adoption. I'm Damon Davis, and I hope you found something in Angela's story that inspired you. Validates your feelings about wanting to search or motivates you.

to have the strength [01:00:00] along your journey to learn who am I really.

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