People tend to look forward to the holidays. A grand time of celebration with loved ones, an opportunity for family togetherness and a time for recreating long standing family traditions. What if even while you stood within the walls of a loving home, you never really felt “home” for the holidays? For anyone who is adopted, young or old, this time of year can be complicated.
A recent story in the news about Michael Clark Jr., a kindergartner who invited his entire class to his adoption hearing, captured the hearts of viewers. Clark Jr.’s classmates were in the courtroom showing support for him on an annual Adoption Day in Kent County, Michigan. They held paper hearts in their hands as the young man sat at a table in front of a judge.
His parents, Andrea Melvin and Dave Eaton, legally adopted him Dec. 5. There were 36 other children adopted during the adoption day at the Kent County courthouse during a finalization hearing that lasted about 30 minutes for each family. More than 12 million people on Facebook have seen his adoption day story. He has been featured on several major television news shows, as well.
Adoption is many times featured in television and film. Movies such as 2018’s “Instant Family” and the 2014 “Annie” remake take a fictional depiction of the topic. Hit television shows such as TLC’c “Long Lost Family” give a real life look at those who have experienced both sides of adoption themselves.
The adoption experience is clearly different for all who have been involved with it. The holidays though, seem to be a time when some tend to have mixed emotions. “What I do know is that many adopted children will be thinking of their birth families during the holidays this year. They may feel alone and not know what to do with their pain and their loss. They might not even be able to recognize that what they’re feeling is pain and loss. These can be very private feelings and children are unsure who would even understand then,” said Jennifer Eckert of Boston Post Adoption Resources.
While there is no single source that covers all adoption statistics, childwelfare.gov said in a report (2016) that nearly 120,000 children were adopted in 2012, but adoption rates appear to be declining as there was a 14% decrease that year and the downward trend was a continuation from 2001 figures.
Adoption agencies report they get a higher than average amount of requests for information from adult adoptees in November and December. It is certainly a time of year when family seems to be on the forefront of many people’s minds.
Amery resident Jana Oman always knew she was adopted. After a long and complicated search that started with the non-identifying information sent to her from the adoption agency that handled her case during the early seventies, she spent her first holiday (Thanksgiving) with members of her biological father’s family.
“It was exciting and anxiety producing all in one. I didn’t really know what to expect. Going to a family function of people we have never dined with around a table before can be daunting. Well...we made it,” Oman said.
Oman first found her biological mother a handful of years ago after some investigative help from an adoption group she was part of. There were days filled with nervousness as she waited for a reply. The day finally did come when she received a response and eventually a meeting. Unfortunately Oman’s biological mother was not keen on solidifying a relationship or willing to share information about her biological father.
Still feeling quite empty from the situation, Oman had learned a little more about the circumstances surrounding her birth, but not a lot. Her biological mother still resided in the same little Midwest town where, in her younger years, she had given a baby girl up for adoption and she wanted her privacy respected.
While working at a small business in Amery, Oman met someone from that same little town through a co-worker and shared her mixed emotions of her adoption journey with him. Little did she know that conversation would have a huge impact on her life a handful of years later.
During Amery’s 2016 Fall Festival, Oman ran into the gentleman with whom she had previously shared her story. She introduced him to her husband as being from the little town where her story began. Oman said, “Instead of saying, ‘nice to meet you’ the first thing my husband Paul asked him was, ‘do you know Jana’s biological father?” Oman’s husband had been a huge provider of support during her journey and he also felt quite invested in her search. His quick inquiry paid off, as the man did indeed learn who Oman’s biological father was and shared the information with her.
Again, Oman nervously reached out to a biological parent, and again she nervously awaited a response. Before long, she received the call she was waiting for and the following year, a meeting with him and his wife. His wife had known about Oman all these years. They had also stayed in that same Midwest town. They shared with Oman that most members of their family did not know about her, including the two daughters they had. In fact, they were not sure they were ready to share this information with their girls.
“Back in the day, pregnancies for young people or unwed people were so shameful. I sort of understood why they hid it, but I am not going to lie, the fact they were apprehensive to tell their children about me reopened the hurt of feeling like I was such a secret,” Oman said.
On a trip, Oman’s biological father and his wife decided it was time to share the information with their daughters, who eventually reached out to her. She enjoyed messaging with them and eventually meeting them in person. All along she wondered what the extent of their relationship would become. Her newly found sisters were also unsure about sharing their current life experience with their own children. Once again, Oman felt like the family secret.
As time went on, she was able to meet her biological father’s siblings, some of whom admitting knowing about her birth back in the day and some were surprised by the news. Each new family connection starting healing Oman’s heart, but uncertainty about her future with them still lingered over her like a dark cloud.
Time together continued and ironically Oman’s biological father and his wife traveled to attend the 2019 Fall Festival, the same gathering where just a few short years ago, the newest chapter of their story began.
They joined Oman and her husband to watch one of their children participate in the Queen’s Coronation. They beamed as most grandparents would as she was crowned to the court that evening.
Slowly, her newfound family has been chipping away at the secrecy surrounding Oman. Her sisters shared the news with their children and it was decided that Thanksgiving would be spent together. For the first time ever, parents, siblings, spouses, nieces and nephews would gather under one roof.
After the holiday Oman felt herself struggling with many of the same feelings other adoptees experience. “Some things that keep me in a quandary. I am always hopeful for more: more time, more information, more love, more laughter...more family togetherness. However, we left without another date firmly placed in pen on the calendar...with only the anticipation in my heart that we will unite again soon.”
“My youngest nephew asked my middle child, ‘When will we see you again?’ My heart melted and my voice and mind could not give a clear answer; actually, no answer at all...will that be our first family gathering? Will that be our last?” said Oman.
She said, “What did everyone ‘collectively’ think? We even celebrated my birthday together! That was another first. The first time I had anyone from my biological family wish me a happy birthday in person. That was crazy cool. However, I did not get emotional. I guess I was numb.”
“After our meal together, the cousins, ranging in ages from 19 to 9, went outside to play football while others did the dishes and some sat on the couches. I went from the window (watching our kids play together) to the kitchen because I was trying to desperately figure out my place. I don’t know where I fit in. I feel like an island. I am not sure if that is by choice or reality. But, clearly I haven’t been a part of this family for years on end. Our conversations didn’t run deep; but the longing in my heart is there. Where do I belong in all of this?”
She said there is a happy sad inside of her. “An ‘I don’t know how to feel’ me. An ‘I wish we lived closer’ me. An ‘I don’t want to scare them’ me. An ‘I am not obsessed OR am I?’ me. A ‘don’t freak them out with too many texts, cards or emails’ me. It’s a discombobulated mess in my head. For as long as I can remember it has been so clear to me that I wanted to find my birthparents. Now, it’s a messy question of where do we go from here,” said Oman.
Anne Heffron, author of “You Don’t Look Adopted” said sometimes adoptees can’t be honest with the parents who adopted them because they love their parents and if their parents knew how sad and broken they were, the parents would suffer. When describing her own experience with her adoptive family she said, “They are family by paperwork. They feel like family. I call them family. But I also know what it’s like to have family and not have family at the same time.”
Oman said, “It’s a strange reality this adoption reunion stuff. I still have my adoptive family. I have my own family that I deeply love. I have more family history and relationships now then I have ever had in my entire life. It’s a beautiful, happy, sad reality. There’s so much I missed out on, but so much more in store (I hope)! Where do I go from here? I hold on to hope. Hope for a beautiful future of deeper relationships, for the secrets to be unveiled and to live in love with new found family and embrace the hurt of the past and move forward in love.”
DNA kits such as Ancestry DNA and 23 and Me are becoming wildly popular ways for biological families to become reunited. States including Alabama, Alaska, Cloorado, Hawaii, Kansas, Maine, New Hampshire, Oregon and Rhode Island now allow closed adoption adoptees to have access to their original birth certificates. Combine this with social media sites like Facebook and making family connections is a bit easier than it had been it the past. Oman said, “Family secrets of long ago are being revealed and it’s OK. It’s complicated, but with a little love and a whole lot of hope...we all move forward one day at a time.”