Family Tree Projects Trigger Adoption Trauma

    Many adoptees particularly in closed adoptions, cringe at the thought of creating a family tree that most students will have assigned to them in high school or college. The fear and discomfort from adoptees creating a family tree stem from not having access to their original birth certificate and not knowing their biological family history. Feelings of grief, abandonment, and loss are a few emotions that an adoptee can experience while trying to complete a family tree project.
    If you’re anything like I was, the Family Tree school project was the one thing you dreaded in school.  I used to sit in class with knots in my stomach.  I knew my family tree would not be like the other kids in my class.
    While other classmates found enjoyment tracing their roots and marveling over their genetic makeup, I just wondered where mine came from.  How can a tree grow if it doesn’t have roots? I knew I had roots once, but those roots had been cut years ago.  I wondered what would happen if real roots are cut from a real tree, so I decided to look it up online. This is what I found:
    “Cutting tree roots is dangerous because it can cause permanent, possibly fatal, harm to your tree.”
    Now eliminate the word “tree” and replace it with “adoptee.”  Wow! That’s a pretty powerful statement.
    It’s the fine print on the paperwork adoption agencies don’t want you to know. Adoption is not always the glitz and glamor you see made for television and movies. Some people might argue that even non-adoptees have difficulty tracing their heritage. Although that may be true, my situation as an adoptee is completely different.
    In most states, it is illegal for an adoptee to find out their own family origins due to closed adoptions. Every form I have dating back to my adoption is redacted. If you don’t already know, redaction is when they censor a particular part of a document so that it cannot be seen. In other words, they take a thick, black Sharpie and run a line through it. In many closed adoptions, this would include redacting the names of the birthparents or any information that may reveal their identity.
    Although I have since located my birth family, sometimes I still want to cry when I look at those forms.  It serves as a reminder of the great lengths everyone around me took to cut off my family ties. It also reminds me that there is much work that still needs to be done in the adoption community.

    As I would sit in class with my blank worksheet, birth family I felt so alone. I didn’t understand why this happened to me. My parents did their best to explain it, but it didn’t stop my pain. I reluctantly completed my school assignment knowing that everything on it was a lie. These weren’t my roots. Nor did my parents realize that cutting my roots would have a profound effect on the rest of my life. This was something that affected me well into college. I skipped Biology 101 the days we were supposed to go over the chapter on genetics.  My poor attendance earned me a D in the course and a drop in my grade point average, but it was a lot better than reliving the pain all over again.

    After birth family, one of the most important things for me to do was to make a family tree.  I had always dreamed about the day when my branches would no longer be empty, but be filled with others who share my genetics, my roots, and my past. Sadly, my attempt to fill those branches was harder than I had expected. Family members became standoffish when I began to ask too many questions about the family I had lost. I have a brother somewhere, who remains a mystery to me.
    To most of my birth family, I am probably no more than a relative stranger. It only tells me how secrets and lies can only kill and destroy.  Once a tree is uprooted, no matter the love, shelter, or nourishment it receives, the problem is that it will never again be the same.
    I still hope to one day complete a family tree with or without the help my birth family. Until that time, I’m still just stuck with a bunch of empty branches waiting to be filled.
    Adoptees: tell us about your experience in class or life creating a family tree below.

    V. Marie I am a reunited adoptee from Louisiana.
    I earned my B.A. in sociology from The University of New Orleans in 2005. My experience through adoption lead me to earn my M.A. in Community Counseling from Webster University in 2013.

    I was adopted at six weeks old.  My adoptive parents love me very much, but they weren’t ready to deal with the challenges that came with an adopted child.  They supported me my entire life, but they could not heal my pain. As I grew up, I began to see even more differences between my adoptive family and myself.  I longed to know where I fit belonged.  Around the year 2005, I began actively searching.  I had doors slammed in my face and others who told me to give up and be grateful for what I had. I found
    my birthmother around 2012, and it was hardly the heartfelt reunion I had hoped for.  However, I will not let that stop me from seeking the truth and searching for my birthfather and my brother.  I have to be strong and keep going.  The fact is that I was an unwanted baby.  My birthmother made a conscience decision not to be a mother to her children. My birth family will never understand what I have gone though emotionally as an adopted person.  I am still treated like an outsider by many of them.  I have been fortunate to be welcomed by a handful of cousins.  And although they have good intentions, they will never understand my loss and the pain I feel when I’m around them. I believe that adoption can be a wonderful thing, but we have to remember that it doesn’t come without loss. What I yearn for most is to have a family of my own.
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    Jessenia Parmer
    Jessenia Parmer
    I'm Jessenia. I am an adult adoptee with 10 years of experience advocating and fostering relationships with adoptees, and over five years of experience teaching adoptive parents how to have a successful and genuine relationship with their adopted child.


    1. Anonymous says:

      Thank you sharing! I, too, felt the cringe when asked about the family history project. I had to use my adopted family to "make it work" but even worse was the DNA project, tracing physical traits and being told that my result was "impossible." I told my biology teacher that I wasn't impossible, just adopted. He looked at me and said he had no idea. Well, how would he? He said he had to give me the grade I earned, but gave me the chance to do some extra credit to make up for the difference in the grade. I have never forgotten that experience and never will. Since finding my families, my family trees are full…and I m in them. It is a glorious feeling, one that makes me feel complete. I don't expect everyone to understand, but that's okay. They don't have to. It is my my tree, and that of my children – which is good enough for us. 🙂

      • Hi there! Thank you so much for sharing your adoption journey with us an your experience with family trees and DNA.

        When I was in high school I was taking Biology as a class. I also had to do a DNA tracing project. It was difficult for me to sit through as it wasn't long before that I was told I was adopted. I could not sit in the class. It triggered many emotions of loss, anger, grief, etc. I earned a "D" in class because I refused to do the project and I skipped class through those weeks we had to work on our DNA projects. I wish at the time I was comfortable with being adopted, and I wish I had never was assigned the project. I understand the purpose of DNA projects and family tree charts in school, however, I think there needs to be awareness that not all children would be comfortable with such projects. Families are formed in many ways these days, but not all children are up to speak about it no matter how common it may seem. Who would have thought that that project would have an impacted you to the point that you can will never forget it. I am sure your classmates and mine don't even remember that day. It is interesting.

    2. VMarie says:

      Dear Anonymous,

      Thank you for reading my post. Family history projects are usually an adoptee's nightmare. I cannot imagine how difficult it was for you to do a DNA project. I applaud you for having the strength to do the assignment and admit to your teacher about the adoption. I was not strong enough at the time to sit through the class. I think your teacher should not have lowered your grade. It was not your fault your DNA did not match your adoptive family. Some people are so insensitive. I hope that by reading my story it will open the eyes to other teachers out there so that they may be more empathetic to the needs of other adoptees like us.

      Veronica 🙂

    3. I wanted and needed my daughter to find me. Her bravery is admirable, her inner work noticeable. Even in all of this, I wish, she had found me sooner, but, she also she found me right on time. I would have preferred to have raised her, with her sister, and to have raised her with her mother's help or not. Now I wish my family to understand my daughter's pain, my pain, and know their pain too. It hurts that space and separation exist in my fractured family. No, I loathe adoption, the secrets, the desire to strip your children from your life, to make their life, cruel to offer no take backs, or help, but to help themselves to your children, and be thankful a mother's sacrifice. I am so very grateful she found me, it is all so very painful. Lost father, united and healing in life, gaping wounds lost by time, forever gone.

    4. VMarie says:

      Hi Scott,

      Thank you for reading my post. I think it's great you were able to welcome your daughter into your life. My birthfamily does not understand my pain either. The only thing that helps is sharing my story with others instead of hiding all the pain. My story is not a fairy tale, and I never promised anyone it would be. The only thing I can promise is that I will always keep it real. I wish you and your daughter all the best. It's always nice to hear from a father.

      Veronica 🙂

    5. Anonymous says:

      My birth family stayed the same!
      I switched families. I never really thought about the other links of family when we did our family tree in school just I figured I would know that link .

    6. My aunt put together a booklet of our family history. I love knowing those stories, being able to point out the park where my parents met, the church where my great-grandparents were married, the gas station that stands where my great-great-grand-uncles had a livery stable, and the school that used to be the orphanage that my great-grandma and grand-aunt grew up in. I have all these connections in my city. I feel like I belong here.

      My kids have been cut off from that, adopted by their paternal aunt, and not allowed any contact with my side of the family. They're growing up in a state with no family history, and not allowed to see my relatives who are nearby. It's a loss for them, without any gain by their adopters.

    7. Peach says:

      I very well remember. The pain doesn't lessen.

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