Identity of an Infant, Trying to Fill in the Blanks
March 16, 1972. 12:43pm. Butte, Montana. Sex: male. First name reads, William. Middle name reads, Patrick. Last name reads, (blank). From there the state certified and “official” birth certificate for a baby boy named William Patrick (Blank) becomes more and more vague. Birth Father: (Blank). Birth Mother: (Blank). Mother signature: (Blank). Father signature: (Blank) Attending physician: (Blank).
I am William Patrick (Blank), I think. Well I was born William Patrick (Something). According to the social workers he was born to the (Something) family and taken home to live with my birth mother (Blank) for the first three months of my life. Or for the first three months of his, William Patrick (Blank’s), life.
As the story goes it was her intention to keep precious little William (Blank). However, after ninety days of taking on the responsibilities and stresses of caring for a child it all seemed to be too much. Too much. The history passed on seems to tell the story of mother (Blank); a legacy that included alcoholic parents and abuse. A legacy that is all too common and hopefully, for her, untrue. Even a future mother (Blank) does not deserve a life of fear and pain.
However, this is not a story of addiction and abuse. This is a story of a baby boy and his mother. My mother. After those tumultuous ninety days mother (Blank) felt the rage ignited by the frustration of a crying (Blank) baby. She felt the same rage that her alcoholic and abusive parents felt. Likely the rage they felt before they left evidence of their love on mother (Blank’s) cheek. She felt the fire of uncontrolled anger and realized, as the story goes, that she did not want her precious little William Patrick ( ) to live through the same life of pain and fear that she had endured.
Nights of soul searching tears and heartache went into the decision to give up dear little William Patrick ( ) for adoption. In reality it may have been a decision made with little thought and even less heartache. It is hard to say. ( ) is filling in the missing spots and voids to the best of his ability. It is hard to fill in (blanks). Most children hear stories of their childhood and find a sense of belonging. They hear how dad was in the waiting room pacing back and forth, a nervous wreck anticipating word that his new baby had been born. They can place the father in the picture, because he is sitting across the room in the easy chair as the story is being told. They can picture it because he has seen dad pacing the garage while trying to figure out how to put together the new bike Santa brought for Christmas. They know who these people are. They are real. They are tangible.
William Patrick ( ), like every other little baby (Blank), heard stories of my childhood and instead of creating a picture of the event in my mind, I am searching for clues on how to paint a picture. There is no peace in the history; I am searching for a piece of the history. There is only the hope that maybe one little bit of information will help in understanding something, anything. Was my father’s hair brown like mine? Did mom have blue eyes? I have brown hair and blue eyes but I am ( ).
Mother ( ) gave up William Patrick ( ) to the adoption agency. Which adoption agency is not documented in any place where now baby (Blank) can gain access. Many states in this nation which claim daily to hold the needs of its children paramount over all other concerns has, in many ways, taken the child out of the equation in the adoption process. After all he is a child; all he needs is a loving home. We will protect the rights and privacy of all but ( ).
There is not much more clarity regarding who mother and father (Blank) were. Ages are unknown, but assumed young. It is assumed that they were in deep adolescent love. Assumed unmarried. Assumed embarrassed and ashamed. Assumed scared. Assumed caught up in a night of passion that ended with a life-altering consequence. Assuming that consequence altered only two lives.
A few weeks and a short stay with a foster family and baby ( ) was adopted. A married couple who had three years prior adopted a little girl and had now found a boy to complete their family. There is no official word on this but it is believed that the summer following the baby boy adoption they were to begin construction on a white picket fence. Yes, life was good; loving parents, a doting older sister and a brand new, out of the box, shiny name. Along with the new name came a new birth certificate.
March 16, 1972. 12:43pm. Butte, Montana. Sex: male. First name reads, Karl. Middle name reads, Edward. Last name reads, Stenske. From there the state certified and “official” birth certificate for a baby boy named Karl Edward Stenske becomes more and more complete. Father: Richard James Stenske. Mother: Mary Ann Lucinda Rose Stenske. All of the appropriate signatures are in place and life could now move on.
The problem of William Patrick (Blank) had been solved. He, I, ( ) no longer exists. Does he? I mean do I? How was I, he erased? Why was he, I, such a problem?
The state, agencies, parents have long viewed adoption as a solution to a problem. The problem consisting of the parents who can’t or won’t care for the child; the problem of the adoptive parents who want a child and the problem of the child who needs a home. Adoption is seen as a win for all involved with no consideration to the problem inherently created. As Brodzinsky stated in 1992, “Adoption itself may be part of the problem.”
Adoption is a solution to many problems but becomes a problem itself when it is seen as an event that has a beginning, middle and an end; instead of an unknown beginning with no end. Some research has been done on the impact of adoption on birth parents and many books have been written focusing on the support and emotional process of adoptive parents. There are even more texts on how to emotionally help an adopted child adapt, but rarely do they address the loss suffered and need for grieving. The initial problem with the majority of these texts is that they are largely based on psychological attachment and loss theory. Concepts are then applied to a field for which they were not created.
Today, I, Karl Edward Stenske, wonder who I am. I do not know my history, yet I do know the history of the family who took me on. I feel no connection to this past that is not mine. I want to. I desire to see the family photos and the stories of struggle and triumph and somehow see myself in them. Yet, I don’t. I watch cousins look at photos of generations long past and see themselves in their ancestry. They see their own eyes staring back at them. They see bone structure; a familiar nose. They see a photo of a great, great aunt who looked at age twelve in 1843 just like little cousin Carly today. They see where they belong. I see where I am staying. I see ( ).
I have always known I was adopted. At least as long as I can recall. I don’t remember a day when I was “told” about being adopted. Around our house it was always just a matter of fact that my sister and I were adopted and came from different parents. Having this knowledge seemed to make it easier. There was no sense of not belonging or hidden secrets or lies. It was just the way our family was created.
As I grew into my middle childhood years, ages six through ten or so, I remember adults who did not know our family history commenting on how much I looked like my father. It perplexed me that I could look like someone who I was not born to. This was probably the first time I started to question what it meant to be adopted and began to realize that if I resembled the father that had taken me on then there were people out there who I must look exactly alike. It was my first sense of having lost something or missing a piece of the puzzle.
Birth to around three years of age is the period of development where trust, attachment and identity of self are created. It takes many weeks for a child to form a solid emotional attachment. This required time of attachment is a double edged sword in many ways. It enables and excuses the minimization of the damaging impact of adoption.
Many will claim that adoption has little to no impact on an infant adopted at birth as it takes weeks to form a bond with anyone, but this claim ignores the bond formed with the mother during the gestation period. Though it may take weeks to form a “solid emotional attachment” an emotional attachment is forming from day one. Once that attachment is severed the safety and trust the child feels is undermined and will have a lasting lifelong impact. The child who was just learning to trust has lost his source of safety and is now required to bond with new parents.
Though this example assumes a positive and secure attachment between the newborn and the birth mother often there are considerable variations in the attachment. Regardless of the strength or weakness of the attachment they share, the separation of the infant from his birth mother, his only known source of care, safety and provision, will be a traumatic event for the infant due to his inability to contextualize the loss. The trauma of loss will impact the attachment period with the new parents by days, weeks or a lifetime.
The loss of trust, the loss of safety, the loss of family, history, identity, belonging, value, worth, importance, the loss of self, they all need to be grieved. I didn’t know I needed to grieve; much less what to grieve. I never thought I had any true feelings about being adopted. Questions from others about my feelings and if I ever wanted to find my birth parents always solicited the same response. “Not really. I don’t really think about it. I have a good life why try to mess with it?”
Once I was old enough to understand what I had lost I didn’t know I needed to, or had the right to, mourn my loss. I still need to find enough information to mentally represent what was lost. A child who never knew his birth family cannot grieve that loss until he internally creates a mental representation of what is now gone. I have to try to fill in the ( ).
I was a happy child. I had a great life; middle class America, two parents, one sibling and a dog. Television shows of the 1950’s were based around the ideal family life in which I was raised. Walking to school, church on Sunday and mom baking cookies while dad was grilling out back, what was there to complain about? Adoption as it was has “worked out for the best.”
I was not aware of my grieving. In large part I would say my grieving process is just beginning. If I could only define ( ).