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adoption in the 1970s

#flipthescript 12: A 1970s Adoption Story

A friend from high school reached out to tell me that her biological mother had died. She told me that the whole thing had been a nightmare and that I should write about it. 

Here is Cheryl’s story, part of November’s #flipthescript series in which adoptees take over the microphone.

adoptees flipthescriptImage: Tracy Hammond

How I Got Informally Adopted

Cheryl: My memories start at age 5. My mom, Connie, had four more children after me: Viki, twins Mark and Mike, and Richard.

Connie was a partier and was gone most nights. My siblings and I were hungry, we were dirty and we were neglected. I once almost killed my little sister Viki by giving her a bottle of baby aspirin because Connie was out lookin’ for love.

Eventually social services stepped in. Connie kept Viki but gave up the twins and  Richard to Colorado Christian Home. As for me? A couple who eventually became my parents had seen me at their church, where Connie would send me to beg for money, food, whatever. This couple informally adopted me with Connie’s blessing. Connie kept trying to get money from them for years. Eventually  my adoptive parents got a lawyer and fought for me.

Virgil was my biological father, but I call him a sperm donor. When he got out of prison he fought my new parents for me. My parents had a good lawyer but he wasn’t aggressive as he should have been. They put me on the stand and I said I wanted to go with the people I felt were my parents but the judge said I had to return to Virgil.

Shortly after I moved to his home Virgil killed my pet bunny my parents had just gotten me. I was with him for about 6 months or so, but then he ended up giving me to an aunt and uncle because I didn’t like Virgil’s new wife. When they took me to California I stabbed the aunt in the arm because she cut my hair all off. We came back to Colorado and my aunt and uncle broke up and gave me to Virgil’s parents.

My grandma wanted to keep me but Clem, my granddad,  didn’t.  Clem was also my younger  sister Viki’s dad (yes, this means my paternal grandfather fathered a baby with my mother) and was a violent, mean SOB.  Clem knew I knew he had been with Connie (he had tried to be with my aunt, too — just a nasty, nasty man) so I was given back to social services and went into the system.

Eventually my parents got me back for good. By this time I was 9 years old.

1970s adoption

I Wish I’d Had Counseling

I was always in contact with Connie and my siblings. Connie’s mom thought it should have been more “open” but those times never went well because my folks had money.

If we had had counseling during these meetings it would have been better. I didn’t grow up the way my birth family members did so it was awkward and lets face it I was DAMN angry Connie gave me away, without any RESPONSIBILITY, just saying “it’s for your own good.” What the hell does that mean?

I mean she had already starved me. I remember being so HUNGRY! She beat me; there were days I  couldn’t go to school because I had no clothes or pencils. She had subjected me to Clem  — what more could she do??? Shove me off the swing set again from the top bar??

Moving from that kind of environment and treatment to a more calm and loving one with my adoptive parents, well let’s just say the transition didn’t go as smoothly as you’d expect.

Really. Counseling would helped me move from one reality to another.

Adoption Brought Pluses & Minuses

Adoption affected me in some negative ways, but yet some very positive ways, too. I am the most insecure person in the world…have no self-esteem and don’t trust most people. Am angry and depressed even with counseling.

On the other hand, I am more sensitive to the needs of others, and I have broken the circle by not having violence and hunger near my children. I have stood by my kids and they are successful. Sami is the first “grandchild” of Connie’s to graduate high school (with honors!) and go to college. Chelsea shows horses. I am pleased to say I have found a way to help my kids become successful.

It’s a doubled-edged sword. Connie didn’t live to see Sami get her honors diploma. Likely she would not have known how much it meant, but I did. If I had to suffer through my childhood for MY kids to have a life I would do it again.

Open vs Closed

I think open adoptions are best. Why? Because kids would have fewer feelings of abandonment and isolation. They would be able to comprehend why they were given a new beginning.

So I know I was hungry with Connie — I would share rotten potatoes with Viki. I was beaten with a big green paddle. I get that. But this was life as I knew it. This was what I lived. This was “normal” to me.

So you’re an adopted kid and you go see how your biological family lives and you try to wrap your brain around it, the two opposite scenarios. You come from these people. Their blood flows in your veins. You have a connection to them but sometimes it horrifies you.

On the other hand there are the people I was grafted to. Yeah, it’s a way better place, because the way I was living was not normal, not safe. Openness allows me to see both sides. It stretches me to fit in both camps, even though neither is a perfect fit.

Plus with openness medical records are accessible. I can’t see any down side to openness.

But if it’s an older child, she  needs counseling and her adopted parents need support. The grafting process isn’t as automatic as the social workers thought it would be.

How My Siblings Turned Out

Viki is less then a year younger then I am. She has 4 kids, and she left them all just the way Connie did. One of her sons is in prison for life (rape, robbery) and her oldest daughter lives on welfare. The oldest daughter has 2 kids by two dads; one of the dads is in prison, the other has been deported. Her other daughter is OK — she was raised by her dad. I met her at Connie’s funeral. Viki’s other son is a loser who didn’t graduate from high school and smokes weed all day.

The twins, Mark and Mike, live in Georgia. Mark owns a construction company and is bitter. Mike came to Denver for the funeral and got into a fist fight with Viki and claims she stole from him; it just turned into a mess.

My brother Richard is dead. Open adoption could have made a difference here, some connection to his original family. He didn’t know us really. I met him once after we were grown up; he was very handsome but you could tell he had serious demons. Though I didn’t know why because he was a baby when it all went down. We don’t know who his dad was. We don’t know for the twins either. My dad was in prison when they were conceived.

Then there is Shawna, born after Connie gave me away. Shawna was pregnant at 13. Her dad was Don, who was a kind and loving man. He married Connie, but it turned out soooo bad. Don told Connie NOT to give me up.  But of course she never cared about us kids so she did give me up. What she did tore at Don all his life.

I saw him on his death bed and we made our peace. Connie wasn’t allowed at his funeral. She made a huge mess of their lives. He provided well for her and she could have been happy, but no. She took Viki and Shawna and ran off with a big drunk named Chief. Just a year before she died she wanted to see if we could find him even though she was married by then to yet another man, Clark. So there was no stability for either Viki or Shawna.

Holly is my adopted sister. She is OK, but she’s my adoptive parents’ favorite. And in turn she favors her son over her daughter. We go around about that. She’s mostly in my corner.

My Birth Mom’s Funeral

Connie’s funeral was something else. I was included in the arrangements and ended up being the peacekeeper.

I was to be listed first in the obituary, but it wasn’t printed that way. Shawna’s fiancee was listed before me, but I didn’t rock the boat. Since my children and I weren’t in any family photos I made my own picture board. The thing that got me was that people kept saying how loving and nurturing and kind Connie was. BULL SH!T. Of all the kids she gave away I was the only kid there. Clark said he would throw the twins out if they came. They were hurt over her giving them up too.

I made two flower arrangements with a red rose for each of us. I put four roses in her casket for the “lost” ones. It made Viki so mad she went to pull them out and nearly pulled Connie out of the casket.

I was the last one to leave because I wanted a private audience with Connie. I told my dead biological mother it was a joke about her being kind and loving. I told her she killed Richard and I told her I made way better choices and gave my kids a life in spite of her. I told her the only reason I cared was because she gave me life, but that she wasn’t my mom. And I told her I pitied her because she never got to know Sami and Chel. I told her she didn’t break me.

Truthfully I wanted to spit on her, but my parents raised me better. My father said he hoped I could find peace now that she was gone. I said she haunted me and did nothing but hurt me to my core.

But I didn’t let her hurt my kids. When my son died Connie said I deserved it. I said yeah well he didn’t commit suicide the way my brother did.

It’s clear to me open adoptions are helpful for kids who are abused, neglected and worse. Even with the benefits of open adoption, counseling should be offered time and time again for all concerned. I believe had we had an open adoption with brother Richard he would still be alive and I wouldn’t have to keep reliving the horror of him on the beach dead.


Cheryl grew up in Denver in a very complicated situation. She later raised her own kids and halted the cycle of abuse and destruction. She’s justifiably very proud of that. She adores her grown children, her grandson, and her horse.


Other Posts in the #flipthescript Series:

Lori Holden, mom of a young adult daughter and a young adult son, writes from Denver. She was honored as an Angel in Adoption® by the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute.

Find Lori’s books on her Amazon Author page, and catch episodes of Adoption: The Long View wherever you get your podcasts.

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17 Responses

  1. I think this is why some people are scared of the foster to adopt program – which is unfortunate for the children involved.

    Counselling, I think, should be a considered in any adoption. It sounds like all adopted kids have lots of processing to do, and not all parents are well-equipped to help.

    1. What I like about Cheryl telling her story is that it illustrates that even the well-meaning adults may have no clue what is going on inside the child. There is such complexity and layers to the emotions, even when a kid is moved from a “bad” situation to a “good” situation.

      Thank you for commenting, A 🙂

  2. Wow. Thank you for sharing your story, Cheryl. This must have been really difficult to retell.

    When I first asked Lori about ‘openness’ many months ago, I was fearful. I didn’t quite know what to expect…because I made it about me. I’ve since grown and come to learn from stories like yours, that ‘openness’ IS the only option. How could it not be? How could I have been so selfish before?

    Thanks so much for continuing to remind us how powerful adoption is. Yes, it is about relationships. It’s multifaceted, intense, and complex…but it can work.

    Always put the needs of the child first…always. I hear this Cheryl, thank you.

  3. Lori–thank you for sharing!

    Cheryl, being brave enough to share your story helps so many others. I look at my daughter and wonder how she will feel about her adoption as time goes on, and hearing from other adoptees helps me to be as ready as I can to help her get what she needs as she grows. Thank you so much for sharing what must be a painful thing to relive.

    Happy Thanksgiving, everyone–I hope it’s a wonderful one!

  4. I can’t imagine how difficult it was to live through that; to retell it. Thank you for sharing it with us so we can all understand a bit better.

  5. Thank you Cheryl for sharing your story. I’ve known you for many years, but never knew this was going on in your life. Knowing you now and seeing how you are with your girls I can see how hard you are working to make sure they have a happier life than you were able to experience.

    Stay strong and remember there are people that love you…related or not!

    Thank you Lori for giving Cheryl a place to share this.

  6. To everyone thank you for the kind words and thoughts. My message today om Jan 23 to you all is..OPEN ALL adoptions. Because I was an “older” child I knew my family. My brother Richard couldnt know us as he was a baby and they sealed his records.I believe he would be alive today had he been able to contact us. One year ago Connie took her life. I am struggling today.. . I look and am so much like her in some ways. But in others I am no. I didnt know her enough really to memorialize her. My sisters dont understand. I dont really know what to say to them. Here again an open adoption would have made this transition easier. Answer your kids honestly and kindly. Your the real chance of them dealing with this. Be good to yourselves as parents too. None of the adults ever taught me you must have self preservation. Thank you all for being brave parents and caring people. @Roo your very special and its comfort for me to have you in my corner. I knew you knew….

  7. Thank you for sharing, Lori. These #flipthescript stories are so important – when adoptees are “given the microphone” – even though as an a-parent some are difficult to read. I can feel the author’s heart in this one – I am thankful she took the time to get her thoughts and memories out there so we can all learn a little more.

  8. Reading this makes me so glad we have an open adoption for our little boy. Even though he was only 2 years old when he came to us , I can already see the benefits of open adoption for him. Thank you, Cheryl, for sharing your story!

  9. What an amazing person Cheryl is! Openness extends beyond her adoption through her willingness to tell her story to help others. Thank you for living AND sharing your story, Cheryl!

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