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What boobs!

Yesterday’s annual mammogram turned out to be an angst-laden event.

No, not because there was any problem, thank goodness. Although standing topless in front of a stranger who is turning your breasts into pancakes is not the most pleasant way to start the day — especially when you keep wondering exactly how long a person can go deodorant-less before she becomes, well, ripe.

So no problems.

Beyond the one I’ve faced my whole life.

Seems Greenwich Hospital has a new computer system, so they have to input every patient as though she or he is new. Which meant a variation of THE QUESTION.

Is there a history of breast cancer in your family?

Well, how the hell would I know?! As an adoptee refused access to all records related to my origins, I have no freakin’ idea.

I did not say that, of course.

Instead I took a deep breath and recited my pat answer: “I am an adoptee and have no medical history.”

The tech dutifully penned: “Adopted” on the page reserved for cataloging family medical woes, leaving a raft of blank lines in her wake.

It was like a branding iron to me, and hurt more than the squeezing and pushing in that blasted machine ever could.

No medical history.

I shake my head every time a new study comes out that connects health to genetics. They are all useless to me. Am I eating to prevent colon cancer? Should I be doing the low-fat thing on account of lurking heart disease? Is it skin cancer I should worry about? Will I face hip and knee replacements? Lady problems? Alzheimer‘s disease?

The state of New York says I can’t know. Records are sealed — tucked away in some file cabinet (or maybe I’ve even been computerized by now), like a legislative pat on my head.

There’s no mistaking the Neanderthal message: It’s best for you, it’s best for your birth parents if it all just stays a secret.

Sitting reading a magazine while I waited for the doctor to come back after reading my scans, I had a thought (only half-kidding):

What if I and every other New York adoptee handed our cell phones to all the medical personnel who asked about family history and said, “Oh, the people here in this office in Albany can get you that answer. Let me know what they say.”

Come on, Albany, even YOU must realize how ridiculous these archaic laws are.

About Terri S. Vanech

Wife, mother, communications specialist, Jazzercise instructor and recently reunited adoptee. I'm living out loud -- and trying to make it all work -- in midlife. Having a sense of humor sure helps.


16 thoughts on “What boobs!

  1. Twenty six years ago my wife and I adopted a child. The birth mother and her family entered into an agreement that she would not pursue us and we were ask to ensure that we or our child would not pursue her. We were naive and we believed her. Shortly after our son turned 21, the birth mother,s family contacted us. So much for the agreement. He has learned that those who share his DNA, your obscession, have been in and out of jail, addicted to drugs for many years, and live life on the edge, which is to say they do not resemble the Ward and June Cleaver family of TV fame. They call constantly and are never satisfied with the amount of attention our son shows them. The more he discovers about those who share his DNA, the more heartbreak he suffers. Sealed records are a two sided coin. Sometimes mothers give up children for all the right reasons and it has been my experience that happy endings and happy reunions aren;t to be. Our son would have lived in foster care and his distain for his birth parents would have come via first hand abuse and neglect. Your need to is understandable, but adoptive parents have rights as well.

    Posted by Charles Russell | August 11, 2012, 9:59 am
    • Charles:
      I’m sorry for the frustration your family has endured, but your story underscores what I’ve been saying all along — no two adoptions stories are alike. And unless you are an adoptee, you cannot know what it is like to be adopted.

      Nor are all first mothers experiences the same. Many birth mothers didn’t want to relinquish their children but were pressured to do so.

      Your family had a bad experience, other families have positive reunions — and because everyone’s experience is different, it makes no sense to me that other people get to decide what I may or may not know.

      I don’t expect rainbows and unicorns. I may never know my full story, but having the chance to know-finally know — would be so much better than always wondering.

      Posted by Terri S. Vanech | August 11, 2012, 11:21 am
    • As usual, the argument that purports to be about “birthparent privacy” gets morphed into interference BY the birth family and ultimately the REAL agenda comes out. It’s all about what the adoptive parents want. Thanks for clearing that up.

      Posted by Romany | August 11, 2012, 6:59 pm
  2. Well as a simplistic neanderthal, I do see things as fairly straight forward. We have all been given the gift of life. A life we can do with as we please. We can know who we are if we have the courage and intention of finding out. Most of who we are is who we choose to be.It has little to do with our DNA and much to do with integrity. If the only way we can be satisfied is forcing someone else to do or give us what we demand we have little hope of ever being happy. It seems to me that calling names and attacking someone with a different opinion says more about you than it does me.
    And if there is no difference between being a slave and having a life free to do what you want, you might check with the people in the Sudan who know what real slavery is about. In any case good luck with your searching.

    Posted by Bob | August 9, 2012, 7:52 pm
    • I couldn’t disagree more, Bob. None of our lives is easy or straight forward, and while we certainly have free will, who we are is not a choice, but rather hard-wired for each of us. DNA plays a crucial role.

      And let’s be clear, that I’m not looking to force anyone to do anything, and all I’m demanding is the same right to know my origins that most everyone else has. Some well-meaning lawmakers decided it was best that I should be treated as a perpetual child and that my natural mother should be “protected” from what society saw something shameful.

      I can’t be “satisfied” being treated as a second-class citizen, nor should I be expected to.

      I don’t know your background, but if you are not an adoptee and not a parent of loss, I can see how none of this would make sense to you. And to suggest that we ought to be grateful we weren’t aborted, as you did in your first comment here, is a very different matter.

      Posted by Terri S. Vanech | August 10, 2012, 2:28 pm
  3. Bob: Individuals adopted at birth do have the right to know who they are and who gave birth to them. Otherwise, adoption is no better than a form of slavery, and the individual has no say so over their own life. Human beings are not chattel to be moved around at will–that is, the will of someone else.

    Posted by zoozig | August 8, 2012, 12:33 pm
  4. Wonderful blog Terri! While some opinion pieces will (justifiably) tell a tale born of a medical crisis, yours is about ALL of us.

    I used to dutifully fill out my adoptive family’s medical history – then I found out I was adopted (age 31).

    I don’t think it occurs to most people that the reason we DON’T know is not because we were left on someone’s doorstep. When I found out I was adopted, I didn’t know one COULD search, I didn’t know that there WERE records about me and that New York State law said I had no right to see them.

    On the last family medical history I filled out (pre-reunion) I wrote “Adopted – Information only available by court order.” I think that’s more to the actual point than simply “unknown”.

    What really infuriates me is when someone will offer any one of the following:

    1. MY doctor doesn’t think medical history is important.
    2. They should set up a database where you can get your family medical history but the names are blacked out.
    3. Whenever anyone places a child for adoption, they need to provide a DNA sample.
    4. Just eat healthy and get enough exercise – you’ll be fine.
    5. You can just get a DNA test and find out.
    6. No family history? That’s great – you have a blank slate!
    7. I don’t think I’d want to know what’s lurking in my genes.

    NY Adoptee – reunited 2009
    Still searching for the paternal side.

    Posted by Gaye | June 18, 2012, 8:32 am
    • Thank you, Gaye. I, too, hate all those pat words of advice. So difficult to explain to folks who already know and therefore take that knowledge for granted

      Posted by Terri S. Vanech | June 18, 2012, 2:14 pm
      • I hear all of the disappointment and frustration in the above comments. And I feel for those affected by the confidentiality offered to natural parents. However, I also hear all of the “I have my rights” attitude from adults who are alive. I don’t hear any thoughts or care about the disruption and re-visting of pain in the lives and families of the natural parents. Parents who chose to give the child life, seems that is not a big enough gift.
        Perhaps (and I don’t personally believe this) it would be better to kill the child before birth, as now 54,000,000 have been, then it would not be a problem for either the parent or the adoptee.

        Posted by Bob Sacar | August 7, 2012, 7:39 pm
      • Bob:
        Yours might be the most simplistic, least informed neanderthal comments I’ve ever encountered on the subject. I can’t believe a thinking person would make the comments you just have.

        Posted by Terri S. Vanech | August 7, 2012, 8:42 pm
  5. Wonderful post, Terri! I would like to see this run as an op-ed somewhere and would think some editors would print it as it is brief and to the point. We need to keep raising people’s consciousness, as this issue isn’t on the radar screen of so many. The opposition thrives on indifference, misinformation, and fear. Please try submitting this to some media outlets! And great work, as usual!

    Posted by Susan Perry | June 13, 2012, 1:14 pm
  6. Hi Terri! My name is Susan and believe me for 52 years I have dreaded going to a new dr or to get xrays,blood tests, etc because of “the question” your family history! And of course like you I feel like screaming how the hell do I know, but of course we answer with the standard “adopted, unknown”. Although I hate the unknown part the most. If only the ones that hide away our identities knew that it is not fun to be asked the question over and over with the same reply “unknown”, I wonder how they would feel if it was them? I think thats one of the problems they just don’t think about it! I sure wish they would!! -susan

    Posted by susan mcfarland | June 13, 2012, 12:10 pm
    • The unknown part infuriates me. It’s a constant little poke, an ongoing reminder that we adoptees are considered “less than,” second class. Whether lawmakers intended it that way or not, all these secrets and lies amount to enrollment in a witness protection program none of us asked to be a part of.

      Posted by Terri S. Vanech | June 13, 2012, 12:31 pm
  7. Terri,
    I feel your pain and faced a similar situation just in the past few months. I too am a NY adoptee and have tried in vain to get my medical history. Last month I has a “suspicious” finding on my mammogram. Of course the first question the surgeon that is doing your surgery ask’s “do you have a family history of breast cancer?” I HATE that question. Also, with the way health insurances work now, if you dont have a family history of some of the pre-disposed cancers, they will not pay for the very tests you need to determine if it has spread or if there is more that one mass. My doctor had to jump through hoops to get my Breat MRI approved by BC/BS because I didn’t have a “family history”. They would NOT approve genetic testing to see if I carried the gene for Breast Cancer! So very frustrating. It turned out that my lesion was indeed a very low grade cancer and thankfully it was caught early but I fear that others may not be so lucky.

    Posted by Laura Del Guidice | June 13, 2012, 11:59 am
    • I’m terribly sorry for your struggle, Laura. I’d be foolish to think that all those years ago anyone envisioned the vast genetic connection there is to a whole host of medical issues, but how we’ve all be shortchanged by the lies and secrecy. I wish you all the best.

      Posted by Terri S. Vanech | June 13, 2012, 12:30 pm

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