Adoption

Back to where it all began, in Detroit

(Click on each photo to see a larger picture on a separate picture page.)

Last month, I visited my birth city, Detroit. I was born here and lived in the city less than a year. My family moved to Boston and later to St. Louis. Despite that short period of time, I am forever connected to the Motor City. I was, quite literally, made in Detroit.

I also was relinquished for adoption in Detroit, a topic that I explore in my new memoir on the American adoption experience. More specifically, I was born in Crittenton General Hospital, a facility that was created to serve single mothers in 1929. By the 1940s it had transformed into a maternity hospital that promoted adoption as the most suitable plan for single mothers. Like thousands of other babies born at the hospital, I was surrendered to an adoption agency, placed in foster care, and eventually adopted by my family.

Crittenton General Hospital opened in 1929 to serve the maternal health needs of mostly single women.

My birthplace was torn down in 1975. I examine the legacy of my birth place on the website for my book. The hospital location in central Detroit, a few blocks off of the John Lodge Freeway in central Detroit, is now the location of the Detroit Jobs Center and a nursing home. There is no memorial or marking indicating the building that stood on the property for decades earlier, serving literally thousands of patients, mostly mothers and infants. If a person did not know the story of the hospital and its role in promoting adoption, they would never know the history of this place.

The surrounding area today shows the economic distress that still is prevalent throughout greater Detroit. Some homes are kept tidy, while many others, as well as apartments, are showing decay.

I wrote about my feelings returning to the place where I came into this world more than five decades ago. I felt a mixture of exuberance and also sadness seeing the place on earth when I came into being.

One cannot undo one’s past. It is the foundation upon which one build’s an identity and place in the world. I am glad I have reconnected with my roots after all of these years.

 

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Blood is always thicker than water

To those who have never lived without knowledge of their past and their genetic kin, they will never know the visceral desire that dwells deep under the skin to find one’s biological and ethnic ancestry. It is utterly primal, completely natural, and as important as breathing. For adoptees, particularly those born after World War II and through the 1970s, this knowledge was systematically hidden from them by nearly all U.S. states to promote a radically new idea of kinship. This new model of family, composed of strangers, largely denied the essence of what it means to be a human and to ask, “Who am I?”

I spent 24 years without this knowledge, until I found my blood kin. It took years of looking. This story is unnecessarily sad because my biological grandparents never knew of each other’s existence, and in the case of one set of grandparents, my existence. They lived the last part of their full lives mostly ignorant of this missing story in their family narrative. One set of grandparents passed away without any knowledge they had a grandson–knowledge hidden intentionally from them by their son. Yet, I was alive and for some of the years in a neighboring state not far away. I would have liked to have met them. The others were lucky, and we did meet while they were still alive and well, and we enjoyed the time we had together before they both passed away.

As I look at this old photos, both taken near the same time in the 1940s, I squint and a see some of myself in their faces, in their hair, and in their lean, hard-working bodies. They are Midwestern. They lived complicated, rich lives. They are my kin. And we are forever connected through the ties that binds us, and I carry a quarter of each of their genetic material. I am theirs the they are mine. No state-created system will ever change that, even when it tried for decades, and continues that system today. In the end, blood is truly thicker than water. I know this to be true in my bones.