Last week, we sat down with our upcoming Activism in Adoption Speaker, Bethany Fraser to get a better understanding of how one DNA test changed her entire life. And her story is so powerful we couldn't bear to edit it down to one post, so we made it a two-part post. Go back and read the first half, and then below, Bethany unpacks what happens next, after finding out, in her 40s, that she is biracial, and that everyone she knew – birthmother, and adoptive family, and their friends and extended family – all kept this information from her. Tickets for Bethany's talk on April 20th at noon CST are still available.
You find out, in your 40s, that you are biracial, and that everyone you know – birthmother, and adoptive family, and their friends and extended family – all kept this information from you. Where do you go from there?
Eventually, I ended up extending grace to everybody involved. My birthmother now? I have empathy for the situation she was in at such a young age. I can look at her now as such a strong person. She was 18 when she got pregnant, and grew up in a conservative white Jewish family, and they did not accept her boyfriend, period. I just think I would have missed out on a relationship with her and her daughter, my half-sister, if I maintained bitterness and anger towards her. I didn’t and now can’t talk to my parents about this. My dad has now passed, and my mother is in a memory care facility living with dementia for the past decade. I found out when my father passed away that they knew I was biracial from the adoption agency before they adopted me. I wish I had the ability to ask them about it, and at the same time, I believe that everything has happened the way it was supposed to happen. I found all this information out on my own. Nobody gave me the whole picture, and a few different people gave me pieces of it along the way, but it was never this complete picture.
So, everybody knew your truth except you, and they knew that you wanted to know your truth, and kept it from you. How do you forgive that? How do you extend grace for that?
Well, it isn’t on a consistent basis, and it wasn’t immediate grace. I was with my [adoptive] dad when he passed away. It was beautiful – just me and him, nothing left unsaid. After I left his body, I went to his best friend’s house – a couple so close to my parents I grew up calling them aunt and uncle. Through tears and reminiscing I mentioned I did my AncestryDNA and showed them the results. They were all just staring blankly at me as I told them I discovered I was biracial, a combination of African along with a host of other ethnicities. I thought, are they mad I did it? Mad I’m Black? I just didn't know what the non-responses meant, and then my aunt said, honey, we knew. Two hours after my dad passed and I found out that all these people who loved me had held my truths from me.
I have to tell myself that my 18-year-old birthmother had to protect herself, and my birthfather gets a little bit of a pass because I was stolen from him – kidnapped essentially. She took me away and he had no idea where, and that information has been validated. I mean, she left with me without so much a conversation and made these unilateral decisions. Unbeknownst to me, he had no rights and all she had to say was father, unknown, and it was done. But my adoptive parents, and the secrets they kept, that is what hurt me the most.
When I met my birthmother, I was almost 30, and she had 30 years of keeping this secret without knowing me. She did not want her 13 year old daughter to know that she had placed a baby for adoption. My birth mother did not tell her husband that she had had a Black boyfriend and subsequently a biracial baby that she placed for adoption. I was left with this recurring angry thought; I guess Black is really bad because everybody hid the Black of me. The lengths that people went to hide the Black piece [of my heritage] is upsetting to me because then it makes me feel like I was born to, raised by, and surrounded by racists. I don't think they are racist, but there those moments where I was like, all you people are racist, because everybody tried to hide this from me.
But also, I do not know what my birthmother went through. I have not been 18 and pregnant. I have not had my parents say they would disown me. I don’t know what she went through, and that is how I am able to offer some grace. We have had very difficult conversations about her lying to me. I have pointed fingers at people for hiding the Black piece of me. But it’s also hard, because I was very close to my [adoptive] parents. I don’t even know how they kept this secret.
I didn't think my grandfather liked me when I was growing up, and none of my other cousins had similar feelings. I used to say to my dad, Oh, your dad's not nice. And after I found out about my Blackness, I asked my aunt and uncle. I said you know, did grandpa actually not like me? And she said, I think that part of the reason your dad hid it is because his father was not accepting of it. And I thought, I knew it. Until then, I thought I was crazy. There's something wrong with me that grandpa doesn't like me, yet he loves all the other kids.
Gaslighting was Merriam-Webster’s word of the year in 2022. I remember looking up the definition of the word at some point and I thought, Oh my God, I’ve been gaslit.
We have interviewed and had lots of adult adoptees come speak at AiA, and so many of them say they are figuring themselves out in their 40s, doing the work that non-adopted people get to do in their 20s. Secrets, adoption trauma, it gets in the way of so much, developmentally.
Exactly. I feel like I am advocating for little me, and telling my story in the hope of making sure the next kid doesn't have to take 40 plus years and a lifetime of insecurity to understand themselves. It makes me so emotional. I’ve done a lot of work to land on this place of compassion, but it’s a journey, for sure. I used to be in a place where I felt I had to be so good because my parents picked me and I don’t want them to send me away, and I want to live up to their expectations. And it sounds so silly for a 46 year old woman, saying that, but also, I waited until they had dementia to even feel safe enough to do this search, right? I never even broached the subject with them previously. I just pushed it aside, and putting myself aside just to make sure whoever I'm with is pleased and happy. And for so long it was enough-ish. This piece has been a component in many of my relationships throughout my life. I know now that a piece of my personality comes directly from what I experienced. It’s the lies, not having context, that feeling of not being good enough. It’s only now that I finally feel like I am able to trust my gut; finally I'm able to say no. Now I trust my judgment about people. Now I make my own decisions and get to embrace life unopologetically.
All of this, yet and still, I see my adoption story as loving. I had a great relationship with my parents, and I just never wanted to hurt them, especially as they aged. My mom had dementia and in 2021 my dad was diagnosed with dementia, too. I feel like that was why I waited so long. If I could go back and tell myself anything I probably would tell myself, you don't need to wait. Protect yourself. There's a way to communicate “I love you” and “I need to find this out for myself”. I eventually did the ancestry test and I really believed in my heart it was for ethnicity purposes. I definitely wanted to know ethnicity, I mean more than medical information or anything else. I was like, who am I? It feels like I just crossed the finish line of a marathon. And I’m so glad that I did.
**Here’s where I am today: For decades, my story kept evolving. Now, I'm at a place of peace. Knowing my ancestry and accepting the life I've lived has brought me a sense of calm. Meeting my birth parents has been healing for me and I think for both of them too. My one regret is I wish my parents were alive and healthy so I could be brave to have these conversations from a mature and loving place with them too. It's unsettling to know that people hold information about you and choose not to share it. Yet and still, I practice extending grace for others and not making assumptions on their experiences and judging their choices. It is a hard yet helpful place to operate from. Transparency, truth, and trust are essential in building and maintaining healthy relationships. It's important to consider the truth because it always has a way of coming out. Secrets have a way of damaging relationships, so being honest and open is the best way to move forward.
Tickets for Bethany's Activism in Adoption talk are now available. For more information about Bethany, you can follow her on Instagram, or find her on LinkedIn. And don't forget to check out Otito, her jewelry company. "Otito" means "truth" in Yoruba, which is the primary language in her West African country and the piece of her ancestry that had been hidden from her. When she found it, she was inspired to start her company and use it as a portal to inspire truth, support, bridge cultures and communities.