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We are Not Responsible for Our Birth Parents’ Unavailability Part 1

Updated On: February 29, 2024

Welcome to the season 4 premiere of the Family Twist podcast! Today, we are incredibly fortunate to have Jeanette Yoffe, a therapist and adoptee, who shares her profound journey of adoption and the intricate family dynamics that come with it. Her story not only sheds light on the adoptee’s perspective but also offers invaluable insights into the emotional complexities faced by all members of the adoption constellation. If you’re ready for a deep dive into the world of adoption and emotional healing, press play and join us in this eye-opening conversation with Jeanette.

We are Not Responsible for Our Birth Parents’ Unavailability Part 1

Episode Highlights:

Jeanette’s Personal Adoption Story: Her experiences growing up with her adoptive family, feeling resentment and distance from her birth mother, and the impact on her relationship with her siblings.

The Emotional Impact of Adoption: Discussion on the primal wound and trauma experienced by adoptees, leading to feelings of loss, rejection, and identity struggles.

Seven Core Vulnerabilities in Adoption: Jeanette outlines the universal vulnerabilities affecting adoptees, birth parents, and adoptive parents, including loss, rejection, shame, guilt, and identity issues.

Secondary Trauma and Rejection: Jeanette recounts her experience of being rejected by her birth father and the subsequent emotional repercussions.

Healing Through Storytelling:

The therapeutic power of sharing and processing adoption stories, as exemplified by Jeanette’s journey into psychotherapy.

Support and Resources for Adoptees and Birth Parents: Mention of organizations like Saving Our Sisters and the importance of support groups for all involved in the adoption process.

Jeanette’s Reunion with Birth Family: An emotional recounting of her meeting with her birth father and

Resources Mentioned:

  • Saving Our Sisters (Organization supporting mothers considering adoption)
  • Adoption Constellation Support Group (Los Angeles-based support group for all members of the adoption process)

Closing Thoughts: This episode with Jeanette not only enlightened us about the layered emotions involved in adoption but also emphasized the importance of understanding, empathy, and support for everyone in the adoption constellation. Her story is a powerful reminder of the resilience of the human spirit and the healing potential of open, honest communication.

If you found this episode as impactful as we did, please rate, follow, and review Family Twist. Your support helps us continue bringing meaningful conversations like this to light.

Guest Bio:

Jeanette Yoffe, M.A., M.F.T. earned her Master’s in Clinical Psychology, specializing in adoption and foster care, from Antioch University in June of 2002. She treats children, teens, and adults with serious psychological problems secondary to histories of abuse, neglect, adoption, and /or multiple foster care placements. She has specialized for the past 20 years in the treatment of children and teens who manifest serious deficits in their emotional, cognitive, and behavioral development.

She is the Founder of Celia Center Inc, a non-profit organization in Los Angeles supporting all members of the foster care and adoption constellation which includes birth parents, foster youth, adoptees, foster and adoptive parents as well as professionals working in the field.

She is also the Clinical Director of Yoffe Therapy Inc. A mental health center in Los Angeles provides services to families, children, teens, and adults connected by foster care and adoption. Learn more here.

​Jeanette’s desire to become a therapist with a special focus on adoption and foster care issues derived from her own experience of being adopted and moving through the foster care system. Her personal experience has informed her education and provided insight into the unique stresses involved with these issues. 

She is also Court Appointed Reunification Expert for Los Angeles Superior Court in cases involving children at risk for separation.

Guest Resources:

Celia Center Free Support Groups

Roadmap to Reunion 8 Pacts Article 

Why Won’t My First Mother Meet me – A First Mother Shares

Guest Links:

Website

YouTube Channel

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Transcript

We're excited to have our guest, Jeanette on with us and we'll talk about her story and the services that her company provides, but welcome to the Family Twist podcast studio, Jeanette. Oh, thank you for having me, Kendall and Corey. Great to be here. Thank you. I have struggled. More and been verbal more about my struggle, the constant back and forth that I feel I have a lot of empathy for my birth mother.

I feel I don't blame her whatsoever for the way that I came into this world. You know, the way that I was adopted, you know, I had a wonderful life with my adoptive family, but I get really eaten up sometimes about the way I feel. There's resentment. I feel about her not, you know, connecting with me in over six years.

And the extra layer of complexity that that lends itself to our family dynamics. I love my sister, her daughter, and my sister is always saying such wonderful things about our mother and her father. And I can't relate to it and I feel bad that I can't relate to it. It, I feel like it creates this automatic distance.

Between my sisters and me I don't really have a relationship with my half brother on that side, but between my sisters and me, it just feels like this, this barrier that's there because I can't share in that experience and they purposefully don't talk about our mother with me much because they worry that it.

It will hurt me further. Every family has weird dynamics, but I feel like my mother has created this for us. Yes. And rejection is very painful.

This is a very sensitive topic, especially for adopted persons, right? You're an adoptee. I'm an adoptee. It's personal and it is physically painful and because we're experiencing so many losses in this process. You are. And part of loss is grief. You're grieving the loss. First off, leaving your family of origin, leaving everything you know.

That's a big part of who you are. And not having that genetic inheritance of knowing who you are, you, you are You're exploring and figuring out, and that's why we seek out our birth family members, because it gives us a sense of identity, inclusion, acceptance. We're valuable. And when we don't have that and children do believe that it was their fault, unless deemed otherwise, that how could any birth mother give away her child?

There must've been something wrong with me. They do take a personal until someone tells them otherwise. It was not about you personally. It was about the circumstances in your birth parents life at that time. They couldn't parent any baby born on your birthday, but that's logic. That doesn't cure this primal wound, which is a child adverse experience.

It is traumatic. For any baby to leave all that they know they have formed an attachment to that birth mother and I think it's important And if we can go into it But there are seven core issues in adoption that impact all members of the adoption adoption Constellation for all members that's birth parents adoptive parents, which can include foster parents and the adopted person We experienced number one loss That's loss.

We all experience loss together. For adoptive parents, they may have infertility loss, right? We don't often think about the adoptive parent's loss. They are experiencing loss too, of not being able to have their own biological child, right? So I like to say we have vulnerabilities. So there are seven core vulnerabilities.

Loss, rejection is the second one. Because with that loss, of course you will personalize it. You will take it personal, and as a child, growing up, and then when you seek out your birth parents, and you become rejected again, that's called a secondary rejection, and that is even more traumatic, because you're actually causing a secondary trauma.

Here we are as an adult, seeking out our birth parents, like I did also, sought out my birth father. And he blatantly rejected. He hung up on me on the phone. I was 17 years old. And I was alone. I felt isolated in the experience. I didn't have support in the experience. I didn't have people who understood the experience.

It was very isolating. And it did cause a lot of anxiety and depression. And that's probably why I became a therapist, I think, because when I started writing about My, my story, it helped just like you're doing your podcast. We need to recycle and make sense and process what is happening to us in order to move through the experience.

It's very healing, but I'll talk about that later. Let me go back to the seven core vulnerabilities. The next vulnerability is shame and guilt. And when we think about our birth parents, a lot of birth parents. have a lot of shame and guilt for having relinquished their children. It is for them. They've been shamed, ridiculed, stigmatized by society.

How could you? A lot of birth parents are either coerced, forced. This is the baby scuba era. I was born in the 70s. Baby scoop era where, where women were sent to baby homes to have their children, they were out of wedlock, they were shunned as women that were not to be seen in society because they were not married, they were unwed, and they were pregnant.

And so women were shunned and shamed. It's still happening today. Women are told, nope, you can't have this baby, especially if it's a young mother. Nope, we don't support you. Adoption. Right? And then we have a woman who doesn't want to relinquish her baby. She wants to keep her baby. And there's not enough resources.

However, there's a wonderful, wonderful organization called Saving Our Sisters, which helps mothers who are thinking about, or are in a position where they can't financially support. And that's the number one reason why women today relinquish babies, their babies is because they financially cannot support them.

And it's less than 1 percent of women today relinquish their babies. So this organization helps women keep your baby. You can parent your baby. You can, but they need support. So. If we think about our generation, I learned that my father was told when he signed the relinquishment surrender documents, he said, forget this ever happened, don't look back.

And that's exactly what he did. And he went into a state of denial and he stifled his grief process. He had tremendous shame. I know that uh, and he ended up rejecting me. He probably. It's just, what my understanding is, he has not had the support that he needs to understand his own process. He has to have empathy, just like your mother, for herself.

She has to forgive herself for what has happened, because a lot of birth parents also fear, and you're going to be surprised by this, that their own child will reject them, because they assume, they project. Because I rejected you, you're then going to reject me in return. And I'm so scared about how angry you're going to be with me, right?

Because we have a lot of feelings. And there's a lot of voices out there and we don't know who they're listening to, but if they hear one adoptee, you know, who says, I'm so angry at my birth parent, that's going to put them in a state of denial and protection and they're going to say, okay, I'm not going to look back.

I am not going to have reunion. It would be too painful for me. So the next core vulnerability is grief. We are all grieving. We have unresolved grief. And I believe we can grieve together. We need to be in a safe space. And that's why I'm a psychotherapist working in this field, because my. Goal and intention has always been to bring the constellation to get birth parents, foster parents, adoptive parents, adoptees, foster youth alumni who've been estranged from their families of origin.

We also include siblings. Significant others, spouses, partners, we all need to understand this experience together and support the adoptee and the birth parent in this experience. And so birth parents can hear from adoptees, adoptees can tell birth parents, this is what we need so they can, we project on each other and in a safe environment.

And I run an adoption constellation support group, which I've been doing that for years. Here in Los Angeles, which I believe is the mental health piece that we need to continue to work on. And for our parents, right? Your mother needs a support group. My father needs a support group. Who's going to hold their hand, help them because they're stuck in this grief process.

They're stuck in these seven core vulnerabilities. And there's more. There's three more. Identity. Because we. I've lost our genetic inheritance, that genetic mirroring of where did I get my nose from? Where did I get this talent from? We have genetic traits that we don't have a springboard of. Where did this come from?

Which in essence makes me who I am, right? I grew up, I was a great dancer. I was a performer and my parents were not. They supported my strength and allowed me to participate in dance. And they saw it was beneficial for me. And I went to college, studied acting. I even studied the theater and it wasn't until I learned at the age of 35, this was years later, that my mother, my birth mom, was a dancer in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

I was shocked because people always told me you're such a good dancer. But I didn't understand the talent. I didn't know where it came from. I just thought it happened to me if I knew it was a genetic inheritance, I would have pursued it. But I'm happy where I am today. Right? Right. This all came together.

But identity is a piece. Also intimacy is the next for a vulnerability. No, because we've been rejected, right? How could we possibly trust another person? Right? We will have rejection sensitivity. We'll do a push pull in relationships. I'll only bring you so close. I'll bring you close, but only so close, right?

There's trust. You need trust and safety to be intimate and have an intimate, authentic relationship. So that impacts birth parents. A lot of birth parents, after they relinquish a child, they don't have any more children. It's a high percentage, do not have more children. So to be intimate means you need to trust and it's very scary for a birth parent to, to trust that, will my child accept me or reject me for what I've done, right?

And then the last core vulnerability is mastery and control. And that's mastering all of these core vulnerabilities, understanding how they've impacted you in your life, being an adoptee, or birth parent, or adoptive parent, and feeling a sense of control, because all of these core vulnerabilities impact your sense, your internal sense, because it's traumatic.

This is a traumatic, abrupt experience to be uprooted. So I was thinking about this as you were speaking where are you in your rejection process with your father? It's a little story. When he rejected me at age 17, I then went and studied acting because interestingly enough, I didn't want to be me. It was easier for me to be other people, right?

So I put on a false self. I learned that through therapy. And so I acted for many years and then I pursued, sent him letters many occasions, got no response. And I then was living in New York city. He was living on East 10th street. I was living on West 30th street. I then decided, you know what, I, there was something, and I didn't really recognize this until about two years ago, why I left New York city because I love New York city.

It's where I was born and raised. Cause I didn't feel, it's like I felt I was abandoned and rejected over and over by my birth father who was only 20 blocks away. What am I doing here? I don't feel accepted in my own birth state. And I moved to Los Angeles. Now moving to Los Angeles, I then became involved in a theater company and wrote a play called What's Your Name, Who's Your Daddy?

And I performed that play. And in doing so, I realized how many children were in foster care here in Los Angeles. I was shocked. At the time, there were over 35, 000 children. I said, wow, I, I want to work with children. I'm an adult now. I want to help other kids make sense of their stories and what's happened to them.

So I became a psychotherapist. So in doing that. Becoming a therapist and I started Celia Center and I'm saying all of this because there there was a trajectory of things that happened in in this time beef when I moved to Los Angeles I Received a phone call that from my brother Saying we found our birth mother so he had put A website on the internet searching for Celia.

My aunt and uncle saw that they had searched her name at one point. Saw, oh my gosh, this is Celia's children. Because Celia, my birth mother, was mentally ill. She was living in a women's institution. Argentina at the time. I had reunion with her. Got to know her. Got to meet her. And that's when my brother and I decided.

Let's write our birth father again, because it had been years, and let him know we found her. And she's, you feel shell shocked, you feel, what do we do now, right? So, for the next few years, I let it just lay low, and I just focused on helping other people. I really just put myself in other people's shoes as a therapist, doing mental health conferences, helping educate our society about adoption.

And then my brother calls me again and says, you will not believe this, but I found an obituary of our grandfather, paternal grandfather. And in the obituary, there are names of family members. He found that we have two aunts, he had two sisters, and one of his sisters has two children, our age, who live in Los Angeles.

Oh, wow. So. He said, here's one of the, our cousin's website. So I go to the website. He says, you should write them and say who we are. So I did that. I said, I believe you are my first cousin through your mother. My birth father's sister received an email back within 24 hours. Oh my God. We never knew about you.

16. This was 2016. I was busy working all of those years. I had a child also. And we met and they said. Our mother does not know about it, so we need to tell her. And I said, can you bring me pictures of my birth father, because I've never seen a picture of him. We don't have this information. They showed me pictures, and just like you, there were many pictures of relationships with my cousins, with my birth father, and it was another loss, right?

It's a loss for us when we see our, we have reunion with our birth family members, and we see the relationship that they have formed with what we truly want. The same loving, valued relationship included uh, were accepted by our families of origin. It was very painful for me to see those photos. I wanted him to be at my graduation, right?

He was at her graduation. As the story goes. They told me he frequents a place in New York City. That was a no no. Because Yep. No, I hear ya. Once he told me where he was, and they told me, do not go there. And I looked at them, and I was a little, I said, I, I. I hear you, and I have every right to go there. This is my birth father.

This is my birth father. And so it caused strain in our relationship, but then I ended up meeting my aunt, who said to me, if I knew about you and your brother, I would have stepped in and taken care of you. Which was very hard to hear, and we were all grieving and crying about that loss. She, she went to New York to tell my birth father she had met me.

He was in denial

and it scared him, shocked him. And he didn't want to talk because he had kept the secret his whole life. Here is his sister saying, how come you didn't tell us? Yeah, that's a loss for her too. She, she missed out knowing you. Yeah, exactly. So then. Two years later, this is 2018, I decide I'm actually in New Jersey at an adoption conference.

And I had two hours to kill because I was in between the conference and I was actually going to the Broadway show, The Father, that evening, which is so ironic. Oh, wow. I know, so ironic. So I decided to go to the restaurant. It's a restaurant bar, Frequent's. And he's there. I walk in. Wow. Because I knew his picture.

And I actually called my brother and I said, I'm, I'm doing it. I'm going in there. He says, okay, okay. Keep me on call. Oh. And the first thing my brother said was, don't go right up to him. Go and sit somewhere and watch and observe him first, because what did he say to me? He might reject you, right? Right away.

So he was protecting me. So I went all the way to the back of the restaurant. And started, right, doing my FBI investigation and observing. You and I are similar. I would have done the same thing. You want to know who is this person, right? Yeah. We're all human. How does he behave? Do we have any genetic traits that are similar?

Does he talk? Does he move? Does he use gestures the same? That was... Really profound. And then after about 30 minutes, I said, I'm going to, I just need to, right? Because here's what happened for me and people, everybody's trying to protect us, right? Oh, don't go. Right, right, right. I said, no, I'm going for me. I am affirming and validating me, whether he rejects me or not.

I have a right to walk up to him and say, I'm valued. I'm worthy. And I want you to see who I am. I don't need your validation. But you need to know who I am. And that I'm okay. I'm a good person. You don't need to know my whole life story. However, let's have respect for each other. I, and if there's any birth parents listening, have responsibility to just say hi.

Yes, this happened. Acknowledge the life altering event. That happened for both of us. It's a lifelong process. So when I walked up to him and I looked just like my brother. Wow. Identical. And so I walked up to him and he had actually walked down the bar, turned to two people. I was behind him. And the two people looked and said, Oh, there's somebody here who wants to say hello to you.

And he turned around and it was like he saw a ghost. His whole face went white. I mean, I was. Hitting rewind, right? And then hitting play. So he completely regressed in that moment. I look like a ghost to him. What I did was fascinating because I didn't know what I was going to do in these moments. You don't know what, but I knew my intention was just be friendly, appear as a friend, show up with respect.

And that was my intention. And I said, my father's name, I said, It's me. It's Jeanette. And I had to like, pat myself, like, I'm really here. I'm a human. I exist. I'm alive. Right? You may have killed me in your own mind, right, by rejecting me, shutting me down, but I'm still here, right? So I said, I just want to sit and have a drink with you.

Can, can I just say hello? It's been a long time because there's people are looking at us. So I made it seem like we were old friends. And he said, okay, and then he walked and went to the restroom and I literally sat right in the seat next to where he was sitting. We had a conversation. He wouldn't look at me.

He couldn't look. And here's the thing with trauma. It's not that we won't behave. It's we can't behave. Because we don't have the right coping skills, we don't know how to handle very difficult emotional, psychological situations. You know, this was somewhat traumatic for him. Yes, did I show up abruptly?

I did. I did. Right. But I needed to do it for me. It's part of my healing process. And then I did ask him, do you have my original birth certificate? I educated him a little bit that when you're adopted, cause this was before New York opened records and he said I think so. I think it's in the vault and I went to the vault and he says, yeah, I have things in a vault.

And so he actually ended up sending me my original birth certificate. Oh. Photos. The first photo I have of my birth father and birth father in the same photo. Never had that. Hmm. And a baby picture of me that I'd never seen before. So uh, answering the question, since then, he picked up the phone once when I called him three days later and said, Oh, I just want to make sure, can you send it by FedEx because this is really important information.

He goes, Oh yeah, sure. No problem. Click. Very stoic, non emotional. And then my adoptive mother died of cancer.

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