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Hidden Roots: The Emotional Odyssey of Adoption
Episode 8613th February 2024 • Family Twist • Corey and Kendall Stulce
00:00:00 00:42:31

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In this soulful episode of the Family Twist podcast, we are joined by Janeen, a vibrant soul who embarked on an unexpected journey into her past, unraveling secrets that would forever change her understanding of identity, family and belonging. Following the death of her father, Janeen, along with her brother Jermaine, delved into building a family tree. Their quest for connection led to DNA tests, revealing a truth hidden for decades: Janeen was adopted. This discovery catapulted her into a whirlwind of emotions and revelations, including her mixed racial heritage and a vast, unknown family waiting to embrace her.

Hidden Roots: The Emotional Odyssey of Adoption

Episode Highlights:

The Spark of Curiosity: Janeen's story begins with the loss of her father and a desire to connect more deeply with her roots, inspiring her and her brother to explore their family history.

A DNA Test's Unexpected Turn: What started as an exciting exploration took a dramatic twist when Janeen's DNA test results uncovered her adoption, a fact unknown to her and her siblings.

Revelations and Emotional Turmoil: Janeen shares the emotional rollercoaster of discovering her adoption, mixed racial heritage, and the existence of biological parents and family members previously unknown.

The Search for Truth: Determined to understand her origins, Janeen reaches out to the adoption agency, leading to a series of revelations about her birth, foster care, and the loving intentions behind her adoption.

Building New Bridges: Janeen narrates her poignant experiences of connecting with her biological family, including her parents and siblings, and the profound impact of these newfound relationships on her identity and worldview.

The Power of Storytelling: Inspired by her journey and as a means to explain adoption to her children, Janeen authors a children's book, "Hello Sweet Baby," exploring themes of adoption, family diversity, and acceptance.

Healing Through Therapy: Janeen emphasizes the importance of therapy in navigating the complex emotions and challenges that arose from her discoveries, advocating for mental health and the power of professional support.

Closing Reflections:

Janeen's journey is a profound reminder of the intricate tapestries that compose our identities and the strength found in embracing our truths. Her story not only highlights the complexities of adoption and the search for belonging but also celebrates the resilience of the human spirit in the face of unexpected revelations. Through her courage to confront the unknown, Janeen has forged new connections, redefined family bonds, and inspired others with her vulnerability and strength.

Guest bio: Janeen Jackson received her B.A. from Norfolk State University and completed her Master’s in Education Leadership and Change in 2020 from Antioch University, Los Angeles. She has over 25 years combined experience in art and design, and equity and justice and education Currently, she works at Oakton College as an Equity Coordinator for Black student success.

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Transcripts

[:

Kendall and Corey: but, uh, thank you so much for, uh, writing.

Hello, sweet baby.

Janeen: Thank you for reading it. And thank you for asking me to talk to you all about it.

Kendall and Corey: Yeah. So before we get into the book, and I definitely want to talk about it because I just reread it today and it's a beautiful story. Um, but can we talk about your adoption journey and discovery first?

Janeen: Absolutely. So:

And so we got our whole family involved and we were finding all kinds of wonderful family members. And then later that year, December of that year, my brother was gifted a DNA test and he decided to take it and we found even more [00:01:00] family members. And then I got excited and I said. Why don't I buy it, you know, and see, you know, unlock some mysteries.

And, um, and actually when I took the test and it came back, came back inconclusive. And so I, yeah, I was said, what is going on? It was on sale. So I said, Oh, you know what? That's why it was on sale. They probably have some bad tests.

Kendall and Corey: You got the generic version or something?

Janeen: one, I got the one that's been in the warehouse, you know, 30, for 30 years.

And so, I put it on, uh, they sent me another one, and I put it on the shelf. And I just waited. I said, you know what? It's not that important to me anyway. And then, um, I looked and I said, well what if this one expires? This was a couple months later. And I said, let me just take this and get it out of the way.

Um, I started noticing some [:

And I started. Noticing that it was connecting me to different people that kind of look like me, but I wasn't familiar with them and that and then very, very long story short. Um, I found out that I was adopted in 24 hours

Kendall and Corey: Wow.

Janeen: yes, yes. And, you know, unfortunately, not through, um, my mother, who's. Is still living, but through one of the family members that I was connected to reached out to me later that day and basically told me.

um, here I am almost, gosh, [:

Kendall and Corey: the one that you were just talking about, did he know you were adopted?

Janeen: My brothers, um, my cousins, um, no one knew none of my cousin, my first cousins and my brothers knew my aunts and uncles knew, but you know, no one on my

generation level. Um, when I was told I was adopted, I was given the adoption agency information and I said, all right, I'm not adopted, but these people clearly miss this little girl they're talking about.

ast coast, from the DC area. [:

Kendall and Corey: Right.

Janeen: but yet my, my, my middle brother, we're only two years apart. And at the time I owned my own photography studio. And one of the things I did was take newborn photos. Well, I'm thinking, you know, technology is not that slow,

Right.

Kendall and Corey: Right.

Janeen: I remember calling the adoption agency and the case manager kind of chuckled to herself. She said, I was wondering when you were going to call me.

And, um, or if. If I ever was gonna call, and I'm thinking, wow, these are some pretty sophisticated scammers.

call me back in a couple of [:

I was like, ha ha, they're onto me. They don't know that I'm onto them. Right. But I remember asking, you know, how long has this adoption agency been around? And she said it was like the late 1800s. And I'm like, ooh,

Kendall and Corey: Wow.

Janeen: I was not expecting that. They're kind of smart.

Kendall and Corey: Mm hmm.

Janeen: And here I am the whole time thinking I'm like Inspector Gadget and I'm on this.

And, um, and I wasn't. And so when they called me back and they confirmed, Uh, the information and told me that I was adopted, I was just in complete shock. And then I was told I was adopted, I believe it was May and I really started to panic and I said, wait, May, is that my birth date? Because I was told I was born in March.

s. And so. Um, she says, no, [:

And she says, well, yes, it is. Um, Janine. Your birth father is white and I said, what are you talking about? I said, both of my parents are African American. My father's fair. Almost everybody on his side of the family is really fair. I kind of look like them. And she's like, your parents, um, your birth mother is black and your birth father is, is mixed race.

So in 24 hours, I find out that I'm adopted in foster care and mixed race.

Kendall and Corey: Wow.

t I knew about my foundation [:

Kendall and Corey: Mm.

Janeen: um, and I emotionally crumbled for a quick second. And then somehow I felt strong, I think because I had not known, I thought I was living my life at a hundred percent and I realized I wasn't because one little piece was missing and I, even though I was shocked, I felt stronger.

I'm really dating myself here, stronger, faster, like the six million dollar man.

Kendall and Corey: Right.

Janeen: And I, I called my husband, told him what was going on and, and then he encouraged me to call my mom and to be very matter of fact. And so I called her and I was, I was like, Hey mom, how are ya? She's like, I'm, I'm, I'm doing pretty good.

nfirm that or not. Because I [:

And when she told me that, well first she said, who told you that? And I told her the Children's Society of Princeton, New Jersey. And that's when she went into the whole, oh, what had happened was, And that's when I broke down and I cried. And it wasn't because I was adopted, it wasn't because I was mixed race, I wasn't because I was in foster care, it was more because I knew nothing about my birth story or I thought I

did

Kendall and Corey: Mm hmm.

Janeen: and so Yeah, and here I am now.

Yeah

Kendall and Corey: I mean. did you ask why it was kept a secret for so long? No.

obably told she couldn't get [:

Except, my mother was told she couldn't get pregnant. They had just moved to New Jersey. They really wanted to share their lives with a baby. My parents, because there weren't computers back then, they found me in a newspaper article.

Kendall and Corey: Wow.

Janeen: the adoption agency had put an ad out for black and mixed race babies because it was really hard to find homes for them.

that we are one of the most [:

Um, you know, today, but, um, so my parents found me in a newspaper article and they, and um, then after my mom and dad adopted me. My mom becomes pregnant with my brothers.

Kendall and Corey: Hmm.

Janeen: So when I asked, when I started talking to my mom about my adoption and I said, so that means Jermaine and Jamar are adopted too, right?

And she goes, oh, you know, um, you know how we used to call you Lucky Charm? I said, yeah. She's like, well, it's because I got pregnant after and I felt even more crushed because my brothers and I, this bond that we have, we still have the bond, but it's It's just a little different now. It's the same, but the story is different.

Again, for me, I was 46 at the time when I found out, so it was all about the story.

Kendall and Corey: Mm hmm.

want me to know because, um, [:

than my brothers.

And, you know, I laugh and joke about that now, but, um, yeah, that, that is, that is why

Kendall and Corey: Had they talked about at some point, you know, once you're an adult, you know, or was, but then was it like, oh boy, we've kept this secret for so long, we can't, we can't tell her now.

Janeen: they've thought about it numerous times and telling me, and my mom said, they've just, it just never seemed to be the right time. And, you know, I actually know families who have children who are adopted, who in the children don't know.

Kendall and Corey: Hmm.

world in a quote unquote non [:

Um, or, you know, my friend got pregnant. Um, before she met her, her boyfriend, who's now her husband. And so they were just going to say, all right, he's, he's the dad. And so, um, I hear a lot, there's just not the right time. And I remember when I found out I had my friends come to me and they were like, Oh my gosh, Janine, I don't know what to do.

What should I do? It's just not a right time. And I said, you have to remember, it's not about you.

That it's about your children, you have to take you out of it and your insecurities and your experiences and your ideals out and make it about the child. and I've also said the longer you wait, the more damage there's going to be because I then hear, well, I don't want my child to leave me.

I was like, well, as the years go by, you have a greater chance of that

happening.

Kendall and Corey: Mm hmm. Hmm.

ys had trust issues my whole [:

Every Wednesday, I don't care what I'm doing, if I'm driving, I pull over to the side of the road, and I'm not joking, I, you know, go to therapy to work on that, and understanding, uh, uh, trust, and helping me to open to that a lot more, so. But I have a wonderful relationship with my mom, um, now, in fact, it's so much better than it was before.

her zipper. And now she can [:

Kendall and Corey: Yeah. Right. Yes. Well, what a, what a weight to be lifted from her, you know, after that many years. Yes. Um.

Janeen: And I'm really sad that my father, um, was it here to see the manifestation of the book and my story and how I'm still here. I, that I didn't leave them. I, I, you know, that I'm okay because I have family members that are adopted and B and it's because they were inspired by what my mom and dad did.

And so I wish that they had seen that as, um, something positive and not something negative.

Kendall and Corey: Right. Have you connected with any of your biological family?

know that I'm asking a lot, [:

And I, I hired a film person and a photographer and, uh, I got a gallery space in Santa Monica that was blank wall and it came in and I met them and it was. It's strange to me that I see these two people that are looking at me or calling me their daughter. And to get through that, I was pretending that I was a talk show host saying, all right, they think that I'm their daughter.

e me. He was. I think he was [:

again, she was in high school. I think she was 17. So then there were some secrets or mixed stories. So I answered a lot of questions for them. they are, especially my birth father, is quite active in my life. I met his kids, my siblings, the one who gave me the information, um, my cousins.

I have a maternal grandmother who will be turning a hundred and three this month, actually. Yes, um, I got to meet my birth I mean paternal grandmother, um, as she was dying. And I found out that she snuck off in the middle of the night when I was born to hold

me.

Kendall and Corey: Oh,

oo dramatic, but there I was [:

I'll be honest, every time when I talk about this, it feels like I'm talking about some really cool TV show and not my life because this is

not the life that I

Kendall and Corey: friend, um, says I, I say this way too much, but I mean, just goosebumps are just full. I mean, I'm covered in goosebumps right now. Yeah. Wow. Yeah. That's

amazing. That's amazing.

Janeen: Yeah, one thing I do want to say really quickly, um, that my husband found really interesting is the nature versus nurture. everything that my birth parents are, from talents to occupations, I've either done or am currently doing. I was a classically trained pianist. My paternal father was a classically trained

pianist and taught lessons.

nd activism. My birth father [:

She, she's a jazz musician

Kendall and Corey: Wow.

Janeen: and her, let me rewind on that one. Her Grammy award was for singing on, on Bon Jovi's album as a backup singer. And so, um, And there were other really strange things. Like my parents used to be a part of this club that would go up to the Cape May Jazz Festival every year. They don't know my birth parents.

They never, because it was a sealed adoption. Well, my birth mother was an opener for the Cape May Jazz Festival. So, my parents heard my birth mother sing. neither of them knew who each other were.

Kendall and Corey: Right.

: It was these really strange[:

Kendall and Corey: Yeah.

Janeen: coincidences.

Kendall and Corey: Yeah.

That's so

cool. When you brought your birth parents together, how long had it been since they had seen each other?

Janeen: I think, I think they said it had been like 12 years.

Kendall and Corey: Oh,

Janeen: Yeah, I mean they've seen each other, so myMy birth mother's mother helped raise my birth father. They live in a really tiny town so during the day he would go over to their house and hang out with them.

his parents were, I guess you could say, were kind of like, um, very bohemian beatniks And they had a very free lifestyle. And so her family provided him a lot of stability. her family basically raised him, gave him his first job, spent the summer together.

[:

Kendall and Corey: Wow.

Janeen: you know, they, they, they kind of grew up as a family.

Oh,

Kendall and Corey: Yeah. Wow.

Janeen: oh, oh. And so, oh, what I was saying about nature versus nurture was that my parents, the Jacksons, they saw all of these talents that I had and they nurtured them. they knew I could sing. They knew I could paint. They knew I could draw. They knew I was musically inclined and they fostered that. And little did they know that.

These were the talents that were given by my birth parents. I've definitely learned a huge lesson or understanding about nature and, and nurture. It was so strange. Absolutely.

Right. Absolutely.

can see things that I never [:

yeah. And it's, but you know, when I think about my upbringing with my adoptive parents, I just joke with Corey all the time. I like.

I'll just quote my, you know, adoptive father constantly. You know what I mean? Like their influence is undeniable, you know, I definitely feel like I've grown to be more like my adoptive parents than my birth parents. But I think that's just, you know, your environment, right? is part of your healing journey, which is that what inspired the book?

Mm

at to them. And I was having [:

so I decided to tell my kids and My oldest who was in fifth grade at the time, so he was either 10 or 11 He actually was very angry and I think it's because Well, I know what it's because I, because I actually recorded his reaction. At the time we had number 45 in the White House. And so our world was in a lot of chaos and my son had been born and only known number 44 his whole life.

And so now that he knew that we were biologically related to white people, he wanted to know Why we were related to a group of people who hated us so

much.

Kendall and Corey: Oh.

had to talk to him about the [:

love loves no color. Um, there are black people that don't like black people and Hispanics and whites and Asians and so on and so forth and same with white people. And I had to quickly come up with an idea and I said, you know, you need to understand that not only are we related to white people, I said, but we are related to a special group of white people.

Kendall and Corey: Mm-Hmm.

Janeen: said, just like black American slaves and Jews, I said, the struggles that we went through were tremendous. And, um, I'm trying not to get teary, but I said, but we are the hopes and dreams and the prayer of, of two beautiful groups of people. So that as we move forward in life, we hold our heads up high.

we are from great people. So [:

I remember he was five years old, picking him up after school. And I said, I have something to tell you. Do you know what adoption is? And he's like, yeah, like adopting a puppy. We're going to adopt a puppy. No, no, no, no, no, no, no,

no, no. And I started explaining, what'd you say?

Kendall and Corey: Good try.

Janeen: I know. And I said, um, no, and I explained adoption to him.

He goes, Oh yeah, yeah, yeah. We did a school unit on adoption, different types of families. And I explained to him that I'm part of a different type of family. And I started explaining this to him and he just kept saying, what the heck? What the heck? Who's mommy? Who's daddy? What's happening? I don't understand.

w you're always asking me or [:

And he's like, mommy, I don't understand. Cause he started asking me now, my son is very Brown. And he said, well. Then that means I'm white too, right? And I'm like, well, no. Um, but he's, but you're saying that my birth father is, my birth grandfather is white. And I'm like, yes. And I, I was frustrated. Again, another hiccup or another obstacle in my story.

omato that had fallen on the [:

My birth mother is the red one, just like the rest of the red tomatoes, which are like Grammy and Papa. And that little tiny one at the bottom. is me. And with the help of a really trusty ladybug who's the adoption agent, she's gonna help her find a forever home. And he goes, Oh, I said, we're all tomatoes, but we just look a little different.

And I And so when he wasn't looking, I took the tomato and I threw it over to the vine, other vine. And when he came back the next day, he goes, mommy, that tomato is just like you. It got adopted. And I'm like boohooing. And I was like, yes. And then the pandemic hits. We're sitting in our stuff and something inside me said you should write this story for Tyson and Phoenix.

ld be something really great [:

Right.

Kendall and Corey: That's fantastic. Wow. Well, I want, we're going to mention Brittany's name as the person who did the illustrations,

which are fantastic.

That's so cool. Wow. I mean, what, what a remark. This is, you know, yeah.

t it, so I encourage you to, [:

Yeah.

Janeen: you know, talking about being pushed out of your comfort zone, never in a million years did I think that spitting in a tube would cause, you know,

all of that. And in my blog, I talk about chain reactions. You know, one action creates such a huge train reaction. Cause I'll be honest, if my father was still alive, I still don't believe I would know that I was adopted.

Kendall and Corey: Wow.

Janeen: Yeah, my mother told me she was gonna tell me, but when she got really, really, really, really sick, and I said, what? And then flatline and then leave

me?

I'm like, what's going on? And I'm such a nerd and I said, I said, Even Luke Skywalker's dad, the darkest lord of all the universe, told him who his father is.

r mind. I was like, if Darth [:

I love communicating through images and pictures. I'm deeply insecure. I'm unsure about the decisions that I'm making in my life. why do I always feel like I'm off? Well, it's because. Of my insecurities and my inability to speak or write. once I found out that I was adopted and I learned about my birth parents and, and as I was saying, that one piece of brick was added to my life, I was like, you know what?

of visually communicating, I [:

book,

Kendall and Corey: Oh, wow.

Janeen: but, um, I was like, I got this, but I have to also give myself a lot of grace.

next month. I will be 52. I want to move faster, but I'm only, I'm still a toddler in this whole journey. And so I have to give myself a lot of grace. that's what I'm working on a lot. Trust and grace. when I thought I was about to get ready for retirement and things, things I'm like, Nope, not really.

I got a lot more to do.

I, cause there's a theme with:

It's like, oh, you know, when I'm now with my local half brother and I see like similarities between us, it's just fantastic. It's something as somebody who always knew he was adopted. I never, it's just great. Expected to ever have, you know,

um, I wasn't raised with siblings of any kind. And so until, you know, I was a teenager, my father married my stepmother, I got a step sister, but I mean, that was so blatantly obvious that she and I didn't need to be similar.

Um, but, and weren't in any stretch of the imagination, but, there is something that's just magical about finding your biological family and, you know, getting to know them and it, it's been amazing for, for me. So, Oh,

dopted the whole time. And I [:

They don't have a relationship with their birth parents, or they might have relationship with one or the birth or one of the birth parents doesn't want to ever see the child or, um, the siblings think that, you know, the. That that person wants to take something from that family. And, um, my birth father's family celebrated my birthday every year. And so I am like, wow, that actually was a bit overwhelming to know that a group of people that I didn't even know existed was celebrating me. At the time, as each year was going by for [00:33:00] me in my teenage years, I'm thinking, Oh, what is life, you know, so I'm older, but yet a group of people were cheering me on and hoping they knew about me.

so that part is very. strange to me and I've had a hard time and still a little bit having a hard time accepting all of these people in my life because I do feel as though, um, I don't want the rest of my family to think that I'm rejecting them. Right. and because it was a secret, like all of my aunts and uncles, they were like, Oh my gosh, I'm so happy, you know, now it wasn't, it wasn't our duty to tell you, we made a promise to your parents.

ith my birth father is a bit [:

I'm having a hard time pushing away. In addition to that, my birth father is polar opposite of my dad. My dad was this big, round, burly guy. Big gym, big things, big life. My birth father, Sam, is a six foot something, really thin, 125 pound, kind of Appalachia. country kind of guy who's very quirky and creative.

d of look like David This is [:

And it's hard for me, it's exciting, but also hard for me to, kind of retrain my brain and learn and accept that, but. I am so abundantly blessed that both of my birth parents want me in their lives, the cousins want me in their lives, the grandparents want me in their lives, and they are all allowing me the space to navigate in a way that I want, which is even better.

when they, when things like [:

Janeen: It is, it is. I didn't want to go to therapy at all. My first, I don't remember a year, maybe a couple months. I didn't want to go. I, cause I didn't want to feel anything anymore. It

hurt.

The betrayal, the confusion, these people who are longing for me, it was way too much. But then I started developing disorders.

I developed an eating disorder where I was sleep eating. I was getting sick all of the time. I was starting to get things like hand, foot and mouth as an adult, right? These toddler diseases and ailments. I got shingles all over my face. Um, I. Gains an astronomical amount of weight. I gained like I think it was 20 pounds in like two months.

running all these tests and.[:

high. That's why I kept getting sick, and so then I told him about my story, and he says, Janine, there's nothing we can give you to make you feel better. You have to stop taking the medication. He's like, you're getting sick because the stress is breaking your body down. And then I started crumbling and crying.

Right. And so I went into a, I didn't even know this existed at the time. I went to triage therapy. It's like TSD therapy for three months and you stay for three months. Um, until they could kind of get me even until I could stop being sick. And, um, and then after I finished doing that mental therapy, I was able to find a therapist, she's a family therapist, but she also has an adoption arm because she adopted.

could you adopt me, please? [:

She's even helped me. There are days where I'm like, I'm not saying a word to you. I'm not saying anything to you. And I hold up words to the camera, you know, to talk to her. And she's like, you can write all you want, but you know, you're healing that way too. And then I'm like. Right. Forget you. And then, you know, I hold it up and, she re she's amazing.

And I strongly recommend, um, therapy, whether you believe in it or not. Cause I always say you have nothing to lose. You're losing already. So why don't you just give it a try? So, um, yes, yes, yes. Therapy, Therapy, therapy,

gonna do all we can to, uh, [:

Janeen: Yes, I'm going to give the name again, Hello Sweet Baby, An Adoption Journey, by me, Janine Jackson, and my amazing illustrator, Brittany Gaja. One thing I do want to tell people that when they, before reading the book, please read the author note. Do not go jumping right into the story. because I got some reviews where people were like, I don't like the language she used.

I don't like the fact that she's saying she'll never fit in. You should never use those words when adopting. But if they read the author's note, it explains why I use that language and that this is an interpretation of my journey and that I do understand that everybody's adoption journey is different.

And, um, and then on the last page, I have things to consider. So it helps break the ice to people and my friends, if they are listening on how they can talk to their children about how their child came into their life.

Kendall and Corey: [:

Janeen: So I really hope I really strongly recommend that they read those two

sections.

Kendall and Corey: Absolutely. Yeah. Wonderful. Very good. All right, well, thanks again. We really,

Janeen: Thank you

Kendall and Corey: we want to check back in with you and see how, you know, how the, uh, the book progresses,

Janeen: I just finished book two And that story is about Hello, sweet, baby. She becomes a sister

and what does that mean and why because in this book on the last page spoiler alert in So the vine of the family that adopts Hello Sweet Baby, there's a flower that appears. Well, that's her brother Jermaine that's coming into the picture.

And so book two is about why is everybody making this big deal? Because she was on that vine too. And that's when her parents tell her she was adopted. Hello Sweet Baby part two is hopefully be coming out, hopefully in the fall or spring of

next year.

ool. Awesome. Awesome. Cool. [:

Janeen: Definitely.

Kendall and Corey: very good. Well, thanks again, Janine and, uh, have a good afternoon.

Janeen: Thank you. My

pleasure.

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