Difficult, Important Decisions

Life is what happens. Today’s story.

We have had custody of my great nephew since he was 4months, adopted at 4 years. He is now 7. His mom (my niece) comes in and out of our lives and they have a good, but not always consistent, relationship. This week she has been in a horrific car accident and has significant injuries. Currently she is alive but critical. Her partner died.

My question specifically for adoptees. Would you have wanted to see your mother in the hospital like this? My wife thinks it would be too traumatic and upsetting for him. I think he is old enough to remember her and (though I agree would likely be traumatic) would regret not having a chance to see her. We hope this isn’t goodbye but it is very unstable and I want to make a decision before we no longer have a choice.

Reality – You need to tell him, brace him for how bad it is AND TAKE HIM. HE MAY BE WHAT GIVES HER THE FIGHT TO COME THROUGH THIS.

On the other hand – let him make the decision. It is HIS life. HOWEVER, if she is mangled, disfigured and doesn’t look recognizable to the person he knows, then I would caution against it or wait for an open casket. That way she can still look like the person he knows. As an adoptee, I wouldn’t want to see a disfigured/unrecognizable version of her. I’d want to remember her as she was in my life. There’s no need to add more trauma to his history.

A trusted voice affirms – you know the right answer. Tell him what happened and that you will take him to his mother immediately. Yes, it will be upsetting, but you can’t rewind life. If she passes, regret and guilt can be even harder. Just before you get there, prep him for what to expect – machines, wires etc.

An adoptee adds – There are no do-overs in life, only I wish I hads… do not over protect them both to the point of not allowing him to live his own truth, bear his own sadness and deal with grief in whatever way he must, but also to have whatever memory he could have, so that he has proper closure, if that indeed is what happens in the end.

And I didn’t know about these support persons but glad I do now – LINK>Certified Child Life Specialists are educated and clinically trained in the developmental impact of illness and injury. Their role helps improve patient and family care, satisfaction, and overall experience.

From direct life experience – I lost my mom at age 7, due to injuries she suffered in a car accident. That resulted in my being raised under legal guardianship. I still would have given anything to have been able to see her/say goodbye.

Goodbye Again

Candace Cahill lost her son Michael twice, first to adoption and the second time when he died at age 23. The story follows Cahill from the moment she makes the decision to give birth to her baby, to her tortuous decision to relinquish him to adoption, through the subsequent years of doubt and yearning, to their reunion, and finally, to his heart-wrenching, untimely death. It is an intimate story of child relinquishment and child loss as well as a sensitive and intelligent exploration of motherhood and forgiveness. Today’s blog is thanks to LINK>an interview of Candace by Michèle Dawson Haber for Hippocampus Magazine.

As a writer, trying to get my own family’s story told, her insights into the publishing experience are informative. I know about the need for a cliff hanger at the end of each chapter to keep the reader wanting to read more. Candace says “I wanted readers to feel as if I was sitting next to them telling the story. It was about finding the right balance between exposition and scene.” Writing is harder work than I once believed. She also made an interesting choice for her narrative arc – “I originally opened the book with the scene when I hear Michael has died, and then I interspersed my pregnancy and his childhood. It worked, but not as well as when I arranged the events chronologically. I’m much happier with this structure; it feels more intuitive.”

Michele notes – Your story about . . . one first mother’s experience of adoption from pregnancy, relinquishment, years of no contact, and then reunion, is an important contribution to the discourse on the impact of adoption. To which, Candace noted – until recently, stories from the point of view of a member of the first family have been mostly non-existent. In sitting down to write it, her only thought was, “I’m just writing my story for me, it’s not going to be published. It was only when I got about halfway into it that I realized it should be out there, because it is a story you just don’t hear.”

In this blog, I do advocate for family preservation, even though I would not even exist if there had not been the adoption of both of my parents. Michele says “There are many who believe that adoption should be abolished altogether. These advocates say that the effort and resources that are put into adoption should be redirected to family preservation.” Candace realizes that “My story puts me on both sides of that issue. It could be used by an abolitionist, and it could be used by adoption proponents as well. Writing my story has helped me come to see that two things can be true at one time. I don’t believe that we are ever going to get to a place where adoption isn’t needed at some point. There will be times when the natural parents are incapable, unavailable, pass away, or whatever it may be, and there are no other kin that can step in. But we do need to make much more of an effort at family preservation, or at the very least, we need to quit stealing children’s identities.”

Michele notes – “only after reading your book did I consider that a first mother might also undergo an identity crisis. Do you mind telling me what you discovered about your own identity over this period?” Candace replies – “My biggest struggle was recognizing that I was a mother. That, despite the fact that I relinquished my child, I still was a mother. I’m not a parent—I was never a parent. But I am a mother.” As a mother who really didn’t raise my own daughter beyond the age of 3, I understand this perspective.

Candace says I “started querying agents in February 2021.” Then she mentions, Legacy Book Press. She thought it was perfect because they only do legacy stories. That is when she decided to skip the agent thing and go straight to publishers. She says that “Legacy accepted right away, and I decided to move forward.” In the interview, I learn that Candace had training as a social worker. I have great respect for the field because my beloved, decease mother-in-law was a member of that profession. She says that the field – encompasses empathy, the ability to recognize and see other people – and I would say from my own experience that was very much true of my mother-in-law.

Candace expresses her intention this way – I am using my memoir as a case study to develop a curriculum that can be used in social work departments and as continuing education materials for adoption professionals. I also hope to help adoptive parents and hopeful adoptive parents learn to be more open regarding everything related to adoption, but especially in talking with their adopted children openly and honestly. Michele ends her interview acknowledging how that – “work is so necessary to help transform understanding of the impact of adoption and forge a path toward systemic change.” 

When It Feels Like No One Cares

A birth mother story about what it is like when the entire deck is stacked against you.

I placed my daughter for adoption back in 2017 when I didn’t have custody of my 3 older kids. I was homeless, depressed and struggling. The adoption process was very traumatic for me. Although my daughter is very loved and happy, I wish I would have been encouraged or supported to keep her.

I got my life back together and fought my family for custody. I have my older two children back in my care but my third child is with a different family member. I had been doing much better in life, until …

I had just moved into a big house the couple weeks before I found out I was pregnant, was working, making great money. And then I found out I was pregnant. Everything has gone downhill from there. I have severe morning sickness – so severe that it’s classified as hyperemesis gravidarum. I was constantly in and out of the hospital, so I quickly fell behind on bills and the baby’s dad became obsessed with a stripper and left us at the time we moved into the house. I wound up losing my job due to missing so much work and was facing eviction.

The baby’s dad stepped in to try and work things out. We were all staying in a motel. I don’t make nearly the money I did at my job doing side gigs and he makes minimum wage. The cheapest motels around here cost about $2,000/month. Realizing we didn’t really have many options, we decided to sign on with an adoption agency that would pay our motel expenses. He was there for me when I gave up my daughter for adoption, even though he is not her birth father. We viewed this decision as staying strong and doing it for the baby.

I am getting closer to my due date. I can’t help but to feel like I’m only choosing to do this as we are technically homeless. We have no plan or anywhere to go after this baby is born. Does this mean I’m not good enough to parent my other children, if I can’t take care of this one? I haven’t told them about the adoption because I don’t know how to explain “I want this baby to have a better life than the crappy one I can provide for you guys.”

I feel like not only does nobody care about this baby, nobody cares about what’s going to happen to my other kids either… it’s so depressing. I don’t know what to do/where to turn anymore. I started using hard substances a couple months after I placed my daughter for adoption to numb that hole in my heart. Deep down I fear if I go through this again, I’m going to want to go back to numbing that pain, except I probably won’t survive it this time around. I have no family, not many friends, no support. Baby’s father and I are on better terms now but it’s not the way I pictured any of this unfolding, especially when my life was going so well before this pregnancy.

A Never Baby Person Parented

Kelsey Graham with baby daughter

I’m a family preservation, never adopt out if one can help it, person and so I really liked this story in the LINK>Huffington Post – “What It’s Like To Be The ‘Young Mom’.”

Kelsey admits – “I was never a baby person. Growing up, when family members would have kids, I stood back, adoring the baby from afar, but passing on chances to hold it. I never babysat beyond watching my younger brother. And while it’s true what they say — when it’s your child, it’s different — it was still overwhelming being responsible for another life when I was just starting to lay the foundation for my own.”

She was in her sophomore year of college when she got pregnant and was 20 when she had her baby. I can relate. I was 19 when I had my daughter. My pregnancy was deliberate as I was married and all of our “married” friends also had young children and so, I didn’t see any reason to wait. Really, I was still a child when my daughter was young. My marriage didn’t last and unlike the author of this story, I didn’t go on to college until much later when I picked up a few hours but never graduated.

Happily, for Kelsey – she is still with her then boyfriend and now father of her daughter. With a strong support system from her family, her boyfriend, and his family, she was able to finish her degree. At 27, she was fortunate enough to return to school to earn her master’s degree. During that time, she worked in the Graduate School Office as an assistant with other students ranging in age from 20-year-olds who had just graduated with their bachelor’s to others in their 30s. She says, “It was nice to be around people closer to my age and, even more, to be back in the school setting I loved and where I felt like I belonged.”

Often feeling like she didn’t fit in, which she describes in quite a bit of detail in her op-ed, she realized that women are judged for whatever choices they make, especially if they deviate from the very narrow idea of what’s “normal.” I also understand this from my own personal experiences but thankfully, I do have friends who seem to understand my unconventional life experiences are what make me – “me”.

I do know that I have always been living my life as best I could. I know my experiences matter just as much as those who have trod more conventional paths. I am glad for my Facebook friends today. I realize these woman include all the women who have also taken the path less traveled. It’s comforting. The author notes – “Being a young mom is what brought her to me, and I’ll always feel lucky for that.” Yes, I can say the same about my own daughter – despite the bumps on our own journey together, when I could not financially support the two of us and didn’t have the kind of family support the author had on her own journey, I was no longer married to my daughter’s father and he didn’t believe in paying child support nor did I want to fight him for it.

Kelsey is a Copywriter and Freelance Writer. You can find her at LinkedIn here – https://www.linkedin.com/in/grahamkelsey/.

Bravelove

I had not heard of this site before today. Bravelove is a Pro-Adoption Movement. They say that their mission is – “We understand that adoption is not for everyone. Ideally, no one wants to separate mother from child. So often the brave act of placing a baby for adoption is viewed in a negative light, when in reality it is a selfless, difficult, and loving act a birth mother can make for her child. We aim to invite and empower women to consider adoption when faced with an unplanned pregnancy.”

It is precisely the kind of narrative I find disturbing but it exists and has existed since the beginning of commercial adoptions. I learned about it today via Stephanie’s story. In my all things adoption group I read – “Stephanie” says “That’s what is so beautiful about open adoption. He doesn’t have to wonder, he doesn’t have to guess. He can just ask. He can ask us why. He can see us and say ‘okay that could have been my life, why is it not my life? And we can explain.'”

Or try to explain because it won’t be easy. Her explanation will be “we only have this life because we chose adoption”

A woman in my all things adoption group said – I mean, really? That’s your explanation? It doesn’t matter how wonderful your life is after relinquishment, letting your relinquished child know that you wouldn’t have the life you have now, if they hadn’t been relinquished . . . The woman said – it doesn’t sit right with me.

As I have seen in my own family – adoptions lead to more adoptions. Stephanie was adopted. My parents were adopted. My two sisters both gave up babies for adoption.

Doing Good in Uganda

Ageto Gertrude Amony

This story was posted in a community I am part of –

So awhile ago I reached out to this community seeking some direction, I was stuck with three kids from my husband who died and left them in my care (their mom died before we met) and I am a 29 year old living in Uganda!

After the frustration of taking care of the kids through some hard days with zero support from family members and friends, I felt that I didn’t have any other choice but to place the kids for adoption believing that would be best for them and their own well being and future. We were about to be thrown out of our home due to accumulated rent. Just getting our daily food was a big hassle plus clothing costs and other bills.

One of the very kindest person I have ever met, was in this community. She took her time to understand my situation and started helping us with whatever help she could offer, intending to make our burden less heavy. Truly, she has seen us through the most difficult moments in our life.

She helped me purchase a sewing machine and the materials I needed to get back into my tailoring business. I had sold it due to our financial hardships. Life is starting to look a lot better and the happiness and joy she has brought into our lives with her assistance is unmatched, I have a lot to be thankful for but am choosing to be grateful for the opportunity to be able to take care of the kids and seeing them grow into the kind of adults that their biological parents would be proud of.

To that person, I lack words to tell you how grateful I am but may you also achieve everything good in this life. Thank you.

Find her at WordPress to view some of her clothing designs – agetostitches.wordpress.com. Order clothing on her Facebook page here – Ageto’s Stitches.

Limited

Mindy Stern

I discovered Mindy Stern today and have maxed out my “free” member-only stories on Medium for the month looking at her essays. They are definitely worth reading. She speaks truth about what it is like being an adoptee. That the experience is not better, only different. You can find links to her Medium essays at LINK>The Mindy Stern. If you want insights straight from an adoptee voice, go there.

I don’t know how much my mom tried to talk to her adoptive mother about her adoption. At most, I know that my adoptive grandmother did her best to reassure my mom that she was not one of those babies that Georgia Tann had stolen and sold after the scandal broke. That is about as much as my mom ever told me about it. I do know that my mom went to her grave believing her adoption was inappropriate. I know that the state of Tennessee refused to budge and give her the adoption file that had been closed and sealed. The one I now have completely. I now have contact with genetic relatives though it will always be problematic because I didn’t grow up with them and it leaves a gulf of experience that a late discovery that I am “one of them” never quit seems to bridge. I know my mom gave up trying to do a family tree at Ancestry because in the language of genetic connection that is what DNA is all about, the adoptive families weren’t real and she eventually resigned herself that it was pointless to continue. Just a few of the sorrows and sadness felt by one adoptee and I was fortunate as her daughter to be trusted with her truest feelings about it all but even those were only expressed in a limited way. There is no other way to say it. Adoption robs an adoptee of so much.

I was able to relate to so much in Mindy’s essay – LINK>Don’t Make Us Choose. Because my adoptee parents (both were adoptees) were never able to unravel their own origin stories, adoption limited us as their children from hearing much of anything about them or how my own parents felt. What I know now is what I had to find and reveal to my own self after they died.

The essay describes Mindy’s visit to her adoptive mother at the hospital after emergency heart surgery. The nurse asks her – where did you get your height? – because she is 5’6″ – her adoptive mother is 4’8″. All her life, her adoptive parents expected her to lie and pretend. She says, “pretending was implicit in our contract. Intended or not, their silence told me lying about my identity was acceptable, even encouraged.”

Mindy asks her readers to “Imagine what it feels like to worry if answering a basic question about your height will hurt your mother’s feelings. Consider the pain of pretending. The charade begins the moment our records are sealed, birth certificates amended, names changed. They build every closed adoption on lies, and adoptive parents who don’t proudly celebrate their child’s differences conspire with the pretense.”

Similar to my adoptee father, her dad never knew about her until she found him. Her birth mother took the secret of her to the grave. My dad’s father never knew about him. They look very much alike, just like my mom looks very much like her birth mother. Adoption robs the adoptee of genetic mirrors. They never know where this physical or innate trait (like a love of fishing in my dad) came from. The truth in my dad’s case was both nature and nurture. His original father spent his life involved with fishing, my dads’ adoptive parents loved to go fishing. Yet Mindy explains that her adoptive mother kept a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy regarding Mindy’s original parents.

When Mindy does try to touch that place with her adoptive mother, the tears begin. So, Mindy says “I’m not a sadist so I go along with the policy. She won’t ask, I won’t tell, and our relationship will stay limited and distant and my god that is such a shame.”

I have struggled with that need to choose – my parents’ adoption and now knowing the truth they never did – has forced me to confront it, second hand. Who do I love – my adoptive relatives or the ones that came through the birth of my parents to their original parents? I have almost worked through it well enough to be able to love them all equally. Mindy describes a snippet of conversation with her adoptive mother when she touches that place.

“Mom, you get how fucked up this is, right? It’s like telling a gay child you accept them but not allowing their partner to come to dinner.”

“I’m afraid it makes you… regret your life.”

“They (her reunion with genetic family) give me something you can’t, you give me something they can’t. Neither of you replaces the other.” And I appreciate her words because they express the paradox of adoption so well. She notes that after that the server arrived and placed our food down. Her mother changed the subject. Mindy says, “We were done. That was the best she could do. At least she listened.”

Her essay ends on a decidedly happy note and I encourage you to read it for a smile today.

Better Than Punishment

From an editorial by Dr Ruchi Fitzgerald in LINK>The Hill – It is unimaginable to think that seeking medical care could lead to losing custody of their children, yet this devastating predicament is all too real for pregnant women with addiction in the United States.

In our nation, the systems that aim to protect children from the negative effects of parental substance use often prioritize punitive approaches over proven public health strategies. Fear of being imprisoned, stigmatized, or having their children removed makes many pregnant women with substance use disorder (SUD) afraid to seek medical care, contributing to poor maternal health outcomes. Some state laws, including the law in Illinois where I practice medicine, even mandate that health care professionals report cases of detected controlled substances in a newborn infant as evidence of child neglect. While the federal Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA) has no such requirement, CAPTA’s overall approach has led to significant variation in how states, counties, and health care institutions implement its reporting requirements when substance use is involved during pregnancy.

Threatening child removal from a birthing parent with SUD without a risk assessment or evidence of danger to the child is not ultimately improving outcomes for children. Research has long shown that children affected by the trauma of family separation tend to experience worse long-term outcomes on a wide variety of indicators, including education, health, housing, employment, substance use, and involvement with the criminal legal system. With over 400,000 children in foster care across the US, the trauma of separation is widespread.

Forced separation also brings unimaginable pain to new families – triggering in some parents such despair that it deters them from seeking or continuing medical care, including treatment for their SUD. Study after study shows child removal is associated with parental overdose, mental illness, post-traumatic stress disorder, and return to substance use. Public health-oriented policies that can result in better outcomes for families are part of the solution.

As an addiction specialist physician, I am involved with the medical care of pregnant people with SUD, and I have seen counterproductive child welfare and criminal investigations launched after a newborn infant tests positive for a controlled substance. Too often, parents become hopeless about recovery once their children are gone.

Current policies and practices related to substance use during pregnancy also result in serious health inequities. Pregnant and parenting people of color are much more likely to be impacted by forced separation than their white counterparts. Black parents are more likely than white parents to be reported for substance use to the child protection system at their child’s delivery despite similar rates of drug use, while Black and Native American children are overrepresented in foster care relative to white children in the setting of parental substance use.

Meanwhile, health outcomes are unnecessarily worse for mothers of color. Since 80% of maternal deaths are due to overdose or suicide, we can save lives with policies and practices that encourage treatment, not punish pregnant women with SUD for seeking it. Policymakers need to remove controlled substance reporting requirements that overreach and contribute to the current punitive approach.

The American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) encourages child protective services agencies not to use evidence of substance use, alone, to sanction parents—especially with child removal; supports eliminating in-utero substance exposure language in child abuse and neglect statutes, and supports policies that extend social services benefits and financial support to families in need.

The US Senate will contemplate reauthorizing and reforming CAPTA this year. Health care professionals who treat pregnant people with medications for addiction, like methadone or buprenorphine for opioid use disorder, do not need to involve child protective services for that reason.

Recovery is possible with the right medical care and support. A pregnant person with addiction seeking medical care deserves a chance to heal and recover with her children. If we want pregnant and parenting people with addiction to access the evidence-based treatment they need, our decision-makers must embrace public health over punitive policies.

Mehran Karimi Nasseri

Not my usual kind of story for today but this man was definitely missing his Mom. When his father died of cancer, his mother informed him that she was not his real mother and he was the result of an affair between his father and a Scottish nurse. He was 23 years old.

He was granted refugee status by Belgium in 1981 and tried to travel on to Britain to find his real mother, whom he believed resided in Glasgow. He discarded his identification papers onboard an England-bound ship in the belief he would no longer require them. He was mistaken and this rendered him into a stateless limbo.

Repeatedly refused admittance to the UK and sent back to Belgium or France, he eventually gave up his quest and settled into a life in exile in August 1988 at Charles de Gaulle Airport. In 1992, a French court ruled that Nasseri had entered the airport legally as a refugee and could not be expelled from it. At Charles de Gaulle, he spent most of his time on a red bench on the lower floor of terminal 1. He was known to decline donations and gifts but did accept the occasional meal voucher from airport staff. He lived in the airport’s Terminal 1 from 1988 until 2006, first in legal limbo because he lacked residency papers and later by choice.

His saga inspired a movie by Steven Spielberg called The Terminal starring Tom Hanks. He ended up in a hospital for an operation. Then moved to a hotel near the airport, paid for with the money he’d received from the film rights. When that ran out, he moved to a shelter for homeless people. In recent weeks, he returned to living at the airport again. He died on Saturday around midday after suffering a heart attack in the airport’s Terminal 2F.

~ RIP ~ Mehran Karimi Nasseri Asked by a journalist in 2003 whether he felt angry about having lost 15 years of his life at an airport terminal, he replied: “No angry. I just want to know who my parents are.” Maybe he has now been reunited with his Scottish mother and will have learned the full truth from his Iranian father.

A Potential Egg Donor Asks

A woman asked for perspectives today in my all things adoption group (basically they are about 100% against and I understand why). Here is her story –

Since before I was an adult even I have felt so sure I wanted to donate eggs, the desire and resolve only grew stronger over about a decade but I wanted to have my own child first. Now I have and coincidentally found this group around the same time. It has made me completely rethink egg-donation. I had a kid and I don’t have much time left to decide due to age, so I have to decide. I know there are some donor-conceived people in this group as well and I’d so so much appreciate your thoughts on whether it’s even an ethically okay thing to do? Anyone that wants to can answer of course. Would I inevitable cause trauma to the resulting child by donating eggs?

Extra info in case it matters to anyone’s perspective: I live in a country where I won’t get paid for it except medical expenses covered, and the law says the children will get their donor’s identity if they want at 18. The family services and all related health and social carers (they are excellent here) will strongly encourage all recipients to tell their children of how they came to be from the very start.

Here is my own response –

I can only speak from experience. Back in 1998, after 20 years in a marriage where the understanding was that he was glad I had been there, done that (I have a grown daughter and 2 grandchildren from my first marriage), my husband sprang on me that he wanted to have children after all. We did ovulation predictors, were referred to a doctor who does assisted reproduction and got a booster shot when I saw my last egg. No pregnancy resulted. Then, he told us about another way – egg donation.

We did everything ourselves. Vetted potential donors by email. One said something that reminded my husband of something I would say. We chose her. She already had 3 children of her own. But she had promised another couple first. In the end, they treated her very badly and I thought she would change her mind about us but she did not.

We have always respected her and what she did for our family. After our first donor conceived son was born, my husband immediately wanted another. I had a cycle between our two boys where my womb failed to develop a good lining and had a D&C. Our donor moved from the location of the first doctor – who only did 4 procedures that year with only one success – ours. We followed her to the new location with a doctor who was one of the first in this country to do these procedures. We succeeded in having our second son. Donating was not physically easy for her. We did what we could to alleviate what we could post-extraction.

Our boys have met her more than once. I show them pictures of her or her children sometimes via Facebook because distance prohibits a closer relationship. She did 23 and Me, so I bought a kit for my husband, then for our oldest son and then for our youngest son. She is shown as their genetic mother there. 23 and Me provides a private messaging channel should they want to communicate with her. She has said she is open to that. I send her photos about once a year and updates when appropriate.

I’ve only known about issues related to donor conception since I went on my first roots discovery journey in 2017 after my parents died (they were BOTH adoptees). Fortunately, we have been honest with our sons about their conception since day 1. The 23 and Me results allowed us to fully discuss their conception now that they are much older and more mature. They understand they would not exist otherwise.

Knowing what I do know about in utero bonding, I am grateful they gestated in me, I breastfed them each for 1 year + and I have been in their lives pretty much 24/7. They are now 18 and 21 and seem well adjusted. Only twice have they indicated their perspectives to us – once my older son asked if he was supposed to be grateful to her – we said No, but we are. The younger one asked if she was his mother at a very young age. I explained that I am his mother but that without her, we would not have him.

I think the respect we have for her and she has for us has been an important factor. I think our willingness to be transparent with our sons was crucial. Back in 2000, some of the mom’s in my donor egg mothers group chose not to tell. With the advent of inexpensive DNA testing and matching, I wonder what their experiences have been and whether they have any regrets but we don’t communicate as frequently or openly as we once did.