Baby M

Mary Beth Whitehead with Melissa Stern

I may have been vaguely aware of this case back in 1985 when it hit the news but it was not really of all that much interest to me at that time, I had not even met the man who is now my husband of 34 years. Mary Beth was both the egg donor and the gestational surrogate, who was artificially inseminated with William Stern’s sperm. She was paid $10,000 to carry the pregnancy to term and she waved her parental rights in exchange. Her did request occasional photos and letters to provide her with updates on the baby. Upon seeing the baby, Mary Beth started having doubts about giving her away. Mary Beth demanded the baby back and wanted to renege on the contract.

Ultimately, the court granted custody to the Sterns and upheld the contract after a chilling conversation between Whitehead and William Stern was revealed in which Mary Beth threatened to physically harm Baby M. Upon hearing this, Whitehead was granted no parental rights. Mary Beth appealed to the New Jersey Supreme Court. The appellate courts decided that it was in Baby M’s best interests to remain with the Sterns. However, they also completely voided the surrogacy contract and restored parental and visitation rights to Whitehead. In terms of paid surrogacy, the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled that it was “illegal, perhaps, criminal and potentially degrading to women.”

This story is back in the news because in 2021, New York’s Child-Parent Security Act (CPSA) went into effect. It is the most robust surrogacy law of its kind in the United States. The law legalized paid surrogacy in New York and also created a number of provisions meant to protect gestational carriers and intended parents (IPs) alike. A Surrogates’ Bill of Rights endows surrogates with a host of protections, including the right to choose their own doctors, consent to all medical procedures, and the right to health and life insurance all paid by the IPs. And the CPSA requires that New York’s Department of Health monitor and license surrogacy agencies — which act as middlemen screening candidates, matching IPs with surrogates, and facilitating compensation — something no other state in the US does. It also allows for nonbiological parents to be listed on a baby’s birth certificate in the hospital. The CPSA requires that a surrogate in New York state be at least 21 and a citizen or permanent resident of the United States, and she cannot use her own egg for the pregnancy. Under the CPSA, surrogates have the right to make all decisions regarding their bodies, including whether or not to terminate a pregnancy

Surrogacy is a polarizing issue. On the left are feminist critiques and concerns about commodifying a woman’s body. On the right, it triggers a panic over queer families and reproductive freedom. Some feminists, including Gloria Steinem who wrote in an open letter to former governor Andrew Cuomo, worry that women would be even more vulnerable to exploitation, trafficking, and further subordinated as second-class citizens in the United States for the sake of making a sale.

There is more to this story in these links – [1] LINK> The Cut, a story about three women who have carried pregnancies after the New York legalized paid surrogacy law passed last year and [2] LINK> Family Source Consultants, The First Contested Surrogacy Case: The Story of Baby M.

One Reason We Never Trusted Others With Our Sons

I won’t publish her name as she has not been tried and found guilty, only charged with child abuse so far.

We have always kept our sons close and protected. We have wanted them to grow up and develop their character free from trauma and abuse. Certainly, we are not perfect parents but we do love them. They never spent a day in child care, they didn’t even go to local public school (where we were once told by a local parent that they practiced corporal punishment without parental consent) and they have never even had a babysitter. Never even spent the night with my in-laws who lived 5 mins away. Whether we did right by them or not is a subjective judgement, at least they are alive (yet another local youth appears to have met a bad end and we are sparsely populated here).

The woman shown in the picture here has been charged with child abuse. Video surveillance in the local day care is damning. She is accused of breaking the leg of a young male child and it was caught on camera. The poor little boy is also under the custody of a legal guardian. My heart breaks for him.

The child was dropped off at the daycare at 7:10am on July 14th. It is said that he was visibly upset and repeatedly attempted to go out the front door. I remember an incident with my daughter in day care. At first she seemed to love going to the family style home based day care while I had to go to work. But she became very upset and it troubled my heart so much, I left work. They had a half door and when I arrived I could see my daughter inside and a larger, older child bullying her with no adults present in the room to protect her. I removed her that instance. I found a woman with a child who wanted a companion for her daughter. In that arrangement, my daughter was always clean, well fed and rested when I picked her up at the end of my work day.

The woman shown in the photo above is said to have been a childcare worker for 12 years. She stated that when other workers have a problem child they bring that child to her. On the video, she is shown holding this child by the wrist with his arm extended above his head. Then she is alleged to have lifted the boy off the ground and dropped him – twice. No wonder the child was trying to get away from her. While he was on the floor, she was seen to lift her foot off the ground and come down hard on his right shin. The child began screaming in pain. He received no medical attention and no loving concern at the child care location.

The boy’s guardian was called to come and retrieve him. The guardian was not informed of the full situation until a Missouri Children’s Division investigator informed her of the events and that the woman involved would be charged. The guardian had taken the boy immediately to our local hospital ER, where it was discovered that he had a spiral facture of his right tibia. He was put into a cast which he will have to wear for 4 weeks.

Maybe we are overprotective but as my husband once said to me, our boys are too precious to allow them to be physically hurt by people who don’t love them the same way we do. I don’t regret it.

An Alternative to Adoption

Even before I knew so much about adoption, when secondary infertility became an obstacle to my husband’s desire to be a father, my OB-GYN said, “there is another way.” Now that I know more about the trauma that adoption causes, than I knew at that time, I will always consider this the best way. Even before we knew about that, my husband and I rejected the idea of adopting children. I do feel that sperm donors are more worrisome because the history of that kind of donation may include many, many half siblings. I have a biological, genetically related, grown daughter and two grandchildren, so having been there and done made accepting the “other” way easier for me personally.

Distance prevents us from having a closer relationship with our donor but my children have met her on more than one occasion. They are aware of her and that she has children, two sons and a daughter, which she has raised. Occasionally, I show them pictures of her and those children, when she shares them at Facebook. She has always been interested in the boys, while being non-intrusive but totally open to any relationship they may want to create with her. They have a private method of contact with her, if they wish to use that, through 23 and Me.

The Guardian today has another family’s story. “They used her eggs to have a baby. Now they’re one big family.” by Ellie Houghtaling, with photographs by Bridget Bennett. The subtitle notes – “Anonymity is meant to protect donors, but taking another path can afford a different sort of security – and new ways to think about how to raise a kid.” We took a similar path, our donor was a stranger we “met” on the internet and had what is called a “known donation”. We have not had exactly the same style of parenting as in this article. We have always been open and transparent with our sons about how they were conceived because they were wanted and not some kind of accident.

It is rare for families to meet the stranger donating eggs to them. In the US, egg and sperm donation is usually a closed process. It is more common for a family to hear about the donor through an agency. With anonymous donation, the couple may receive only basic, non-identifying features about their potential donor – such as their university or their eye color – without ever learning their name or hearing their voice. Most donors go through some testing. In the case of egg donation, hormone injections are utilized over a period of time to procure whatever number of eggs the donor produces. With agency facilitated anonymous donation methods, the donor is never told whether their donation was successful, who the family is, or what any offspring that result look like.

Before our first procedure (she donated again for our second son), we spent time with our donor and her youngest son. We were respectful of what she was doing for us. Both times, we provided her with whatever comforts she suggested would be helpful after her eggs were retrieved and have stayed in contact with her over the years. Our sons are genetically the same – the sperm and egg sources were the same for both. I see our donor and her children reflected in the appearance of our sons. It makes me happy – which might seem strange to some people – but I think it is a reflection of my fondness and appreciation for her. As far as being their mother – the donor has shown a total understanding of the differences in her and my roles. My sons treat me 100% as their mother, which seems natural and understandable regardless.

Becoming a family thanks to that “other way” has proven to be a good choice for my own family. Our sons seem to understand they would not even exist under any other circumstance.

The Brave New World

It is a reproductive fact – the egg contributes 50% of a person’s DNA, the sperm contributes 50% of a person’s DNA. For donor conceived children, the mother and/or father who is raising them may or may not be genetically related to them. Often, at least one parent is but in the brave new world of creating human beings utilizing reproductive technology – a child may be raised by a single mother who is not related at all to her child – though she may have carried the child and even breastfed her baby. The truth is that one’s marriage to their child is life-long, though as in the case of divorce, a genetically related parent may not be in their child’s life 24/7 or even throughout the childhood.

I do know of families with donor conceived children for whom the donor was anonymous – this can apply to egg donors as well as sperm donors. Fact is – Anonymity — as a pragmatic matter — can no longer be guaranteed to the donors who contribute to the existence of any donor conceived person. Donor-conceived people have interests all their own. Not all donor-conceived people know about their origin, and many express an interest in knowing more about their donors, including medical and identifying information. In a group of adult donor-conceived offspring from the 256 families that were eligible to receive identifying information, 85 (35%) contacted the clinic for this purpose. Many of those who contacted the clinic did so within the first three years after they turned 18, with the most common motivation to obtain information about their donors, including who they are as a person, their reasons for donation and their medical and health information. Third, recipients have a strong interest in knowing about the health risks their future children may experience based on the medical history of the donor.

Today, a woman writes – I’ve decided to conceive through a known local donor and my own egg. The child will know this man is their biological father. We are planning on meet up at least every 2 weeks from birth and he will receive plenty of pictures. He has also agreed to donate a second time in about 2 years so that my children will be biological siblings. (my note – that is certainly what my husband and I have as sons.) My question is, is there anything I’m overlooking in my excitement that I can do differently for the well-being of the child with this set up?

There are some details that sound like they haven’t been worked out yet. Is this an informal sperm donation or is it being arranged through a bank? Will he be listed on the birth certificate as the child’s father? Have you asked for perspectives from donor conceived people? Do you have a support system to help you raise the baby if he is not planning to be involved financially or practically? Has anything been drawn up legally? If he is not on the birth certificate as the father then he has no responsibility to help, participate or abide by your wishes. Sperm donors are not treated as the father of the child by law. No matter how much you may like and trust him today, things can change. To be clear, I am not against you creating a donor conceived a child. I encourage you to work out the legal details and to really think about the what if‘s no matter how unlikely they may seem now.

One response and some additional questions was this – The most ethical way to do this would be to list him on the birth certificate as the father and actually co-parent with him, not just let the child meet up with him every two weeks. Do you really think that would work out long term ? How would you handle it if the child tells you they want more time with their dad, overnights or to live with their dad or anything at all ?

Then there was this – What about when dad develops a new relationship with a woman who wants him all to herself?? To be with her and their “real” kids? Followed by an example – I actually know someone who was in this exact situation. She did what you are hoping to do, with a man who she thought would be in her child’s life forever. He moved across the country, married a woman who was/is extremely uncomfortable with the situation, they had kids together, and now he hasn’t seen his oldest child in over 2 years.

The woman in the question doesn’t want a romantic relationship and so that brings up another issue – You can forgo a romantic relationship, while also not procreating with a stranger. I do not understand why anyone would have a child with a man you do not know and then give that man access to your child. It takes a level of intimacy to trust someone to father your kid, doesn’t have to be romantic.

Again, more questions – what happens if you do meet somebody and fall in love, and your partner wants to take on the role of “dad” and feels threatened by the child’s relationship with its father ? And mentioned before – What happens if the father meets somebody and falls in love and she feels threatened by it, and tells him she doesn’t want him involved with you and your child ? What happens if he gets a job opportunity that moves him across the country, or even across the world ?

A woman choosing to donor conceive really needs to seriously think through the situation and there are situations where it does make sense and can be handled well. So just some final thoughts –

Both need to be absolutely certain on how that would work. Couples that intimately know each other can struggle to communicate well enough to co-parent, even within a marriage, and even more so when they live apart. You mentioned the specific of every two weeks having visits but what do you expect the visit to entail? How will you communicate changes in schedule? Are there financial obligations? Would your expectations change if his financial situation changed? What influence would he have on life decisions such as education, religion, place of residence, activities etc. What if someone needs or wants to move? Will you be able to control who else is included in the visits? How will his family be included or excluded? How will you handle inevitable disagreements on important issues? Do you have it legally planned out if something should happen to you and you are unable to parent or pass away? Planning to have full legal custody doesn’t guarantee you will make every decision on your own for the child. Are you financially prepared to confront additional legal barriers? You also mentioned having a sibling in two years which opens a new can of worms so to speak. I have watched so many of my friends struggle to work with someone they once loved navigating these issues. Some no longer recognize the person they chose (it happened) to father their child. Parenthood fundamentally changes people and it does seem you could set you and your child up for tremendous conflict. I think I would have multiple friends and family members write down every potential question they can think of and discuss how you can legally address these questions. I would also set up a prescribed procedure that should be followed when conflict does arise. I hope that is something attorneys can legally require. I’m sure you have thought a lot about what you expect, just be certain all of the potential legal issues are addressed to the best of your ability. In my opinion it would be a mistake to cross bridges when you come to them or rely on the donor to be a benevolent actor.

And just this advice – for your own protection, talk with a lawyer first. I got a free consult with a lawyer with expertise in this area, and decided a sperm bank was a better choice. There are a lot of cases, especially in certain states, where your donor could be considered a father, and could take custody, even with a legal agreement in place. Or could prevent you from moving out of state, etc. Took me awhile to let that dream go, but it was the right choice for me.

And though there aren’t many yet (I have read an essay from one myself who recognized she would not exist otherwise, which I thought a very healthy perspective) here are some Thoughts From A IVF Donor Conceived Person (if you want to read some more from such a person’s perspective). With this one, I thought this was also a healthy perspective – “I have never doubted that I was wanted, I’ve always known I was meant to be here on this earth. My conception wasn’t down to mystical chance, I had purpose and meaning to both sets of my parents from the moment I was conceived in my little Petri dish.”

Personally, as a last word, I can relate to this as I experienced secondary infertility, I was simply too old to conceive naturally any longer, even though I did give birth to a genetically, biologically related child – “Finding that you need assistance in conceiving does not mean you have failed, and it doesn’t mean any child you conceive through assisted reproduction is in any way ‘artificial’ or different from naturally conceived children. I’m proud of both my biological mother and my mother. IVF doesn’t make them any different to other parents, and raising a child that was not her own biological material doesn’t make my mother less of a parent.”

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A Complicated Relationship with Love

“No one has a more complicated relationship with love than a child who was adopted.” from an article in Psychology Today titled The Complicated Calibration of Love by Carrie Goldman. Children are the only ones who simultaneously crave, reject, embrace, need, challenge, inhale, absorb, return, share, fight, accept, and question your love on a daily basis.

How does the world convince an adoptee they are loved and valued ? The same world that thrust a great injustice upon this child by separating them from their first mother and possibly siblings, the world that passed them along to a doting foster mom to whom they became attached and then separated them again, the world that dropped this child into the outstretched, naïve, and eager arms of adoptive parents, their greatest joy intricately tied to the child’s greatest sadness, the world that views this child’s story as a happily-ever-after and now expects them to be grateful, happy, well adjusted, and perfect at all times—how does such a child learn to trust the love of that world?

Carrie notes – To match the giving of love with the exact need of any recipient is a moving calibration. There is no reliable unit of measurement for something so imprecise as human affection. We try. We offer up our love in words and actions, hoping to meet the ever-changing needs of our lovers, our children, our friends, and our families – every relationship that matters takes some work.

When one person in the relationship inhales the sour breath of the beast that is insecurity, a beast whose presence twists the very air between two humans and makes greater the flaws that beckoned it in the door. Insecurity, also known as fear, feeds on the dark and scary parts of the mind, growing in strength and power as it distorts what is real and what is imagined.

Sometimes insecurity grows too large until there is almost no space left for the relationship. But the antidote to such despair is hope, and hope, fortunately, needs less fuel to stay alive. These dynamics occur in any relationship, and the intensity can be magnified by a thousand when one of the partners is an adoptee.

The choice to be an adoptive parent is built on mountains of hope, oceans of hope, forests filled with the hope that a thousand seeds planted might one day yield a mighty tree. What combination of internal resilience, good parenting, genetics, access to birth history, love, acceptance of grief, and endless empathy is needed to raise an adoptee to wholeness ?

An adoptee did not choose to be adopted at a very young age; it was foisted upon them and packaged as “you’re so lucky” by the world. An adoptive parent must allow and validate all the feelings and viewpoints, even the ones that don’t fit the happily-ever-after narrative. 

An adoptee is unlucky. They are not growing up with their first family. If biological children for their adoptive parents are also in the picture, they cannot help but wonder if the adoptive parents love their biological children more. Many adoptees worry they will never be good enough. Most adoptee do battle with legitimate fears of abandonment in every relationship they enter into throughout life. Often an adoptee rages against the unfairness of being adopted and basically hates being adopted.

~ Carrie Goldman writes a parenting blog called Portrait of an Adoption.

They Grow Up

Image Created by Irene Liebler

We currently have baby birds in a nest at the end of our back porch getting ready to fledge. We have witnessed many such events. When I first married my husband, my mother in law said “We are nest builders.” She had a lifelong love of birds and of her family. So today, an adoptive mother lamented. She adopted a 12 year old from foster care. The child is now 21 years old. I have a 21 year old myself who sometimes gives the impression of getting restless though he has not yet flown the nest. This woman’s son has joined the army reserves and is on his way out of the country on assignment.

She was trying to say goodbye to him, when he replied – “I don’t want to talk. I’m trying to get away from you guys (ie her husband and herself). I’m an adult now and you can’t force me to live with you. I was trying to leave on a good note.”

Much like the advice – “If you love somebody, let them go, for if they return, they were always yours. If they don’t, they never were.” – attributed to Kahlil Gibran, I thought these were very good insights –

The best thing a former foster parent and adoptive parent ever said to me was that you spend the short time you have with kids teaching them right from wrong and hope they take that with them into adulthood.

When they turn 18, they will leave to find their biological families. It’s not a matter of if, it’s when. If their first families are doing well, then great! If they are not, you pray that what you taught them sticks and that they navigate their relationships in a way that keeps them mentally/physically safe.

If kids come back to you/stay in your life is dependent on your relationship with them before they became adults. It’s also dependent on how you spoke about their first families and if you encouraged a relationship.

Kids are people that grow up and become their own people. They have the RIGHT to leave the nest for a reason, a season, or forever.

It’s Called Being A Parent

In my household, we have always had a family bed. Actually, it is two king-size platform beds placed side by side. We have a rather unconventional lifestyle. Our sons are self-educated with massive support from us at home. Our internet is satellite and the best speed and availability is during the “bonus” time overnight. So, sometimes and not every night, the boys are awake while the parents sleep. Things seem to be “normalizing” a bit more for us as they mature but they are often asleep in the daytime. BTW we had them evaluated and both perform educationally at a level higher than their peers – so we’ve not ruined them.

The youngest sleeps to my right at the outside edge of the sleeping space. I sleep towards the middle. My oldest son to my left and my husband on the far left edge. Though I absolutely am terrorized when I hear the sound of throw-up coming and do not relish our bed, my pjs and everything else being covered in it – I am still grateful that our sons have never suffered illness out of our awareness or even nightmares for that matter. I fully realize we are a bit unusual in that regard but it is how we live in a one-room cabin of an old farmhouse where the upstairs space is neither heated nor cooled and therefore not really livable anyway. I also admit that if I am very ill, I become entirely dependent on care from my husband as though I were a helpless child. I am unable to care properly for my own self, lack the motivation to do so. This is the way families ought to be for one another.

I readily recognize that being a foster parent is a choice and for some – a means of adding revenue in the form of stipends – which are meant to be used for the expenses related to their foster care youth but are not always used for such. Therefore, I also recognize that many lack the commitment to these children that a parent usually (and I realize not always) has for their own biological children.

Therefore, I appreciated this response from someone, after seeing the image at the top of this blog –

So, my kids have all contracted the stomach bug twice in the last month and have all vomited on my couch, bed, clothes, bathroom, in my car and in between the stomach bugs have had a new virus or infection every week. Then on top of that my 6 year old has nightmares and anxiety. I’m 20 weeks pregnant and have not slept in a month. But am I thinking of dumping them somewhere else because of their audacity to get sick every week, vomit and pee anywhere other than the toilet, or interrupt my sleep? NO. It’s called being a PARENT. It fu*king sucks sometimes, yes, but life goes on!! If someone can’t handle another kid living in their home and being part of their family, and experiencing kid/life stuff on top of their trauma (that they have ZERO control over), then they should NOT foster. PERIOD. Makes me so angry. Also the husband “not being able to help” – get outta here. I’m a severe emetophobe but even I step up when someone needs help and it involves puke. I want to die in the moment, but there’s just no excuse, it’s called being an adult.

An Adoptee’s First Biological Child

I have read about this from the point of view of several different adoptees in the past. I have wondered what my own adoptee mom (or even my adoptee dad) felt as they created a biological, genetically related family of their own. They are both deceased, so I can no longer ask questions like that of them.

Today, I read – I’m curious about adoptees first experience being pregnant. Thought I was infertile all these years and I’m finally pregnant. I thought I would be flooded with more happy emotions. I often feel paralyzed and scared shitless. I’ve done the leg work to not put my trauma on a child, plenty of therapy when I was younger and actively trying to start a family. Not using a child to fill my holes as my adoptive mother did. Now I just feel disgusted and worried sometimes, feels somehow adoption related. My first parents non stop on my mind lately too. Any first child experiences good or bad would be very helpful! Thank you! She later added – I am very worried about not looking at my first mom the same. We aren’t the closest but our relationship is what I need it to be, I’m nervous I’m going to resent her after going through this; even though I know she didn’t want me. It’s almost like I’ve been in this weird limbo of not fitting in to either family and the thought of starting my own makes me want to run for the hills.

I am in reunion and have a good relationship with my First Mom but never cared much about my biological dad’s side, until I was pregnant and really until I had my son. It does make me sad that my son won’t know his aunts and cousins on that side but I haven’t had the bandwidth to try to make contact yet. Dealing with my maternal side has been enough drama and stress for one lifetime.

These feelings are totally normal, even for those without trauma. There are layers for many who feel this way, but even those I know who had ‘normal’ childhoods often feel this way too. You’ll also feel like failure frequently, out of your depths, like a bad mom, etc. those are all normal too. I have layers to mine due to trauma, so as time and healing have allowed, I have worked though different layers as they’ve come up (and up again and again). It was VERY important to me to avoid adding birth trauma, so I found a midwife and worked hard at allowing the natural biology and oxytocin stuff, breast fed etc. those all help with attachment and bonding (which I still greatly struggled with due to a severe attachment trauma).

I have 4 currently, and recently had a still birth, so I am now dealing with new levels of trauma added to those previous layers. Dealing with secondary infertility and a loss after 4 healthy pregnancies really rocked my internal dialogue (since fear of losing them through accidents/etc, just general anxiety like falling down stairs while pregnant (which I didn’t) etc). My mom hit a brick house (blogger’s note – I do not know if this is literal or figurative) while pregnant with me, so I’m sure there’s a layer there too.

I don’t know if my trauma has made it better or worse to be honest…the death of my son broke cracks into the structure that trauma built to protect myself from bonding and attachment. Though feeling (some) grief, I’m having glimmers of hope and joy, which is really mind fu**** me to be honest but I’m trying to roll with it. I deal with it small bits, here and there, denial in a box is its default space but when it does come out, I try not to stuff it automatically back in there. I try to give it space and observe it and know it won’t kill me, even if it feels like it will or should or could…sorry if I’m not making sense.

Give yourself space to feel the things you do and do not judge yourself harshly. Know you are not alone, the feelings WILL pass (even if it takes time, for me – it has been on and off for almost a decade) and no one is a better mom to your baby than YOU.

I experienced something similar with my pregnancies. I think fear is very common in any pregnancy, everything’s so new and life-changing. I think it’s an especially complex time for adoptees and a resurgence of feelings is common. Talking about how I felt helped me. I hope you know we’re with you and cheering you on.

I was fine while pregnant and when giving birth but got horrific PPD/PPA (Postpartum Depression/Postpartum Anxiety) despite being surrounded by love and support. I think giving birth brought up a lot of unresolved feelings and trauma and contributed to my PPD. I got through it with therapy and medication. It didn’t last forever thankfully and I had a lot of support.

I experienced PPD and difficulty bonding with 2 of my 6 babies. With the other 4, I felt that immediate attachment when I saw them. It took a few months with those 2, for me to feel like they were truly mine and that I was a good enough mother for them. In the long run, there has been no difference in the level of attachment or love I feel for them. (I’ve been parenting for 17 years.) Becoming pregnant with my firstborn was what awakened me from the “I should just be grateful” fog. I honestly believed I had no trauma from being separated from my mother, up until then. When I became flooded with instinctual feelings for my baby, I wondered if my original mother ever felt those things for me.

Not every mother gets that first glimpse of their child and immediately feels attached and wildly in love. It’s *not at all* uncommon for it to take time to build that attachment and have trouble bonding with your child at first. Then of course there are things like PPD and PPA that make bonding harder. But none of these things make a person a bad mother. Often people with a history of trauma – *especially* if that trauma has to do with abandonment or attachment issues – will have trouble bonding with their child. And it’s completely normal.

I wonder about this with my own mom, some of the things I have learned recently related to her second (actually third, because she had a miscarriage first) pregnancy as well as how I describe my own parents as being weirdly detached. Good parents but that cut thread of connection to their original families, I believe, had an impact on their perspectives related to parenting. They were good parents, not at all abusive, but quick to want us to be independent of them.

Another adoptee writes – I felt awful, disgusted, fearful when I was pregnant. I was terrified I would project what happened with my birth and adopted parents on my little girl. She’s 8 now and I’m not going to lie, it’s hard. I make mistakes with her but I am quick to apologize and let her know when I am wrong. I explain that I shouldn’t have projected my negative emotions on her. I also let her know it’s okay to not be okay. I had severe PPD and for a couple days when she was a couple weeks old when I wanted nothing to do with her. I told my ex husband mom that I needed her to take her for a day or so because i didn’t know what to do. Luckily that passed very quickly. I love my daughter more than anything in this world and would give my last breath to her. Also if you do have awful feelings, talk to your doctor. Medication did wonders for me with my depression. It honestly helped so much.

There’s a couple layers going on. I also got pregnant after miscarriage and sort of infertility. I don’t think I really processed or felt safe in my first successful pregnancy until after 30+ weeks. When I held my son, it was really the first time I saw and loved someone I was biologically related to. It was powerful, odd, terrifying. So many different emotions. I didn’t think as much about my first mother’s pregnancy with me. But we were in reunion and in a tough place then, so it was complicated. Give yourself time, space, gentleness. Pregnancy is a wild hormonal ride, even without added layers to it. And those added layers aren’t easy. 

And then there was this very different but honest perspective – I considered adoption, but I was stealthed/forced and thus very scared to have a baby so young even while married. I remember ridding that idea before the half mark because I felt him kick. And then at birth my very first thought looking at him was I could never give him up. Even totally unprepared I couldn’t have done it. I was actually really ashamed of that and told no one how I thinking or feeling, because I had solely considered my bio strong for doing so (drug addiction) and here I was poor and sick and barely legal to drink while a college student in a shit marriage… and I could Not fathom even leaving his side. I love him but sometimes I still don’t know if that was correct because he’s suffered a lot… my son was deeply abused by my now ex-husband and I have a lot of trauma from it I’m still working through… my own biological parent, I don’t think could have given me half the life I got from adoption, and even though my adoptive parents were super abusive. There’s so many mixed feelings and traumatic thoughts and memories that get brought up when an adoptee is pregnant. I hope you at least know all of your feelings and fears and joys are all valid all at once.

This perspective from another adoptee was interesting to read because I do know my mom saw a psychiatrist at one time but I don’t know her reasons for it – “It’s hard, I feel like I focused too much on doing the ‘right things’ and not traumatizing my kids, which often made me a hands off parent. I had to get my butt in therapy and put in the work to be a better me. Now I’m not a hands off parent and learned boundary setting with my kids.” I do know that I was surprised at the degree that my two sisters were dependent on our parents at the time of their deaths at 78 and 80. Maybe my mom overcame some of what I experienced in the decades before that.

Definitely worried I was going to fuck my kid up like I was fucked up. To the point of almost terminating. My second pregnancy was a lot smoother but I still experienced horrendous PPA with both. I had happy moments and sad moments in pregnancy. Despite my PPA though, I was lucky enough to avoid PPD and feel a determination I have never felt before in life when they placed my son on my chest. I looked at him every damn day and promised I would give him a better life. My husband and I weren’t in the best position at all. In poverty, high crime area, barely surviving. But I promised my kiddo I would get him out of there every single day. My husband is aged out former foster care youth, so he was just as determined as well. 3.5 years and another (planned this time) pregnancy and we made it. Our kids will never have to experience a life even close to what we lived. Having kids made me afraid and feel powerless and worry I was gonna be a horrible mom, but more than anything it made me, and my husband, WAY better people and helped us get out of the cycles so that we were not perpetuating them.

Pregnancy and childbirth weren’t really issues for me. My biggest issue is just feeling completely clueless and like I’m doing everything wrong. I was raised by my adoptive dad from age 8 onward, and don’t really remember much from being younger, so I feel like I have no experiences good or bad to reference. Like the concept of a mother is totally foreign to me, so I’m flying blind and making it up as I go.

What helped me the first time around was preparing to be surprised. Knowing that this baby, although my flesh and blood, would be their own little person. Their own soul. I was there to love and nurture whoever they were. And I really was continuously surprised, usually in a pleasant way. I never went for schedules and “Child must be doing X by a certain age” BS. Instead my kids developed as naturally as possible. All of this was in defiance of my “normal” adopted upbringing. What was crazy was that my eldest looked nothing like me or my husband. Thank God I had already reunited with my birth mom, so I could show people that’s who my daughter looked like, because otherwise it would have been hard to explain.

I had bad Postpartum anxiety. To be fair my Mother in law did NOT help. I was afraid someone would steal my babies and I wouldn’t get them back. She would literally snatch them and walk away so we ended up having a long break from her and eventually things worked out once she calmed down enough to understand me and that my husband wasn’t going to side with her. But with all my babies I couldn’t be away from them. I had hard time taking showers and no one could hold them expect for my husband if I didn’t have eyes on them. If I had them with me, I was fine. It was bad with #1, better with #2, #3 was a whole other mine field because that one was a girl. I kept fearing I’d wake up and want to walk away. My husband was a major support. Only my 5th wasn’t as bad, but my husband had paternity leave and was home with me the first 4 weeks. I know it wasn’t rational. But I’d have panic attacks that they were gone. I do not have an anxiety or panic disorder. I’m usually extremely even keel. It caught me majorly off guard. Parenting wasn’t and isn’t an issue though. Gentle and communitive parenting came very naturally to me.

I had good support and my first pregnancy was wanted and planned. I do know that once my baby was born, I saw my biological mom and adoptive mother through a different lens. I did start feeling really sad about my adoption for the first time. I started think how I didn’t bond with my adoptive mother until I was after a year old. How that is not normal. I made me feel a new kind of pain. Sometimes this sounds silly but I feel like I love my kids more than non-adoptees because of my experience. I felt like I didn’t really understand my biological mother at all, even though she was very young mother. I started to excuse her uncomfortable behavior because I don’t feel like anyone is ok after something so traumatic. I didn’t feel resentful, just sadness. Pain. Loss. I don’t understand how some people don’t want their babies but it’s not always for me to understand that either. When she says “I love you” it makes me uncomfortable because I feel like “how?”. Lots of feelings.

Parental Impostor Syndrome

It’s one thing to pretend when you are a child, quite another when you are a mature adult trying to pretend you are the parent (though actually you are) of your adopted child. An article in The Guardian caught my attention – “Everyone knows you’re not a real mum.”

The parental impostor syndrome some adoptive parents have – that they are faking it, and will never cut it as a parent – is seldom acknowledged. The concept of an impostor syndrome is loosely defined as doubting your abilities and not feeling good enough. There are certainly quite a lot of adoptees who have felt they were not good enough in their adoptive parents perspective.

Ranee, 52, lives in south-west London with her husband and their two adopted children. Ranee is of Sri Lankan heritage and her husband’s family are from Mauritius. Because of this, it took a long time for them to be matched with their children as many councils are keen to match the ethnic backgrounds of potential parents and children.

Ranee says, “It was as if I had fake written on my forehead.”

During that time, Ranee and her husband went through a rigorous vetting process, yet when the process was complete and they were a family with children, she felt disoriented by how much she didn’t know. “I remember walking into the playground and thinking, ‘Everyone knows you’re not a real mum,’” she says, upon taking her five-year-old to school for the first time. “It was as if I had a siren above me, or ‘fake’ written on my forehead. Just trying to talk to parents on a playdate, or wondering what other kids would eat was tricky. My children were really picky eaters, and all of this made me think I didn’t know what I was doing.”

She says she had done courses and read books to try to prepare, but nothing quite readied her for the experience of becoming a parent. “I didn’t have any mum friends and I’d gone straight from working to being a stay-at-home mum. I kept thinking, ‘Does everyone feel like this? Is this how it is?’”

Ranee, a food photographer, says now that the adoption is completed, her impostor syndrome has largely gone. “Occasionally it comes back when we’re dealing with school issues, but I now have a network of friends who have also adopted and that has helped me gain some perspective.”

As well as the fact that she and her husband went from a couple to parents of two in one day, Ranee thinks anxiety about whether she was doing things “right” played a big role in feeling like an impostor. “I sometimes felt as if there was a model parent out there, but I learned to lower my expectations, and understood that my children don’t know any different. I now subscribe to ‘good enough’ parenting. I know I will make mistakes and I have to forgive myself and not get het up.

“I used to want to run out of the playground and hide under the bed. But I’ve learned that you just have to set your own standard. Trust that you will be a great parent, and fight your children’s corner. One day you’ll fail, the next day you’ll feel less of a failure, and so on, until it normalizes.” Years later, she says, things look very different. “I have two amazing kids who are teenagers, and I know they will forge their own lives, and I just want them to be happy.”

And parenting it doesn’t get any easier with more children, because each child will have a different personality requiring different methods of parenting. My sons certainly teach me that lesson all the time. One keeps to himself a lot but will eat anything I cook. The other one is socially outgoing but a very picky eater, I say he is a purest. And there’s something about being a parent in your 50s and 60s, you don’t have the physicality of your 20s or 30s.

When I was having lots of challenges with my older child, I realized it was a cry for attention. He had “lost” me to his younger brother who understandably needed nursing and diaper changing. When I realized this, I swapped with my husband when we were out with the family and even at home, spending one-on-one time with the older boy and the problems turned around very quickly.

We think we have to live up to other people’s examples but that can make us feel inadequate. All the parenting books are suggestions but you have to invent your own way of parenting, because every child is unique. Good enough parenting is a good goal. The mistakes we make give our children space to grow into better adults, things to rebel against, and it helps them forge their personality. We love our children but what is more important is to respect them. 

Don’t let your self-doubt define you. Enjoy your own parenting style because it allows you to display your authenticity to your children and gives them permission to have their own style.

What Biology Prefers

In my all things adoption group – the post acknowledges what I also believe is a fact –

Biology programs us to prefer the children we gave birth to. You can try to be “fair” but I firmly believe biology and the subconscious takes over. This is how it’s supposed to be. It’s natural instincts. What does it say about biological connection when one says they love a stranger’s natural child the same or just as much? How do biological children in the home feel about this? Is it really possible? What are your thoughts?

I remember reading once that children often physically resemble their fathers so that the man will accept responsibility and care for the family. Of course, it doesn’t universally turn out that way. Yesterday, I was looking at an old picture of my husband’s father’s parents and marveled at how much he looked like both of them in a photo nearby. My sons each have some resemblance and some of the best qualities of their father. I carried my sons during pregnancy and nursed them at my breast for over a year. While they know the truth of their egg donor conceptions, which we have never hidden from them and even facilitated their ability to contact this woman by connecting them to the donor on 23 and Me, they would seem, to my own heart, to be as bonded to me as they ever could be. I am “Mom” to them and no one could be more their mom. I may not have been able to pass my genes on to them (though my grown daughter and grandchildren do that for me) but I am their mother biologically and I do believe that makes a difference. Honesty helps as well.

One commenter posted an article at science.org titled “Do parents favor their biological children over their adopted ones?” subtitled – Study tests the “wicked stepmother” hypothesis. My daughter remains quite fond of her deceased step-mother and yet, I also know that my paternal grandmother, who’s own mother died when she was only 3 mos old, did suffer an absolutely wicked stepmother. The article notes that “Wicked stepmothers would seem to be favored by evolutionary theory. The best way to ensure the propagation of our own genes, after all, is to take care of children who are genetically related to us—not those born to other parents.”

Even so their study found that parents did not favor a biological child over an adopted one in all instances. Researchers compared data on 135 pairs of “virtual twins”—siblings about the same age consisting of either one adopted child and one biological child or two adopted children.

What does support adoptees who feel their adoptive parents did not treat them well is this detail – adoptive parents did rate their adoptive children higher in negative traits and behaviors like arrogance and stealing. Yet, it is interesting that when it came to positive traits like conscientiousness and persistence,  they scored both adopted and biological children similarly. 

This study came to the conclusion that the strong desire to be a parent—no matter the source of a child’s genes—can override evolved, kin selection behaviors that might otherwise lead parents to invest more time and resources in their own offspring.