A Christmas To Remember

Angela Turbeville hugs one of the six children, all siblings,
that she and her husband Elliott adopted Monday in Columbus Georgia

Sharing a story from Georgia Public Broadcasting. It is not perfect (having their original parents able to care for and raise them) but it is the best possible outcome for these siblings, allowing them to grow up together with each other.

Her wish list for Christmas includes items typical of a 10-year-old girl, such as a cooking set and fake nails. But at the bottom, in larger letters, is a request:

Get adopted.

That wish not only came true for the girl Monday, but Angela and Elliott Turbeville of Columbus also adopted five of her brothers — all in a joyful surprise. The Turbevilles surprised the children on December 20th with the news they would be going to court that afternoon to finalize the adoption. The Turbevilles creatively broke the news to the six children, ages 7-14, at their Green Island Hills home this week, before the two-year effort to go from foster to adoptive parents culminated in a courtroom.

When they awoke Monday morning, the kids got ready for school like usual. Outside, relatives started arriving for the surprise that would keep the children from going to school that day. Isabella, one of the Turbeville’s biological children and a Columbus State University student, brought 120 donuts. Elliott emerged from the garage to greet her. Then he took out his phone and started recording the scene as Isabella walked to the front door.

When one of the children opened the door, the others followed and saw on the front lawn a sign the Turbevilles had arranged to be put up overnight.

IT’S ADOPTION DAY

Wide-eyed and mouths agape, the kids soaked in the significance. One of them asked, “We’re adopted?” Angela answered, “Today, we’re going to court to be adopted.” The children shouted, “Yaaaaaaaaay!” After the bevy of family hugs, the 13-year-old boy sasid, “Coming right before Christmas, this is like the perfect time. … I’m just amazed and excited because we’ve been waiting for this a long time.”

Being adopted, instead of fostered, strengthens the sense of security the children feel. We’ve been through a lot of stuff that shouldn’t have happened,” he said. “Our parents should have taken care of us. But now, we have these parents that actually take care of us and feed us every day.” He smiled and continued, “They put me in my place when I’m in trouble.” Then he paused and added, “They just do everything right.” He noted the frustration the siblings shared when they were split in different foster homes and the gratitude they have for the Turbevilles to adopt them all together. “This is really rare,” he said. “They took this chance getting all of us. I thank them — and I thank God — for this.”

Seeing the children revel in the surprise, Angela said, “I’m just happy the day is finally here and that everybody will have the same last name.” Angela reflected on the legal hurdles they had to leap over to reach this moment, and emphasized that they still are working to adopt the seventh sibling. “I feel like I’m almost at the end of a marathon,” she said. Elliott said he was holding back his emotions until the adoption would be finalized later that day. “I’m just happy to see how surprised they were and how happy they are,” he said.

The family rode downtown in a chauffeured party bus for the adoption hearing in a 10th-floor courtroom at the Government Center, with Superior Court Judge Maureen Gottfried presiding. About two dozen relatives and friends were in the gallery.

“This is just a really, really, happy, happy day,” Gottfried told them. “I’m so glad that all of y’all are here to celebrate because this is really a celebration of a bad situation turning great.” About 10 minutes later, after Tom Tebeau, the Turbevilles’ lawyer, presented his clients and their case to the court, Gottfried approved the adoption. “These kids,” Gottfried said, “y’all are getting what you deserve as children, to be able to be raised in a happy house and taken care of, loving each other, loving your parents and just having everything be great. So I’m very thrilled to be able to sign off on all these.”

Angela and Elliott are relieved the legal process delivered the result they sought. “It’s a dream come true to be able to adopt children,” Angela said. “I hate it that they were in foster care, but at least we get to give them a good life. … They’re safe, and they’re happy, and we’re their parents.”

The back story – Angela is a former elementary school teacher and tutor. Elliott is an associate director at Pratt & Whitney. Both are in their 40s. After raising three biological children, their bodies wouldn’t allow them to have more kids, but their hearts and minds yearned for them. They considered other options, such as in vitro fertilization, but fostering and eventually adoption better fit their mindset. They became certified ​foster parents in 2019.

“There’s just thousands of kids in that need,” Elliott said. “So we figured, instead of going through all of that with her body and trying to make more of our own, why not just help kids already out there and need help?” That October, they received a call from Hope Foster Care, the child placing agency of the Methodist Home for Children & Youth: Would they foster four siblings? They figured they had raised three children, so this would be just one more. Then Angela was noticed one of the boys has the same birthdate of Elliott’s deceased mother. It was like a sign to her that this was the right thing to do. Elliott said, “She likes those coincidences.” I am like that too – my mom called these Godincidences.

That week, they learned the four children had three siblings in a foster home 2-3 hours away. After a period of Saturday visits over the next few months, Hope Foster Care asked whether the Turbevilles would take in the other three siblings as well. They agreed, but Angela asked for 30 days to get the house ready. That meant rearranging rooms and buying bunkbeds. Then, the COVID-19 pandemic started in spring 2020 and the Turbervilles hunkered down in their house with their seven foster children. “Luckily, I was a schoolteacher, so I did homeschool,” Angela said.

That gave Angela time to help the children who were below grade level catch up. “The oldest boy is now almost at grade level (eighth grade) in most subjects,” he said. “He came to me on a kindergarten/first-grade reading level 2½ years ago.” Now, all the children in school are on the honor roll. “They’re smart,” Angela said. “They understand where they came from. They understand where they are. … Their mom was a foster child, so we’re trying to break that cycle. My goal is to get them educated, keep them out of jail and be productive citizens.”

When the seventh-grade boy came home last month with a gift card for having the highest math test score in his grade, he told Angela he wanted to use it for the family to buy groceries for Thanksgiving. “That was a big deal for him,” she said.

The Turbevilles gained the children’s trust by striking the fine balance between providing them a structured yet compassionate home, where promises are kept, Elliott said. “A lot of it is routine and being open and honest and setting clear expectations and just making them feel safe,” he said. “… They came from an environment that they didn’t know where their next meal was coming from.”

The children had been asking the Turbevilles for two years to adopt them, Angela said. This past spring, the Turbevilles learned the juvenile court in Floyd County had terminated the parental rights of the biological mother and fathers for the six oldest siblings, allowing them to start the adoption process. In addition to taking on a new last name, some of the children also chose to change their first name or middle name to something connected to the Turbeville family.

“It’s just confirmation that we’ve doing the right thing for these kids,” Elliott said. “… Every kid deserves a chance. … There’s just so much angst and bad stuff out there. If we can carve out a little area and make them better, make us better as a result and let them go out and make the world a better place as well, I know that sounds kind of cheeky, but it’s just the general idea of doing something good instead of just sitting back and watching all the bad happen.”

The timing of the adoption process culminating five days before Christmas is a coincidence, the Turbevilles said — but a delightful one. “It’s a Christmas to remember,” Elliott said.

Their caseworker, Caytlin Merritt of Hope Foster Care, called this case remarkable. She praised the Turbevilles for their patience with the children and for being fierce advocates when it comes to “going above and beyond” to fulfill their needs. “Not only have they welcomed these kids into their home and love them, but now they’re opening their hearts to them forever. That’s a huge commitment and sacrifice on their part, and they have just been all-in from day one. … It’s just a joy and a pleasure to have been a witness to that and support them.”

Beyond the number of children the Turbevilles adopted, what makes their case even more special, Merritt said, is their willingness to take in older children and keep siblings together. “There are not many foster homes currently able to take more than two children at a time and even fewer that are willing to take in teens,” Merritt said. “This means that siblings are often separated and may be placed in different counties, sometimes hours from each other. We want to do everything we can to keep teens in foster families, not group homes, and to keep sibling groups together.​”

Finding Empathy

Gabrielle Union, daughter Kaavia
and husband Dwayne Wade

I will admit that I have become generally against surrogacy as part of my own journey to understand adoption as it has manifested in my own family. However, in reading Gabrielle Union’s beautifully written essay in Time magazine – Hard Truths – I ended up feeling a definite empathy for her situation and believe the outcome to have been perfect for the situation.

Within my spiritual philosophy it is believed, as also is stated in Hindu Scripture, that “Mind, being impelled by a desire to create, performs the work of creation by giving form to Itself.” Some of my ability to empathize may have also arisen from experiencing secondary infertility in attempting to conceive my oldest son. I believe that Assisted Reproduction is a knowledge granted to man by Mind and so, many children are today being created using these medical techniques. This is a fact of modern life.

Gabrielle suffers from adenomyosis in which endometrial tissue exists within and grows into the uterine wall. Adenomyosis occurs most often late in the childbearing years. So in reading the Time magazine article I found poignant her experience of multiple miscarriages and various medical interventions in her many attempts to conceive. Many women then turn to adoption and it is often noted that the infertility itself must be dealt with in therapy before even considering adoption because an adopted child will never be that child you would have conceived and carried through a pregnancy to birth.

My objection to surrogacy is my awareness of how the developing fetus begins bonding with the gestational mother during pregnancy. Gabrielle writes of her awareness of this disconnect with clarity – “the question lingers in my mind: I will always wonder if Kaav would love me more if I had carried her. Would our bond be even tighter? I will never know . . .” She goes on to admit that when she met her daughter, they met “as strangers, the sound of my voice and my heartbeat foreign to her. It’s a pain that has dimmed but remains present in my fears that I was not, and never will be, enough.” She ends her essay with “If I am telling the fullness of our stories, of our three lives together, I must tell the truths I live with.” It seems healthy and realistic to my own understandings.

As the mother of donor conceived sons, I can understand the complex feelings. I can remember distinctly feeling less entitlement to my sons than my husband since it was his sperm that created them. I am also aware of adoptee trauma from that separation from their natural mother. Both of my parents were with their natural mothers for some months before they were surrendered for adoption. I think I see this issue in a couple of photos I have managed to obtain from their early years.

My mom held by a nurse from the orphanage she had been left in for “temporary care,” while my grandmother tried to get on her feet. My mom appears to be looking at
her mother in this photo.
I notice this expression on my baby dad’s face.
I wonder if my grandmother was there and was
he puzzling about her presence ? I can’t know
but it has caused me to ponder.

I will add that Union’s surrogate was of a different race. Another issue with surrogates is that they often become emotionally attached to the baby growing in them. Gabrielle describes her surrogate and the surrogate’s husband as “free spirit” people. She says at the time she met her surrogate in person, “The first thing I noticed was a nose ring. Oh, I thought, she’s a cool-ass white girl.” The surrogate wasn’t bothered at all – there was an excitement to her voice when she said, “This is such a trip. I have your book on hold at four different libraries.” She must have been referring to Gabrielle’s first collection of essays, We’re Going to Need More Wine, which sparked powerful conversations by examining topics such as power, color, gender, feminism, and fame through her stories.

Carrie Thornton, Dey Street’s (the publisher) VP and Editorial Director says of the new book, You Got Anything Stronger?, that it is “a book that tugs at the heart, feels relatable, and . . . you see her for exactly who she is. . . ” I would agree having read this story.

Surrogacy Controversy

I know of more than one family who used a surrogate to build their family. Because I do believe in the mother/child bond beginning and developed during pregnancy, I do have concerns about separating this infant after birth from their mother. With changing perspectives on LGBTQ rights, some an now arguing that having a female mother is not really important. Certainly, there are cases of maternal abuse where a child may have been better off without that mother. I won’t argue that specific point.

So without getting into those hot button issues, I wanted to know about any reasons that surrogacy might be considered controversial.

I go into this at a website that could be biased – American Surrogacy. With that awareness, I still read their perspective.

As my graphic illustrates, there is more than one type of surrogacy. Gestational surrogacy is the most common type of surrogacy today, in which the surrogate has no genetic relationship to the baby she carries. The other type is Traditional surrogacy which is considered rare in modern times. In this type, the surrogate’s own egg is fertilized using sperm from an intended father or donor via IVF or intrauterine insemination in a lab.

Surrogacy can also be categorized by the financial arrangements made between the intended parents and surrogate. This is known as Compensated surrogacy in which the surrogate is compensated for her time, energy, sacrifice and participation in the surrogacy process. Something similar happens in Egg Donation where the egg donor is compensated for similar reasons. In Altruistic surrogacy the surrogate is not paid a base compensation beyond reimbursement of her medical and legal expenses.

There is no shortage of people ready to point out reasons why surrogacy is “bad” or “wrong.” However, when examining the arguments against surrogacy, it’s important to keep in mind the various types of surrogacy; not all of these arguments will apply to every type of surrogacy completed today.

One argument is that a woman is “selling” something intimate as a physical service. As explicitly noted in my graphic – many critics of surrogacy argue that intended parents who “use” surrogates are interested only in their reproductive ability. The practice is seen as womb renting, especially when the woman carrying the pregnancy is in a financially disadvantageous position to the intended parents. This is also an argument used against egg donation. Some argue against it for religious reasons – Many religions emphasize the importance of a husband and wife conceiving naturally on their own. For this reason, any kind of assisted reproduction is sometimes viewed as going against religious beliefs.

Regarding the compensation argument – it is noted that – a significant commitment of time and personal care is required of a surrogate.  There are protections in place to ensure vulnerable women are not forced into surrogacy in the United States. If a surrogacy professional is enlisted, these do require a woman to be able to support their own self and if relevant, their family, without state assistance before being allowed to be a surrogate. Surrogacy professionals work closely with intended parents and surrogates to ensure the rights and interests of both are protected and any legal risks have been eliminated.

Given my own personal perspectives on bonding in utero – this site caught my attention too.

The Overlooked Risks of Surrogacy for Women. The intended parents may not feel the degree of control with a surrogate carrying their baby. Surrogacy can also bring unexpected challenges for the surrogate mothers. The female body experiences numerous changes when pregnant, both physical and mental, thanks or no thanks to the hormones that bring about the miracle of life. So, like any mother, surrogate moms bond with a child in their wombs often experience emotional pain when detached from that child after birth—even if they knew and intended all along to give up the child to the intended parents. 

Surrogate moms face increased pregnancy risks if they are carrying multiple embryos, which is often the case in order to ensure success. Multiple births come with an increased risk of Caesarian sections and longer hospital stays.

A report conducted by the University of Cambridge and published in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry received some buzz after suggesting surrogate children face increased emotional risks. Researchers found that children who were not gestationally carried by the mother who ended up raising them faced increased psychological adjustment difficulties including depression. As I have personally suspected, similar to babies whenever, whyever, they are separated from the mother who gestated them.

What Would The Answer Be ?

Why is it, when adoption comes up, that there are a majority of adoptive parents who will say “Well, what was I supposed to do…just accept that I couldn’t have a baby?” What do you want an adoptee’s answer to you to be ? Just take someone else’s kid ? I get that people want children, but is it another person’s job to supply a child for you ?

Life is not fair. If you didn’t complete your degree, do you say – what am I supposed to do ? Would other people tell you to just go and take someone else’s degree off the wall ? Why isn’t it your job, to give all of the money you have, to the people who are poor ? Or leave your current job, so someone who is unemployed can have it instead ? Would you take your dream home and give it someone who is homeless to live in ? How about that fancy car ? Should you hand the keys over to someone without one ?

Sometimes, life requires us to accept something that is true but that we sincerely don’t want to be part of our reality. Certainly, modern medical science does have some solutions that allow previously infertile women to conceive a child using assisted reproductive techniques. Not only is adoption in the process of being reconsidered and reformed but the medical approaches are as well. Not only are adoptee searches all the rage these days – and many of those searches have successful outcomes with the photos from these reunions making my own heart happy when I see them – but people who were conceived using donor sperm or donor eggs (or both) are discovering that the anonymity that was once standard, leaves them with the same black hole of genetic identity and lost familial medical history that adoptees in closed adoptions have been contending with since the beginning of adoption, which adoptees started pushing back against as early as the 1990s. Now donor conceived persons are pushing back against similar issues.

What sometimes gets lost in these conversations is that people are not inanimate objects like a university degree, employment, a person’s acquired wealth (whether by inheritance or hard work) or the home they bought to live in, the car that transports them wherever they want to go. Actually considering the reality that a child is not a commodity. In their desperate attempt to acquire a child to fill their own unfilled need, the humanity of that child and their birth mother is sometimes lost. That reality that these are human beings with feelings and emotions needs to be carefully reconsidered. You won’t die if you never have a child but you could utterly ruin two other lives in the process of taking someone else’s child – the birth mother’s and the adoptee’s lives – for the remainder of their personal lifetimes. Yes, reunions do relieve some of that long-held sorrow but you cannot recover or make up for the time or relationship development that was lost in the interim.

It’s A Fundamental Human Right

I certainly understand the need to know. I believe one of the purposes that I came into this lifetime was to heal some missing family history. I believe because I was aligned with my dharma, doors opened and answers revealed themselves. That black hole void beyond my parents became whole with ancestors stretching way back and into Denmark and Scotland as well as the English and Irish.

I believe in the principle that it’s a fundamental human right to know one’s genetic identity. I remember once talking to a woman who was trying to understand why it mattered that both of my parents were adopted if they had a good life. As I tried to explain it to her, she suddenly understood. She took her own genetic ancestry for granted because she knew that if she had any reason to want to know, she could discover all the details.

Not so for many adoptees with sealed and closed records (which was the case with my parents adoptions) and not so for donor conceived people whose egg or sperm donors chose to remain anonymous – many doing it for the money – and walking away from the fact that a real living and breathing human being exists because of a choice they made. Today, inexpensive DNA testing has unlocked the truth behind many family secrets. Some learn one (or both) of the parents who raised them are not their genetic parent from a DNA test. A family friend might tell a person mourning the death of their dad at his funeral, that their father suffered from infertility and their parents used a sperm donor to conceive them.

These types of revelations can be earth shattering for some people. I’ve know of someone recently who was thrown that kind of loop. The process of coping with such a revelation is daunting and life-changing regardless. Even for my own self, learning my grandparents stories has changed my perspectives in ways I didn’t expect, when I first began the search into my own cultural and genetic origins.

There is a term for this – misattributed parentage experience (MPE). It has to do with the fact that you did not grow up knowing your genetic parent.  That word – experience – best describes the long-term effects. It is not an “event,” a one-time occurrence. The ramifications of MPE last a lifetime to some degree.  I know how it feels, trying to get to know people, who have decades of life experience that I was not present for or even aware of. It is not possible to recover that loss. One can only go forward with trying to develop a forward relationship and whatever gems of the past make themselves known are a gift.

There are 3 primary communities with MPE in their personal histories.

[1] Non-paternity event (NPE): those conceived from an extramarital affair, tryst, rape or assault, or other circumstance

[2] Assisted conception: those conceived from donor conception (DC), sperm donation, egg donation, embryo donation, or surrogacy

[3] Adoption: those whose adoption was hidden, orphans, individuals who’ve been in foster care or are late discovery adoptees (LDA), etc.

There are also 3 primary topics for raising awareness and developing reform efforts – education, mental health and legislation. Right To Know is an organization active on all of these fronts and issues. They are advocates for people whose genetic parent(s) is not their supportive or legal parent(s). They work to promote a better understanding of the complex intersection of genetic information, identity, and family dynamics in society at large.

Judging The Past By Present Values

Lily MacLeod and Gillian Shaw
~ photo by Carlos Osorio for the Toronto Star, 2012

As a Gemini, twins have always fascinated me. I have wondered if I once had a twin in utero who vanished. Having gone through assisted reproductive medical interventions, I know this happens. It happened with my older son when my pregnancy originally appeared to be twins. I really didn’t want the challenge but in my mom’s group we have several pairs of twins and one set of triplets. The father of the man I am married to was a twin. Both my father in law and his twin brother are now deceased.

The less than common occurrence of multiple births has my attention this morning after watching the documentary – Three Identical Strangers. The story tells how these men were separated at 6 mos and adopted out with strategic intent by the clinical psychiatrist, Peter Neubauer, through the cooperation of the Louise Wise adoption agency. Psychology Today did an article entitled The Truth About “Three Identical Strangers.” The article explains – Dr Viola Bernard was the chief psychiatric consultant to the Wise agency. In the late 1950s (before Dr Peter Neubauer was involved), Dr Bernard created a policy of separating identical twins when they were adopted. Dr Bernard’s intentions are described as benign. In a memo subsequently recovered, she expresses her hope that “early mothering would be less burdened and divided and the child’s developing individuality would be facilitated” by this separation. It wasn’t only the Wise agency but many other agencies that also practiced the separation of twins at the time of adoption.

The conclusion by Dr Lois Oppenheim in the Psychology Today article is – The basic premise of the film, that the triplets’ separation was a heartless scheme undertaken at the expense of the children’s well-being to enable a scientific study, is fiction. The filmmakers could have created a documentary about the complexities of the twin study, its origins and context, and the changing standards of ethical norms and lessons learned. This might have been less dramatic, but it would have made an important contribution to our understanding of gene research and parenting.

Yet, the practice of separating identical or even non-identical siblings in the adoption industry continues and the study and research of such persons continues to this day. Regarding my photo above of Lily MacLeod and Gillian Shaw, the story in The Toronto Star by Amy Dempsey tells us that the 12-year-olds were separated as babies in China but reunited after the two separate Ontario couples adopted them. When their separate/different adoptive parents made the startling discovery that their two daughters were identical twins, they vowed to raise the girls as sisters. Their situation is highly unusual: Lily and Gillian are two of only a handful of twin pairs – mostly Chinese children adopted by North American parents – who are being raised, knowing they are siblings but separately apart. For scientific researchers, the girls are yet another opportunity to study the effects of nature vs nurture in real-time. As for their families – strangers thrown together by the most unusual of circumstances – their situation explores a new kind of blended family, with unique and fascinating joys and challenges.

The Toronto Star goes beyond the story of the twin Chinese girls to note that in the late 1970s, scientists at the Minnesota Center for Twin and Adoption Research began studying what was then a new category of multiples — adopted twins who were separated at birth and reunited as adults. Dr Thomas Bouchard’s landmark paper was titled “Minnesota Study of Identical Twins Reared Apart.” The study shook the scientific community by demonstrating, across a number of traits, that twins raised apart are as similar as twins raised together. The study’s evidence of genetic influence in traits such as personality (50 per cent heritable) and intelligence (70 per cent heritable) overturned conventional ideas about parenting and teaching. And findings of genetic influence on physiological characteristics have led to new ways of fighting and preventing disease.

While I was yet pregnant with my oldest son, I chose to read a book titled Mother Nature by Sarah Blaffer Hrdy which had just come out in the year before. So my interest is long standing and it is little wonder that the issues continue to capture my interest. For centuries, the self-sacrificing mother who places her child’s needs and desires above her own has defined womanhood. Designed by nature for the task of rearing offspring, women are “naturally” tender, selfless and compassionate where their progeny are concerned. Those who reject childbearing or fail to nurture their offspring directly are typed as pathological, “unnatural” women. In traditional Darwinian evolutionary biology, the female of any species has evolved to produce and nurture the species; one could say it is her only role. Feminist treatises have long argued against the necessary conflation of “woman” with “mother,” and classics such as Adrienne Rich’s Of Woman Born have cogently argued that such altruistic maternity is a cultural construct and not a biological given.

From a review (link above) of Hrdy’s book Mother Nature – US anthropologist Sarah Blaffer Hrdy strides into the minefield, examining motherhood across cultures, historical periods, evolutionary tracts and biological species to better understand human maternity. Hrdy’s book resides in that rare space between academic disciplines (she is a professor emerita at the University of California-Davis and she has been schooled in anthropology, primatology, evolutionary theory, history and feminism). Her work can be situated somewhere between specialist treatise and popular biological science. Hrdy’s unique placement enables her to combine the best of Darwinian evolutionary biology with feminist cultural theory, without falling into the political entrapments of either camp.

Heartening for me, as a biological/genetic mother who lost physical (but not legal) custody of her daughter when she was only 3 years old, I am reminded in this review of Hrdy’s book that stay-at-home mothers are rare in the historical and evolutionary archives; community caregiving is an age-old model of childrearing. Throughout history in primate and human communities, mothering techniques involve “allomothers”: the delegation of child caretaking to other members (male and female) of the community. “Mothers have worked for as long as our species has existed, and they have depended on others to help them rear their children,” Hrdy writes. That means I was not the abject failure I believed my self to be for over 60 years but just another kind of mother. Motherhood today often includes women who have jobs and incomes of their own. Hrdy sees this as an evolutionary process to ensure long and safe lives for these mother’s child(ren). A lack of financial resources most certainly drove me to leave my daughter with her paternal grandmother, while I took a risk to see if I could earn some decent money driving an 18-wheel truck. There never was the intention to permanently abandon my child to other people. Thankfully, as adults we are happily close enough at heart and I believe love one another as fully as any mom could hope for. It is actually the lack of financial resources that is at cause for most adoptions.

In “60 Years On, Twin/Triplet Study Still Raises Questions” – an interview of Dr Leon Hoffman by Elizabeth Hlavinka for Medpage Today looks at the ethics of that study, which began in 1960 (the documents from which are sealed in the archives at Yale University until 2065). This tells me that Peter Neubauer, who died in 2008, eventually had his own qualms about the ethics of what he had perpetrated, though he is judged to have mostly been concerned with confidentiality issues that (until open adoptions began) were the rule in commercial closed adoptions (the effects of which continue to obstruct and vex adult adoptees to this day – change comes slowly). My blog today takes it title from an observation by Dr Hoffman – that the problem with a lot of “exposés” is that we judge the past by our present values.  That is an important point. He also notes that at the time of the Neubauer project, there was a prevailing belief that twins would be better off separated, if they were going to be adopted. That twins were more difficult for the mother and that it would be easier for the mother to take care of one child instead of two children. I understand. In our mom’s group, those with twins often hired au pairs to assist them in those early days.

In this interview, Dr Hoffman notes – I always tell parents of kids that I see, “How much is genetic and how much is environment?” and I always say, “It’s 100% of both,” because those two are always interacting with one another. More and more data has shown that genetic variations get very much affected by the environment. I believe this is also evident in the story about the triplets. They even admit that during that time of their own high publicity, they amplified their similarities because that is what people were curious about. It is clear that they each had unique personalities that do seem to have been affected by their adoptive parents and the differing environmental situations they were raised in. As aging adults, the two surviving individuals have very different surface appearances while retaining many similarities.

Since I have looked at mother/child separations now for several years and am against the practice of adoption generally and in favor of family preservation, I was emotionally triggered last night by thinking about the amplifying effect of separation trauma (which IS mentioned by the triplets in their documentary) as yet another separation wound for babies who grew into their humanity in the same womb. Fortunately for the children in my mom’s group, they don’t have either of those added traumas. “The twin relationship, particularly with (identical) twins, is probably the closest of human social ties,” says Nancy Segal, who is herself a twin. This is why it’s so important for multiples to grow up together. Segal, now a psychology professor at California State University, has found about 15 more sets of adopted twin children being raised by different families, most of them Chinese girls. Researchers attribute this phenomenon to China’s one-child policy, which led to the abandonment of thousands of female babies. Though China’s official adoption rules state that twins should be placed together, pairs like Lily and Gillian prove things don’t always happen that way.

I found one other article that I’m not going to say very much about. You can read the story – Stories of Twins Separated at Birth by Pamela Prindle Fierro at the VeryWell Family website. There are the two sisters – Anais Bordier and Samantha Futerman. They found each other through Facebook and YouTube. They had been raised on different continents. The article includes information about the “Jim Twins” – James Arthur Springer and James Edward Lewis who found each other at the age of 39 in 1979. And there are actually MORE stories at this link.

The important thing to learn is that every action taken, that affects another human being, has the possibility of unintended consequences and that there is always the need for a fully informed consent in the interest of human well-being. An issue with adoptees is that due to their young age, they are never able to give informed consent and therefore, their rights are never considered. This is an issue with many adoptees who feel they are treated like second-class citizens with important basic human rights withheld from them – identity and medical issues foremost. An evolving issue with donor conceptions is similar. The human being conceived in that manner had no ability to consent to the method of their conception. Realistically, none of us consents (in a human sense, but I believe we do in non-physical prior to birth as I believe we are eternal souls).

In Praise Of Adoption

An adoptee friend of mine alerted me to this article that is an interview of Scott Simon. It touches upon an interesting tangential or is it potential argument for adopting based upon the environment. The title of the article is NPR’s Scott Simon on Adoption and Environmentalism. Before I go any further, I’ll quickly answer that part – the interviewer mentions reading the book and coming across this passage: “Adopting a child to prove something is not a healthy motivation. I would seriously consider alerting the authorities if I heard a prospective parent say, ‘We want to adopt because it’s the most environmentally responsible thing to do.  Don’t want to increase our carbon footprint, after all!’ ”

I give Simon and his wife some credit for trying assisted reproduction first. I don’t know how far that went with that effort beyond the most traditional and conventional method of invitro fertilization. When that effort failed, their next thought was “there are children in the world already who need us, so why don’t we do that ?”

I don’t know how much the couple investigated the whole orphan industry in foreign countries. I know quite a bit that is unsavory and deceptive in those situations and I don’t intend to do more than mention there is more going on there than a gullible hopeful adoptive parent might wish to know and is completely willing to remain ignorant of. The fact that I have issues with transracial adoption generally should come as no surprise to anyone who has been reading this blog for very long.

Simeon and his wife adopted from China and to their credit (though it will not actually prove to be enough to offset the loss of native culture for his daughters) they have tried – they see a family therapist and their children go to a weekly cultural class that teaches Mandarin stories and songs.

Simon says, “you ought to have children out of joy, not out of sense of duty.” Yet, I question, is not thinking you are “saving” children some kind of sense of duty, what is often referred to in adoption circles as saviorism.

He perceives adoption as a kind of global warming addressing the needs of 150 million orphaned and abandoned children in this world. I refer the reader back to my previous comment about transracial adoption and these children in foreign countries. I would add here – most are not orphans or abandoned. They do come from poverty stricken families who expect their children to return to them some day after a good education in the United States and that actually rarely is successful, even if the adoptee makes an effort because that child has been severed from their cultural roots and has a difficult time relating.

Simon admits that adoption is “good for those of us who adopt. It’s transforming — literally, physically, emotionally transforming.” I do not doubt the truth of that statement. This does not consider the child them selves. Simeon mentions talking to adoptees for his book “who say they have no interest whatsoever in meeting their birth parents, and I think it’s possible that five months or five years or 10 years after saying that, they may feel differently.”

There are MANY adoptees today constantly doing their best to reconnect with their genetic biological families. This I do know is true. My own mom who was adopted tried and failed to be able to reconnect with her mom as she was deceased by that time, and later on inexpensive DNA testing through Ancestry did not bring her the results she was seeking – though it has been a great assistance to me. My dad (also adopted) never expressed the same interest and in fact seemed fearful of what he might learn.

As a person who became a parent for the second and third time at an advanced age, I do agree with Simon that “Having children is a profoundly personal decision and personal experience, and I can’t put myself in the position of judging.” I stop short of agreeing with him that “[adoption is] a very good thing to do.” because at this point in my own self-education, I don’t believe that – in most cases (honestly, not every possible circumstance – I reserve a strong belief there may be exceptions).

The interviewer indicates the possibility that the Simon’s happy family came about through the unhappy circumstance of China’s draconian one-child policy. His answer is something I need to deeply contemplate as I don’t know everything, though I do know some that troubles me – we did not get our children from a family or a single mother; we got them out of institutions. If we hadn’t adopted them, or somebody else hadn’t adopted them, they would’ve grown up in institutions. They wouldn’t have grown up in institutions in the way that we understand growing up — they would have stayed there until the age of 12 or 13, then they would’ve gone into farm or factory work, or worse, which is too terrible to contemplate. It’s China’s one-child policy that took them away from their families. I don’t think anything would’ve been accomplished by leaving them there. I say a few times in the book, it’s our blessing that began with a tragedy, a tragedy that’s also a crime.

Simon ends on a belief that adoption is preferable to creating a family using the new technologies as adoption is an ancient practice (though until modern times no one profited financially as an industry). I disagree with him on that point as well. That should not surprise anyone as I have two sons for whom my husband is the genetic biological father thanks to a new technology that allowed me to use a compassionate and generous woman’s eggs – twice – years apart, yielding for us two 100% genetically biological siblings.

Infertility and Adoption

Erin Brockovich has an op-ed in The Guardian about this book by Shanna Swan with the alarming prediction that by 2045 her research suggests sperm counts could reach zero. Though I have known for a very long time what an awful influence the chemical industry has and that the pervasive chemicals in our environment are not good for reproduction in general, my thoughts after reading this article, went in the direction of this blog where I consider issues related to adoption.

I realized that increasing infertility will put increasing pressure on the availability of adoptable babies. This is not a happy thought for me. From personal experience, I know that medical science has the ability of offset fertility deficiencies with assisted reproductive techniques, so there is that as a natural counter for decreasing reproduction among humans without tearing babies away from the mothers who conceive easily.

I remember my own science experiment with our aquarium. The snail population had spiraled into filling the entire space with snails. I didn’t take any actions but to my utter surprise, the snails quit reproducing and eventually there were none, their dying bodies happily goggled up by our albino catfish who yet lives solitarily now in our aquarium. So could a major die-off of humanity simply be a natural event, much like there are no dinosaurs left on the earth today ?

Of course, we do need to care about our environment !! The truth of the matter is – the Earth does not need saving but humanity might. However, I also happen to believe there are more than enough people, as regards sustainability and resources, and that is why I am in favor of allowing any woman who does not want to commit herself to 9 months of pregnancy to have an abortion. Not that women should be coerced to have abortions and any woman who wants to carry, birth and then give her baby up for adoption will find an eager and more the willing market to accommodate her. Not that I am in favor of adoption as I have expressed in this blog many many times.

Swan’s book includes statistics such as these – “In some parts of the world, the average twentysomething woman today is less fertile than her grandmother was at 35.” and “A man today will have half of the sperm his grandfather had.” Swan’s research finds that these chemicals are also shrinking penis size and volume in the testes.

And of course, aggressive regulation is lacking in the United States in no small part due to lobbying by chemical industry giants. Chemicals are killing us, literally, but also by harming and attacking the very source of life: our reproductive capacities. And not only are they doing that but this will likely guarantee there will be more couples looking for that baby to love that they can’t birth themselves. So that is the relationship between chemicals, infertility and ultimately adoption.

Against The Odds

A little over 20 years ago, after 10 years of marriage, my husband decided he wanted to become a father after all. True, he had been glad I had already given birth to a daughter, so there was no pressure on him because I had already been there, done that. Imagine my surprise when over a couple of Margaritas at a Mexican restaurant, he told me “I’ve been thinking” and my mouth actually dropped open in utter amazement. When I recovered from my own shock, I said OK.

We had seen a news clip that women who conceive at an older age live longer. I was 44 years old at the time. My GPs nurse practitioner during a counseling session over my cholesterol levels learned I was trying to conceive (we’d been doing all the usual things – timing intercourse, ovulation predictors and pregnancy tests – to no avail). She said to me, “I’m not saying you are infertile but at your age, you have no time to waste” and referred me to her own fertility specialist who was also an OB.

The night before our appointment, we saw another news clip that indicated my chances of conceiving were technically zero due to my age. I remember going to the place alongside the perennial stream that flows past our house to the gravel bar where I married my husband. Hugging our witness tree, I cried because my husband married a woman too old to give him what he was now wanting.

At the doctor’s office, we saw the very last egg in my ovary on ultrasound. The doctor gave us some kind of shot to give it a boost but it failed to produce a pregnancy. While we were there, he said to us – there is another way – and described donor egg technology to us. We utilized a website for matching couples with women volunteering to donate their fertile eggs. We selected one that my husband noted, one of her answers matched my own philosophies in life. She turned out to be a good choice. A mother with 3 children already of her own. She has donated to at least one other couple we know of but we do not know the outcome of that effort for not all assisted reproductive technology efforts succeed. In my online cycle group, only about 50% did.

The doctor in the town our donor was living in at that time did 4 procedures that year with only one success – ours.

Having now learned about the way an infant bonds with its mother in the womb, I’m grateful we rejected adoption as our means to becoming parents. Our donor subsequently donated a second time to help us conceive our second son. Therefore, our two sons are fully genetically and biologically the same – and yet very different people. They have their natural father as a mirror as well. Each of them is some part but not wholly the same as their dad. I marvel that I must love my husband a lot to want 3 of him – though of course, as I just acknowledged that is not 100% the truth.

At some point I became aware of a woman in my Mothers Via Egg Donation online support community who was researching a book. It is titled Creating Life Against The Odds – The Journey From Infertility To Parenthood. The author is Ilona Laszlo Higgins MD FACOG. For contributing our experience to her research, I was given a signed copy of her book. She wrote in the title page – “To Deborah and Stephen who undertook this special journey to bring Simeon and Treston into their lives! With love, Lonny”

Today, my oldest son celebrates his 20th birthday. I have referred to him as my savior because it was in trying to conceive him that I discovered I was positive for hepatitis C. Otherwise, I may have destroyed my liver without ever knowing this virus was there by drinking too many alcoholic based drinks. I haven’t had a drop of alcohol since learning about it.

I had to fight with the doctors at the hospital where my c-section took place 20 years ago today to be allowed to breastfeed my son. The lactation consultants there came to my defense. I nursed him for over a year (and at 18 months, each boy tested negative for the hepC virus). When he was about 3 months old, we embarked on a long journey that eventually caused us to traverse through about half of these United States in the Eastern part of the continent. I nursed him in public everywhere we went and to be honest, I had the right kind of clothes to do so with subtlety.

I share all of this to encourage women struggling with any kind of infertility to consider this method. Your baby will be born to the woman in who’s womb the baby grew, who’s heartbeat and internal processes has been the background noise of its development, who’s voice the baby has always known. This is all every baby that is born desires in life – to be with its natural mother. My sons do not have my genes but in every other way, no other person is more their mother than I am.

Not long ago, I read an essay by a woman with a great attitude. She was donor conceived. She accepts that she would simply not be who and how she is any other way. It is my hope that my sons will also understand their origins with that clarity of acceptance. It isn’t all that different than my own self understanding that if both of my parents had not been given up for adoption, I would not exist.

Sometimes the honest truth is the best. We have always been truthful with our sons without making a big issue about their conception. With the advent of inexpensive DNA testing, I’m glad we chose the path often referred to in donor conception support groups as “tell”. Their donor did 23 and Me. Then, I gifted my husband with a kit, then my oldest son with a kit and finally my youngest son with a kit. The youngest one was only slightly disappointed that he didn’t have any of my genes. But I am still “Mom” to him and we remain very close at heart – where it truly does matter.

The Wild Track

I often review books in this blog related to adoption or foster care that I have actually read. I’ve not read this one but will share bits and pieces from a review of this book in The Guardian. I’ve pretty much completed my related reading for now. There is an unlimited number of related books and I’ve moved on to other reading interests such as racial inequality (have pretty much completed that one) and now mental illness with an unusual emphasis on spirituality (now that’s something I can and have really gotten into to!!).

The review begins with this insight – wanting to have children and deciding to have children are acts of imagination that border on egotism. To be a child is to be a particular child but to want a child is not to know who that child will be or how to grant it agency. For Margaret Reynolds these issues were unusually complex because she started grappling with them aged 45 when, single after the breakdown of a relationship, she suddenly experienced the urge to be a mother. She was longing for purpose and joy, for a “commitment that tries and shapes the self”. Yet this was not an urge to procreate. She had already undergone the menopause and wasn’t invested in reproducing her DNA.

And I do get this. In my case, I had already procreated when I was 19 years old. A beautiful daughter who has given me two equally beautiful grandchildren. However, my second husband thought he was happy I had “been there and done that” already when we met because he didn’t particularly want children and didn’t feel financially strong enough to have any children, being the responsible kind of guy he was. When I met him, I knew he was the kind of guy I would be willing to have children with. It took him 10 years to decide that he wanted to and like the author of the book I’m highlighting today, I was also 45 years old. Turns out I had gone past easily becoming pregnant like I could when I was in my late teens and early twenties. Enter medical technology into our picture. That wasn’t the path Margaret Reynolds decided on however.

It took Reynolds 5 years to succeed in adopting a child and becoming the mother to a troubled six-year-old daughter is described as a painful pleasure. Actually – troubled or not – being a parent is sometimes that – honestly. The book is actually about the British adoption system and not the American one that I know more about.

To the book’s credit as an adoption related journey, it is an unusually thoughtful take on becoming a mother, enabled by removing babyhood and biology. Though Reynolds begins by desiring a child, the motherhood that results is a gradual, open process, in which she makes herself available as a mother and waits for Lucy to claim her. At first, they don’t hug and kiss. Reynolds just rubs her daughter’s back at night and it’s Lucy who initiates the process of kissing and cuddling, and finds her own way to calling her “Mum”. I found this moving partly because Lucy is given an autonomy that we perhaps all want our mothers to be capable of giving us and should allow to our daughters.

The question of fatherhood is rightly raised here, given Reynolds was setting herself up as a single mother (a fact that, combined with her previous lesbian relationship, prevented her adopting internationally). There is a long literary history of foundlings – it is peculiarly convenient for children to be orphaned at the start of a story. There’s a touching scene where she reads Anne of Green Gables to her daughter, crying alongside Marilla when she realizes what Anne means to her.

One thing that sets this book apart from other adoption related books is that at the end there are two chapters written by her daughter Lucy. Having heard about their early months together from Reynolds, we hear about them from Lucy, learning, shockingly, that she didn’t yet know when she was driven, crying bitterly, to Reynolds’s house from the foster parents she had grown to love, that this was a permanent move. Lucy’s sections are a testament to the joy of finding home and belonging, but also a reminder that the pain of early separations is perpetual. A few days before collecting Lucy, Reynolds had to remind herself that “my happiness is her sadness”. One of the strengths of the adoption system is that it sends potential parents on courses to think through how to parent children who have trauma ready to be reignited at any moment.