The Fog

In adoptee centric communities, one quickly learns about “the fog”. This is the feel good narrative that adoption agencies and adoptive parents “feed” their adopted child. Many adoptees never come out of the fog. Most do not come out until maturity, maybe when they give birth to a biological child genetically related to them and begin searching the adoption related literature, a prominent one is The Primal Wound by Nancy Verrier. This is the preverbal, subconscious trauma experienced by a baby when they are taken from the mother who gestated them and then gave birth. It matters not a lot whether this separation occurs immediately after birth or months later. My parents were 6 mos and 8 mos old at the time they were separated from their mothers – so preverbal. The trauma is real and has ongoing effects.

So, I was attracted to an article in The Guardian titled Brain fog: how trauma, uncertainty and isolation have affected our minds and memory in the Health & wellbeing section by Moya Sarner. A feeling of brain fog has become more common as a result of the collective trauma of the COVID pandemic. It is described as a feeling of being unable to concentrate. There’s this sense of debilitation or of losing ordinary facility with everyday life.

It could be helpful for an adoptee to understand that this feeling isn’t unusual or weird. There isn’t something wrong with you. It’s a completely normal reaction to a seriously traumatic experience. This can affect you ability to problem-solve, your capacity to be creative in the face of life’s challenges. There can be a lot of different factors that taken together and interacting with each other, can cause these impairments, attentional deficits and other processing difficulties. Humans have effectively evolved to stop paying attention when nothing changes, but to pay particular attention when things do change.

For an adoptee, it is life changes such has giving birth that can begin the process of waking up from the fog. The adoptive parents dying, so freeing the adopted child from a need to remain loyal to the people who cared and nurtured them growing up that may kindle a need for their own personal truth. Who were the people that gave them life ? Are they still living ? What is the background story ? Are there other genetic relations ? What can they learn about their familial medical history ? What is their cultural identity ? Waking up to the reality of who the adopted person actually is.

Brain fog is a common experience but it’s very complex. It is the cognitive equivalent of feeling emotionally distressed; it’s almost the way the brain expresses sadness, beyond the emotion. One needs to think about the mind, the brain, the immune and the hormonal systems to understand the various mental and physical processes that might underlie this consequence of stress.  

When our mind appraises a situation as stressful, our brain immediately transmits the message to our immune and endocrine systems. These systems respond in exactly the same way they did in early humans – with what may feel like an irrational fear.  The heart beats faster so we can run away, inflammation is initiated by the immune system and the hormone cortisol is released. A dose of cortisol will lower a person’s attention, concentration and memory for their immediate environment. 

An experience of the fog is one of the most disturbing aspects of the unconscious. Recognizing the fog is our body and our brain telling us something, a signal – an alarm bell. We should stop and ask ourselves, why am I feeling this way ? What is the trigger ? What is the source ?  The idea is that we have a force inside us that is propelling us towards life. What has been hidden from us is now pushing us into a discovery. To make connections with our familial tribe and seek to expand the meaning of our very own life with the truth. 

The mental weight of our unknowns becomes harder to drag around. We have – at some moment in our lifetime – a will to know something about ourselves and our lives, even when that knowledge is profoundly painful. Paradoxically, there is also a powerful will not to know, a wish to defend against this awareness so that we can continue to live cosseted by lies. An adoptee might chose to live in the misty, murky fog rather than to face, to suffer, the painful truth and horror of their origin situation because the truth of the experience of how and why they were separated from their natural mother is too hard to bear.

We all experience grief, times in our lives where we feel like we can’t function at all. If you find yourself here, may it be mercifully temporary and may you recover from the shocks of reality and move forward, feeling a new wholeness in an expanded identity of yourself.

Using Bio in Reference to Family

When one spends time within the larger adoption community (this includes original family, adoptees and former foster youth as well as adoptive and foster parents) the precise use of language sometimes becomes an issue. For my own self, I am entirely willing to learn to use the most appropriate language while giving a large tolerance to the words anyone else uses because we are all doing our best to improve and reform circumstances that have historically not been in the best interests of the child who ends up adopted or in foster care. That is really the most important issue – the well-being of our children overall.

Some of the adoptees or former foster youth have had reunions with their original family that have not gone well at all, only heaping more heartbreak and rejection on already wounded souls. Some had really crappy experiences with their adoptive or foster care families. Life can be incredibly hard at times for a lot of people. I try to always remember that and I too fail to be compassionate and sympathetic enough at times. We all do. Rather than beat ourselves up over our mistakes in judgement and actions, we really can only try to do better in the next instant – every instant after every instant. Life is for evolving ourselves and through our efforts to make ourselves a better human being overall, we evolve our families, our communities, our countries and our planet. It is an on-going process that never ends.

Whatever we call our parents, it can only be whatever feels right to each of us personally. I think every one of my own children has called me by my familiar first name of Debbie at some time or other and it has never truly bothered me. It does get complicated when adoption is in one’s family history. I called my mom’s adoptive parents – Grandmother D and Grandfather D – they were very formal people. I called my dad’s adoptive parents – Granny and Granddaddy. They were very humble, salt of the earth kinds of people.

When I learned who my parents actual original parents were – in my heart, they did take the place of my adoptive grandparents because they are truly the genetic, biological ones. However, I never use a “grandparent” identifier with them. It is their names that I use – Lizzie Lou, JC, Delores and Rasmus (though he preferred Martin, I like the more Danish version personally). So though, when I think of grandparents now (having only learned of them after the age of 60, after they were long deceased and I will never know them but second hand through other descendants of theirs), I think of the original ones but I never use the childhood identifiers for them.

There has long been a raging controversy over the use of the word “birth” to denote the parents who conceived and birthed children who were later surrendered either voluntarily or involuntarily (forcefully taken). Here is one perspective on that issue –

I personally loathe the term ‘birth mother’ and prefer ‘bio’ to differentiate between adoptive parents and family I’m related to by biology. I don’t understand why Lee Campbell (founder of Concerned United Birthparents) insists that ‘birth’ is not offensive but ‘bio’ is. Biology denotes DNA; genetically unrelated surrogates can give birth, so it’s not an inclusive term, as far as I can see. Anyway, as an adoptee—the only person among ANY of my family who had NO CHOICE—I’ll use whatever term I please. I adore my maternal biological family, including my late momma, whom I didn’t get to know past infancy. I feel far more connected to her than I ever did to my adoptive mother. I have three living maternal uncles and we are CRAZY about each other. We don’t use qualifiers referring to each other, but in cases when clarification is needed, I specify with ‘bio’.

Some of the push related to language was actually influenced by the adoptive parents when the whole industry was going through radical change in the 1970s. Social workers started to push positive adoption language. You had adoptive families complaining about the previous terms: they didn’t like natural mother because then they were unnatural. They didn’t like real because that made them unreal.

Many original mothers and their offspring do dislike the term “birth” because a woman who has given birth to a child is much more than just a woman who gave birth. There is a bond formed in the womb and all the conditions and circumstances that occur during gestation that will forever be a part of any human being and of course, there is the genetics as well.

Here is another perspective from a former foster youth who has adopted a child out of foster care – I always refer to my own parents as my biological parents. I honestly don’t have much relationship with either of my parents. I have learned through the years they are truly incapable of having a safe parent/child relationship. And honestly they are simply my biology. Nothing more. As an adoptive parent, I have learned and respect my daughter’s mom and family and refer to her mom when speaking to her as simply – her mom. In posts on the internet I try to always use first family. I will add that I only use first family in areas of the internet when needing to differentiate. In real life, it is simply family, mom, dad, grandmother, etc and no one has ever been confused over whether I was talking about adoptive or her first family.

Another one added – I call my son’s Mom, his Mom. His first family, his family. I can’t handle the terms that make the moms less than.

I totally agree.

And many of these women really don’t like “tummy mom.”

There is also another kind of family where the adoptive parent is actually “kin” related to the adoptee. I know one of these kinds of situations rather well. So one who is a former foster youth wrote –

Normal 0 false false false EN-US X-NONE X-NONE MicrosoftInternetExplorer4

I will call my bio parents whatever I want. They are not my “real” parents, because neither of them raised me. It is incredibly offensive when people ask “your adoptive (kinship) mom, or your real mom?” No. My kinship mom IS my
“real” mom. Our relationship is far from perfect. My raising was far from perfect. But she’s the only person who I’ve ever felt comfortable enough regarding our relationship to call “mom”, and I’ll continue to do so.  I hate the phrase “real mom.” My mom is my mom.  Period.

In my own case, my biological, genetically related daughter was not raised by me after the age of 3. She ended up being raised by her dad and step-mother.  My daughter considers my ex-husband’s wife her mom. I accept that. I carry enough conflicted emotions for not raising her – regardless of the reasons that came to pass. But I do acknowledge that her step-mother was the one that was there when my daughter was sick, in trouble or needed a compassionate heart to listen to whatever. I do have a decently good adult relationship with my daughter. I am grateful for that much.

#whatabouts=derailment

In The Simpsons animated series, Helen Lovejoy often exclaims, “Ohhh, won’t somebody please think of the children!”

Something like this happens in broadly represented adoption groups (adoptees, original parents, adoptive parents and foster caregivers). “What about . . . ?” statements regarding kids being abused when issues of adoption and foster care are discussed, especially when the overall goal is to encourage family preservation only derail the effort to put forth viable solutions.

To assume any thoughtful, caring adult is seeking to justify kids being abused by impassioned support for the well-being of the whole biological family is abhorrent. I do not and never have advocated for allowing the abuse of children. What I seek to discuss through this blog in a variety of ways is how abuse and neglect stem from other factors in a person’s life. Being more pro-active on the side of helping families (and people in general) find the support they need can actually help stop abuse and neglect from ever occurring.

If you don’t believe that is possible, then maybe you are not doing enough in your own life to be part of the solution. Maybe you need to open your eyes to the simple truth of what is actually going on. You may need to stop sitting in your bubble of privileged judging of other people’s challenges.

I do believe that no one is born a terrible person. Life happens and sometimes it is a person’s path forward that results in inconvenient truths about the lack of support in our society for marginalized people. Not everyone is fortunate enough to always have goods choices that help them along on one of those better paths in life.

However, allowing people to have better choices CAN lead to a better life, a better person and a healthier, more stable family. This is not Utopian ideals. This is the honest truth derived from being open to learning about a diversity of challenges and experiences as well as the outcomes of those for many different people.

To that question, will there always be children that need someone else to care for them? Sadly Yes, of course there will.

Another question, is there an over-abundance of foster care necessitated by child removals and adoptions taking place in our country today? Maybe, maybe not. These are complex situations that deserve intelligent, nuanced thinking.

The goal of this blog is to help in educating people who may not have as broad of an access to all things adoption and foster care thinking, nor the attention that captures for me many of the stories I feel are worth sharing here.

Kinship Caregivers

On December 29, 2020 – Ohio Governor Mike DeWine signed Senate Bill 310 which authorizes payments from the Ohio Dept of Job and Family Services to pay kinship caregivers. This is a big deal and hopefully other states will now follow suit. The governor noted that in Ohio alone, there are 2,600 kinship caregivers providing safe and loving homes to nearly 4,000 children registered in a children services agency.

The governor ordered the development of a system to pay kinship cargivers by June 1, 2021 and that payments to caregivers should be caught up retroactively to the date the bill was signed – December 29, 2020.

Across the United States, 4% of all children (more than 2.65 million) are in kinship care. In this arrangement, relatives raise kids when their parents cannot care for them. This is an effort to keep families together.

There are three general and sometimes overlapping categories of kinship care. These categories are: 1) private or informal care, where families make arrangements with or without legal recognition of a caregiver’s status; 2) diversion kinship care, where children who have come to the attention of child welfare agencies end up living with a relative or close friend of the family. and 3) licensed or unlicensed kinship care, where kids live with relatives but remain in legal custody of the state.

There are many reasons that a parent may be unwilling or unable to care for their child, including death, incarceration, illness, substance abuse and financial instability.

Kinship caregivers may be grandparents, great-grandparents, siblings, aunts, uncles, or family friends of the children in their care. Caregivers often feel responsible for extended family members and prefer to care personally for relative children who may otherwise end up in non-relative foster care. In many cases, grandparents and other relatives have not planned for the addition of children to the home, and may have problems accessing social and educational services that have changed drastically since they raised their own children. Some caregivers experience feelings of guilt and social isolation resulting from fear of the perception that one failed in raising one’s own child. Caregivers may be hesitant to pursue legal custody of children in their care if they want to maintain relationships with the child’s biological parent, or if they view the arrangement as temporary.

Grandfamilies face obstacles not encountered by biological parents such as obtaining medical and educational services for the children in their care and securing affordable housing in which they can live with the children. Many of the public assistance benefits available to birth parents and foster families are not available to kinship caregivers even if the child was receiving assistance in the parent’s home. Some states offer “subsidized guardianship” payments for kinship families with children placed through children services agencies or foster care agencies, although these payments are substantially less than payments that non-relative foster families receive.

Financial issues are common for many older grandparents and great-grandparents who are living on fixed incomes, Social Security or disability payments, who did not plan to raise children late in life, or who are raising children with demanding educational or medical needs. The prevalence of these financial issues has led to a high rate of food insecurity, job loss and home foreclosure in families who support additional children without adequate financial and service assistance. The obstacles can be even greater in “informal” care arrangements, where the relative caregiver lacks a legal relationship (such as legal custody or guardianship) with the child.

Can We Just Pretend ?

What to do for this little boy ?

Ok here is my question – I adopted our kiddo when he was 4. He has always known he’s adopted, he’s always been excited and proud of it. He introduces himself as adopted. He has a long story but basically he came to us with the termination of parental rights and two failed adoptions. Lots of trauma and 17 placements.

He’s now almost 7 and in 1st grade. So here’s what’s up…all of a sudden he wants us to pretend he’s not adopted. To not talk about it and let him pretend he came from us. He wants us to make up a birth story. We don’t have biological kiddos, so it’s not like he’s hearing other birth stories here. The kids all vocalize adoption and biological families. His mother is deceased and his biological family hasn’t been open to any contact.

He’s super smart but isn’t able to articulate what created this idea. He just wants it. My question is how to approach this…do we give him this? Do we allow it for however long it lasts, while initially reminding him that he can always take it back? Or do we just apologize that his story is his and he doesn’t have to ever share it with anyone he doesn’t want to but that we can’t just pretend?

I’m at a loss. I want to do what’s right by him and honor his experience but I also don’t want to play along, if it’s harmful down the road. I feel like I will make the wrong decision no matter what I choose.

Someone offered this explanation that makes sense – We had a friend that didn’t want people knowing she was adopted. Said she hated when people would say “oh, she’s adopted”. She just wanted to be like her friends and be a part of the family. Maybe that’s how he is feeling.

Then there was this sad reality (kids really can be cruel) – When I was in high school I had someone make fun of me for being adopted and refer to me as a “dumpster baby” multiple times. I was 15 and shut it down and moved on.  IF that had happened to me when I was 7, I imagine it would have been incredibly damaging and embarrassing for me.

Someone else suggested –  I work with young kids, and I think pretending/role playing is their way of reflecting. In order to understand, “What does it mean to be adopted?” he has to first ask, “Well, what would it be like if I wasn’t adopted? In what ways is it different?” Completely normal child behavior; I’d let it happen.

To which another affirmed –  That’s a great way of thinking about it. Children do think about hypotheticals a lot and that’s discouraged more and more as we age. I think that makes a lot of sense given that he’s 7.

An adoptee suggests –  I would personally ask him if there is a reason he wants to – if someone said something or why ? – and just go with it. I would not tell him he can’t pretend. It may just be his way of coping right now because obviously something is going on in his mind that’s causing him to want this. So I would just ask questions to make sure he’s okay and listen to him and go with it.

And I really, really like this suggestion –  “Sometimes I think of “if” you had been born to me but then, I remember you wouldn’t be the same you, if you had. Your mom, DNA and genetics have made you – you – and I would never want to miss you. You wouldn’t be the same you, if you were born to me.”

Now that is beautifully honest.

The Story of Haitian Adoptions

God’s Littlest Angels, an orphanage in Pétionville, Haiti

Since the subject has come up, I thought I would look into this.  The January 12 2010 earthquake that devastated Haiti’s capitol set off an international adoption bonanza in which some safeguards meant to protect children were ignored.

The current Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett adopted John Peter, now age 13, was adopted by her in 2010 when he was 3 years old, after the devastating earthquake in Haiti.  Ibram X. Kendi tweeted, “Some White colonizers ‘adopted’ Black children. They ‘civilized’ these ‘savage’ children in the ‘superior’ ways of White people, while using them as props in their lifelong pictures of denial, while cutting the biological parents of these children out of the picture of humanity. And whether this is Barrett or not is not the point. It is a belief too many White people have: if they have or adopt a child of color, then they can’t be racist.”

John Lee Brougher from the NextGen America PAC tweeted, “As an adoptee, I need to know more about the circumstances of how Amy Coney Barrett came to adopt her children, and the treatment of them since. Transracial adoption is fraught with trauma and potential for harm.”  And I really hoped that Trump would have picked the judge from Florida that was on the short list for diversity reasons but I knew he didn’t care one whit about diversity.  He does care about the Evangelicals (many of whom promote international adoptions) and their desire for ultra-conservative judges.  From that perspective, of course Coney Barrett was a given and that has proven out.  A group of Evangelicals were reported in the Oval office the morning before the official announcement.

The Obama administration responded to BOTH the crisis and to the pleas of prospective adoptive parents and the lawmakers assisting them, by lifting visa requirements for children in the process of being adopted by Americans.

Although initially planned as a short-term, small-scale evacuation, the rescue effort quickly evolved into a baby lift unlike anything since the Vietnam War. It went on for months; fell briefly under the cloud of scandal involving 10 Baptist missionaries who improperly took custody of 33 children; ignited tensions between the United States and child protection organizations; and swept up about 1,150 Haitian children, more than were adopted by American families in the previous three years, according to interviews with government officials, adoption agencies and child advocacy groups.

Under humanitarian parole, adoptions were expedited regardless of whether children were in peril, and without the screening required to make sure they had not been improperly separated from their relatives or placed in homes that could not adequately care for them.

Some Haitian orphanages were nearly emptied, even though they had not been affected by the quake or licensed to handle adoptions. Children were released without legal documents showing they were orphans and without regard for evidence suggesting fraud. In at least one case, two siblings were evacuated even though American authorities had determined through DNA tests that the man who had given them to an orphanage was not a relative.

I’m sure there will be more about these circumstances in the coming days.  To inform yourself about the matter, you can read about the free for all Haitian adoptions after the 2010 earthquake in the New York Times – “After Haiti Quake, the Chaos of U.S. Adoptions“.

Sad Stories

Not just sometimes, many times, I hate what adoption does to families.  So today, yet another sad story of a mother separated from her child.  An open adoption agreement that turns into a lie.  This happens too often to not be expected going in but the ones who go in trust the agreement until it is broken – and many times it is.

A woman became pregnant at the age of 18 and was 19 when her daughter was born.  I can relate, that is what happened to me although I was married first – thankfully – it could have turned out differently . . .

She chose adoption because she really didn’t believe that she had another choice. She had never heard of an open adoption. The family she chose was the first and only family she looked at. They sounded great to her.  They were also adopted and had relationships with their biological parents. She believed that, if anyone could relate to anything her daughter might feel growing up, these people could. Upon meeting them, she was offered an open adoption.

So things were going great for 3 years. The agreement was for 2 visits a year. Aware that her vulnerability could risk a rupture, she was cautious in her behavior at these visits.  She didn’t want to over step her authority or make the adoptive parents uncomfortable. She never referred to her own daughter as that around them or in direct communication with them.

It appeared that all was well until the little girl turned 3.  A visit was scheduled and 2 hours before she was due to arrive, the adoptive parents asked if they could reschedule the visit to take place a few weeks later.  The woman waited 2 months for a date.  Finally, she tried calling them. The number was no longer in service.  I have encountered variations on this story more times than I might hope to believe happens.

Her adoption worker, from that day on, always said she had no idea where they were and hadn’t heard from them. Fast forward 14 years.  Her daughter turned 17 in April.  The original mother found her daughter on Facebook and sent a friend request. She didn’t really think it through and admits that maybe it was selfish of her but she understandably just wanted to see her daughter’s face and know she was okay.  When my own adoptee mom was searching, she said to me that as a mother herself, she would want to know what became of her child.  Unfortunately, by then, my maternal grandmother had already died.

Back to this sad story, the woman was immediately blocked.  The adoptive mother messaged her asking her not to reach out to her daughter again, at least not until she is an adult.  This woman is willing to respect their wishes, sadly to me adding, “she is THEIR daughter”. The adoptive mother claimed in receiving the friend request, the daughter thought that her original mother was a stalker.  The adoptive mother claims the daughter knows she is adopted and about her original mother.  She said the girl doesn’t have any questions and doesn’t want to know anything more.  She just wants things to go back to normal.

The whole exchange does not feel entirely believable to this woman.  The turnaround of 15 minutes was too fast.

This woman went on to give birth to a son who is 12 years old (he is 5 years younger than his sister). When the woman did speak to the adoptive mother, the adoptive mother shifted the blame, saying this woman was the cause of contact ending because it was too hard for the original mother to bear.  Yet the adoptive mother knew the original mother had had a son and believed this woman was now happy with her life as it had become.

The rub is – the only way they would have known that was by being in contact with adoption worker. All those years of the adoption worker saying she didn’t know where they were, it was a lie.

Forever Family ?

One adoptee wrote –

Does “forever family” rub you the wrong way?

I cringe EVERYTIME I hear it. So many of us were told this mythical thing exists, but then turns out we were always on some sort of weird job interview where there are no rules and the requirements of the job change depending on the mood of the boss, the boss’ family, or the boss’ pets.

I don’t think I ever had a “forever family”? Did you? Do you now?

When I finally became aware of my true biological, genetic family relations something dissolved in my feelings toward the members of my “family” that were only that due to adoption.

Does that mean I love the deceased grandparents LESS who were present in my life growing up ?  No, it doesn’t mean that.  I cherish my memories of the times I spent with them.  They always treated us genuinely and from a sense of loving us.

Does that mean that my aunts, uncles and cousins by adoption don’t seem quite as real to me anymore ?  That is true, though I acknowledge their humanity and that they are ALL of them good people.

Learning the truth about my parents adoptions and original family and re-connecting with the genetic/biological family I never knew all my life has meant more to me than I can possible convey to you in these brief blogs.

At the same time, there is this sad effect – I don’t feel like I belong to any of them.  Truth.  The adoptive family is no longer real family.  The real family I have no life experience with and can only try to go forward with 6 decades missing.

No – family is not forever.  My parents and my in-laws and my grandparents are all deceased now.  Divorces have happened, children have grown up in different families, cousins have always been distant anyway.  Where does one find family ?  Only in those people who we sense are able to accept us just as we are no matter what.