No Self To Begin With

It is a long story in The New Yorker – The Price of Admission, published on April 4 2022. It is a long, sad story of abuse and gaslighting, beginning in locations involving St Louis Missouri (our urban center). It is the story of a former foster care youth and the agendas of higher education. Mackenzie Fierceton has been a brilliant student, once accepted for a Rhodes Scholarship, and is a committed activist.

I encourage you to read the entire article as I did this morning. Necessarily, I am only pulling out a few concepts I jotted down related to Mackenzie’s situation.

If trauma creates a kind of narrative void, Mackenzie seemed to respond by leaning into a narrative that made her life feel more coherent, fitting into boxes that people want to reward. Perhaps her access to privilege helped her understand, in a way that other disadvantaged students might not, the ways that élite institutions valorize certain kinds of identities. There is currency to a story about a person who comes from nothing and thrives in a prestigious setting. These stories attract attention, in part because they offer comfort that, at least on occasion, such things happen.

“. . . Mackenzie is being faulted for not having suffered enough. She was a foster child, but not for long enough. She is poor, but she has not been poor for long enough. She was abused, but there is not enough blood.”
~ Anne Norton, Political Science Professor at the University of Pennsylvania, who has provided a home for Mackenzie

Regarding the question about being a first generation student at a university – Mackenzie had e-mailed the associate director of admissions and recruitment at Penn’s social-work school to ask how former foster youth should answer the question. “I personally believe the education level (or/and financial status) of the biological parents would be irrelevant,” the associate director responded. “The youth should select into the option that provides them access to the most funding—which would be to indicate that they are a first-generation college student.”

“When we allow stereotype to be our stand-in for disadvantaged groups, we are actually doing them a disservice. That’s what scares me about this case. It’s, like, ‘You’re not giving us the right sob story of what it means to be poor.’ The university is so focused on what box she checked, and not the conditions—her lack of access to the material, emotional, and social resources of a family—that made her identify with that box. Colleges are in such a rush to celebrate their ‘first Black,’ their ‘first First Gen’ for achievements, but do they actually care about the student? Or the propaganda campaign that they can put behind her story?”
~ Anthony Jack, a professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education who studies low-income and first-generation college students

“There have been moments of almost panic where I am just cognitively questioning myself, like, ‘Did I misremember something?’ It’s easy to slide back into that state, because I want anything other than the reality—that it is my bio family who has caused so much harm—so I will do backflips to try to make it not true.”
~ Mackenzie Fierceton

It is a very real case of gaslighting – “You start to think that maybe you had it wrong and that maybe it actually did happen the way that they say it did,” Mackenzie wrote. “And then you just throw away the real memory, the true one, and replace it with the one that they have fed you a million times, until that is the only thing you can remember.”

As an addendum, Penn did release her Master’s Degree. From The Daily Pennsylvanian.

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.

Why Foster ? Not to Adopt.

Recently, a woman contacted me through private message on my Facebook page for this blog. She wanted to know what my group (which it actually isn’t) was about and I explained it to her, as I have often, both of my parents were adopted and both of my sisters surrendered babies to adoption. The blog is about all things adoption but along the way, I also learned about foster care and I shared with her the book I read – Foster Girl by Georgette Todd. She is interested in becoming a foster parent and I suggested the Facebook group I belong to because there are a lot of former foster care youth and current foster parents there who can share with her the reality.

As luck would have it, I spotted this guest essay in Huffington Post and thought I would make this the basis of today’s blog. Here’s Why We Became Foster Parents, Even Though We Aren’t Looking To Adopt by Stephanie Kaloi. She adds “For us, foster care is a kind of community service; it’s a gift that we can give.” It is a reprint of the original written in just after Christmas in 2019.

Our journey toward becoming foster parents began about five years ago, when we realized two truths: Having a second biological child would be nearly impossible and was not necessary for our family’s happiness, and there was a way to experience parenting many children (and for our son to have many siblings) while also doing our part in our community.

Enter foster care.

So we did what every potential foster parent does first: searched “What is foster parenting really like???” online. Unhappy with the results, which were largely a grab bag of blog posts from people who foster to minister religion to unsuspecting children and their families and people who are hoping to adopt their foster children from Day 1 of placement, I started sending a flurry of texts to a friend who also happens to be a longtime foster parent.

Her advice essentially boiled down to three things: One, the relationship you have with the biological parent(s) of your foster children is sacred and should be nurtured as much as the relationship you have with the kids. Two, foster care is unpredictable and there’s no point making plans for how it will go. And three, if you really want to do it … stop taking up my time and sign up for a class already.

My husband and I signed up for around eight weeks of PATH classes, which are the classes that all foster parents take before becoming certified. It’s meant to be all-inclusive, but the reality is that you are in class for two to four hours each Saturday covering huge topics, like ethnic diversity and poverty and child abuse.

The path to becoming a foster parent seems bizarre in retrospect: You take the classes, complete the home study process and boom! You’re now qualified to raise someone else’s child in your home for an indeterminate amount of time.

Still, the training felt like one of the most intense, personal experiences we had shared together. We went into classes knowing we were hoping to foster children, but left classes knowing we wanted to foster children and foster their families — we wanted to support the birth parents of any children we might foster as much as we support their children.

We knew going into it that we could handle the babies and toddlers and school-aged kids of the world (we’ll get to teens … one day), but we left class feeling reasonably certain that we could extend ourselves and support their parents, too.

Approaching foster care as fostering the entire family was a turning point for both of us. The idea gave us a phrase we could use whenever someone asked what our plans were. While the Department of Child Services and PATH leaders constantly remind you that the first goal of foster care is reunification with a child’s family, just about everyone in our classes was transparent about their desire to build their family through adoption.

As someone who wrestled with not being able to conceive a second child the easy way for years, I understood … but as our classmates became more focused on their adoption goals and learning how to work the system in their favor, we became more focused on reunification goals, and learning how the system works against parents who lose custody of their children.

The more we learned, the more it became clear: Just as many in our society will call the cops the second there is even a hint of a perceived threat anywhere nearby, many in our society assume that having your children placed in state custody means you are a predator, a child abuser, an addict ― that are you the worst of the worst, the lowest of the low.

And to be fair, there are plenty of people who are one of those things (or all of those things), and sometimes children are better off with foster and adoptive families. But in our experience … there are just as many people who are simply poor, or uneducated, or who have no perceived alternatives to whatever struggle they are facing.

This is the idea that fed our goal to approach this experience as fostering families: If you don’t grow up with someone teaching you how to successfully pull off what many consider basic life feats, it can feel impossible to figure out how to get a job, pay rent, pay your bills, pay for childcare, provide food consistently, read to your children, play with your children, kick your addiction, etc. Without consistent, healthy support, just attempting to do so is often an insurmountable challenge.

If no one in your family has ever done those things, the odds are stacked against you. When you think about it, a lot of Americans are probably closer than they think to one mistake that could land their own children in DCS custody. (I know that when my sons were very young, I worried that our un-orthodox parenting choices such as unschooling our children or when they acted up in public and required some kind of immediate response from us, not later but in that very moment, we could lose our children due to the interference of do-good, well-meaning people.)

I am not saying that every parent who loses custody is an angel who just needs a leg up. I’m also not saying that every parent who adopts from foster care didn’t try to do exactly what we do. I think one truth all foster parents can agree on is that there is a lot of gray area in foster care.

We didn’t find out we were actually certified until we received a phone call asking if we would be willing to take a sibling set of two into our home. Let me tell you this straight out: I don’t know how anyone, especially first-time foster parents, says no to those calls. Our plan was to foster one child, up to age 8, and we ended up with two babies under 2 because I literally could not imagine saying no.

So what do we do, then, if we aren’t answering a higher religious calling to foster, we aren’t related to the children we foster, and we aren’t planning or secretly hoping to adopt any children? I mean, I suppose I am ministering, kind of: These kids have been introduced to a wide berth of music that we hold dear, and the youngest really enjoyed watching ”Homecoming” when it came out.

But to be real, we begin by nurturing their families, their parents, from Day 1. We offer phone numbers, email addresses, Facebook Messenger access. We start the conversation by telling them our names, describing what our home is like, asking what foods their children like to eat, and telling them we aren’t trying to adopt their babies. We tell them to message us anytime, and that if they don’t hear from us within five hours or so, to message again.

We ask when we can supervise visits, when we can meet up at playgrounds and parks, way before social workers are talking about us doing so. We talk about their goals, their plans, and what they need to get from where they are to reunification of their family.

The “TL; DR” version is this: We begin each placement by treating the parents like they are human beings, like they are people who we might want to know, instead of like they are a scary Other who is standing in our way. Sometimes it doesn’t work, we don’t form a relationship and things go sour. Other times, it works but requires ongoing attention and support, and that’s an exhausting thing to give someone you have met a handful of times.

None of this is easy, and it often feels like foster care is a second full-time job. We are perpetually exhausted by the sheer emotional weight of this journey that we entered into willfully, and that’s not even including the lived reality of nurturing additional children, of loving them, holding them, waking up in the middle of the night with them, feeding them, reading to them, guiding them. Teaching them all the things we taught our son: the ABCs and 123s, who Elmo is and why we love him, the names of The Beatles because it might come in handy someday, how to sit up and how to use a fork. You know, the parenting part of foster parenting.

We have been lucky so far: We have worked with excellent social workers who are very patient, helpful, and kind. The parents we have co-parented with have been easy to talk to, love their children a lot, and a lot of the time, they just need someone in their corner. And this need is the crux of why we are fostering children and their families: For us, foster care is a kind of community service; it’s a gift that we can give.

Sure, it’s a lot more involved than donating books or cleaning a classroom on a Saturday, but it’s something that makes sense for us right now, in this season of our lives. We won’t do it forever, but we are doing it right now. One of the most important ideas our family tries to follow is that while we may not be able to effect meaningful growth and change in areas of the world that are far away, we can do work in our own community that will help people we live and work with grow.

And that alone makes this entire wild ride worth it.

Morally OK but illegal ?

An adoptee’s birth certificate replacement

Has anyone seen the recent AskReddit post where the question was something like “What’s something that’s morally ok, but illegal?” Somebody said showing adoptees their original birth certificates and the comments have made one adoptee livid. Apparently, adoptees are just horrible stalkers, biological parents deserve anonymity, and how dare we upset our adoptive parents.

Here is that adoptee’s response in the comments (with a few added remarks from my own story) –

Sealed adoption records are actually a product of the past when it was considered shameful to be born “illegitimate” aka out of wedlock. Then, it became at the adoptive parents didn’t want contact with the biological parents.

It had NOTHING to do with promised anonymity to the biological parents. At least not in the United States. This is not sperm donation that we’re talking about here. And even in sperm donation they’re moving away from the anonymous donations because people WANT to know who their biological parents are.

Plus, Ancestry DNA exists (and I will add 23 and Me – both have been helpful for me to learn my true genetic biological origins).

The adoptee writes that “I guess I’m one of those horrible adoptees that you all hate because I found my birth mother 7 years ago and we have a relationship still. She said she always wondered if I was ok. And my full brother found me via Ancestry DNA.

In my own story, my mom’s half-sibling always hoped she would turn up. Sadly it never happened. My dad’s birth father (his mother was unwed) is now known to me thanks to 23 and Me and a long chain of coincidental events.

The adoptee goes on to write – F**k closed records. There are senior citizens out there whose biological parents have been dead for a while and they still can’t legally access their records or original birth certificate. It makes no f**cking sense.

I also ran up against continued obstacles in the states of Virginia, Arizona and California.

The adoptee concludes – Adoptees should not have to be stuck with this additional life-long burden to keep everyone else comfortable. We didn’t ask to be born. The adults in the situation need to understand that if you produce a child or adopt a child, then they might want to know their biological family. That’s just the way it is. Even with records being closed. It’s not right to ask us to be skeletons in the closet.

Fostering Babies Is Difficult

One of the hardest things to do was to let them go home to their natural parents but that’s what we as foster parents have signed up for. It’s what foster families are suppose to do. But the urge to parent and fall in love with babies is a strong one, even if you didn’t birth them.

A foster parent writes – Today’s the day I realized I can’t do this. Most of the 20+ foster kids we have had were teens who stayed with us until they decided otherwise. This is the first time we have fostered babies and today I realized this will be the placement that breaks me.

I went to the hospital and picked the twins up 2 weeks after they were born, my home was their first home. They have had 3 visitations from their biological parents, who are trying to get them back. I have had them for 4 months now and my family is the family they know.

Today the twins had a doctor’s appointment and their biological parents showed up. No one knew they were coming, so it was just me with the parents and the babies. During the appointment the babies cried and reached for me but the biological parent wasn’t having it and would try to soothe them. It was like watching a stranger try to comfort my own child.

Today, I wanted nothing more than to hold these babies and tell them it would all be ok and today I was told I couldn’t. Today was the day it really set it that they won’t stay with me. Today’s the day my heart shattered. Today is the day that being a foster parent sucks.

First things first. This foster parent was immediately given a reality check.

What got to me was her saying “they were reaching for me!” Babies don’t reach at 16 weeks…my daughter can barely control her arm movements yet. It’s so delusional!!

My daughter is 6 months and I didn’t even catch that but yes! She didn’t start reaching for her dad and I until this month.

I was thinking that too! That’s so little to be reaching!

Babies at 16 weeks know who mom is instinctively and recognize caregivers but they don’t even show a preference.

The only one who was ‘reaching’ was the delusional foster parent.

And well . . . I’m sure it must have been a painful experience for their birth mother too. Let’s hope that whatever agency is handling the return of the twins to their parents will help you and the parents to work out a transitioning period during which they can come back to feeling “at home” with their parents again. It takes lots of generosity of spirit by all the adults concerned, but it is possible–and possible to do well, for the twins’ benefit. (Said from experience.)

Our infant fosterlove was crying and crying in her mom’s arms at a social services meeting. So instead of just letting the baby scream I asked the mom if I could help. I showed her how her daughter liked being held like a football and bounced. Then I handed the baby back and had her comfort her. I reminded her that she will figure that all out once she goes home. She thanked me and it led to us having a good relationship while her daughter was with us. We had her until she was 14 months.

Assisted Reproduction

Breanna Lockwood with mother Julie Loving

The 51-year-old woman served as the gestational carrier for her daughter and son-in-law and gave birth to her granddaughter. The newborn, named Briar Juliette Lockwood, is the first child for Lockwood and her husband, Aaron, who are the baby’s biological parents.

These kinds of stories based upon the miracles of assisted reproduction, always raise opinions. Among those who have dived deep into such issues this is considered, for the baby herself, probably one of the best possibilities that such medical capabilities produce.

I had my daughter at the age of 19 in all ways conventional. That marriage ended. I remarried and after 10 years of marriage, my husband informed me over Margaritas at a Mexican restaurant that he had changed his mind and actually did want to become a father.

It was too late for me. I sorrowed he had married such an old woman. Then, medical science made it possible for us. I carried, birthed and breastfed 2 sons thanks to the gift of another woman’s eggs. I gave birth at 47 and 50. There are times it comes fully upon me how old I’ll be (70) when my youngest is 20. However, my husband has been every bit the awesome father I thought he would be. Because of financial circumstances, my daughter did not live with me past the age of 3 but was raised by her father and step-mother. It was my second chance to prove to my own self that I wasn’t a failure as a mother.

Both of my parents were adoptees and both of my sisters gave up babies to adoption. In the short 3 years that I have been able to learn who all my original grandparents were (something my own parents died not knowing), I have been in this group and read so many books and while I do not think surrogacy is a good idea due to mother/child bonding in the womb and the separation that occurs after birth, I have known of two couples that did choose that route to becoming parents. It really isn’t my business but I do have concerns.

While our method of becoming parents is not perfect, we’ve always been honest with our sons about their conception. They are connected to the egg donor via 23 and Me and have met her more than once. She lives far away and so the relationships are not close. I am grateful I had the opportunity to parent, even so late in life.

Clueless

“Hey guys.I’m a single woman who’s plan was to start applying to adopt/foster in my state. Sad story was that my social worker said that I wasn’t allowed to receive any government help like 0. I have to have a job which that’s mandatory at least with this agency. And I’m not complaining about having a job either or I’m still planing on working at some point the thing that caught me off guard was her response to government aid must be 0. Yes all the way from food stamps to government funded apartments that’s a huge No, causing disqualification to apply. I spoke with my therapist and since I have bipolar 1 she told me that it would be best to postpone the plan of adoption/foster care all together for now, my therapist even said that she does not want me to feel sad if at the end foster/adoption care is not an option for me even if I truly wanted to make a difference, since the agency is strict on keeping government out of the picture.
Any thoughts?
Advice?
Does this sound fair or unfair ?”

It’s hard to know where to start . . .

Not surprisingly, came this satirical response –

Um. Totally unfair. You should totally be jobless and on government assistance because you’ll get PLENTY of money to live on saving these kids from their parents on government assistance. If you take like 8 kids at a time you’ll make serious bank, and BONUS if you take some older kids with the younger kids you never have to do anything because the older kids can do all the cooking and cleaning and diaper changes! Yay! Also, f**k this bitch.

More to the point, came this one –

Someone sounds like they need to get their own life in order before, erm, “helping” (themselves to someone else’s children)…

And even more to the point –

Yes, it is very reasonable. FYI, they may also want to talk about your being bipolar, review your meds and/or want to talk to your therapist or get a statement from them that they recommended you would do well with foster care. Here’s the thing: all of the kids in foster care are going through big time trauma. They need someone who is financially and emotionally stable to help them through it.

In a lot of cases, poverty and mental illness have a lot to do with why the kids came into care. It’s kinda hypocritical to take them out of that just to place them right back into it. For example, the case plan might say that the parents have to get a job to get the kids back. So in the meantime, they stay with you, but you don’t have a job?

It’s great that you want to help, but what do you mean by foster/adopt? If you’re getting into foster care to adopt, just don’t, you won’t have the right mindset and it will not be good for you or the kids. What do you mean by your agency keeping government out of the picture? Foster Care =government, so I’m not really understanding that.

And finally –

She should talk to all these birth families who lose their biological children for bipolar disorder and because they were seeking mental health help and were in poverty or disabled. This post makes me angry because it seems so out of touch with reality.

Foster kids are not a prop or little adventure to embark on. You can’t just (or SHOULDN’T just) be a foster parent because you randomly decide you “love kids” and “it’s your calling.”

You can’t just decide you’re gonna be a foster parent when nothing in your life is in order to do so.

Mental health, unemployment, needing to rely on the system….. these are some of the causes for kids to be removed from their biological parents.  Our society would be better off extending the services and finances to the natural families so that they can keep their own children.

Please Don’t Make Me Stay

This is how an open adoption can become really tricky.  I read this morning about a situation where the biological child is allowed to sleepover at their original parents home every other weekend.  What is happening is that at the end of the weekend, the child does not want to return to the legally adoptive parents.

Now the adoptive parents are mad and are blaming the biological parents for the situation.  They are insisting that the child choose between the two sets of parents.  If the child does not, they will sever the adoption.

After the adoptive parents insisted on the child being returned early, which the biological parents complied with, now the child is screaming and crying that their biological parents should come and get the child.  That this child doesn’t want to be there anymore.

Not surprising, the adoptive parents are blaming the biological parents for causing the child to behave that way.  They also blame them for now breaking up what had been in their own minds a happy home.

It is clear that they ALL need to go into therapy. The child should be seeing an adoption trauma competent therapist.  The adoptive parents also need to see a therapist to help them understand the child’s behaviors and triggers.  While in therapy, the adoptive parents should also work through their own fears and insecurities.  And the biological parents should be in therapy as well.  It is difficult to explain to their child why they cannot legally come and get her without the adoptive parents permission.

These are the kinds of wounds MOST adoptees are all too familiar with.  Once the child is surrendered (not a decision that child made for their own self) and the adoption is finalized, then the living with this situation begins and for the adoptee, the processing of this reality will consume their entire lifetime.

That is why the adoption group I am a part of is always counseling mothers and/or their partner to try to raise their child before taking this permanent step (and as the case above reveals – can be terminated – which is how some children end up in second adoptions, which just compounds the trauma for the child).