Post Adoption Contact

Early on in my own trying to understand adoption journey (both parents were adoptees), I read a book recommended in my all things adoption group titled The Primal Wound by Nancy Verrier. I continue to learn almost every day and in this blog, I continue to try and share what I learn along the way. Today’s new concept was Post Adoption Contact Agreements. I already knew that open adoptions have been the more common approach over the previously totally closed adoption where often the child is lied to about their own origins and that lie is protected by closing and sealing the adoption records and changing the child’s birth certificate to make it look like the child was actually born to the adoptive parents. That was the way my parents’ adoptions were concluded, though thankfully, neither of my parents were lied to about having been adopted – at least that.

I have come across complaints that adoptive parents often renege on open adoption agreements. This is a reality, even today, even when promises are made to the expectant mother that she will be given updates, photos and even contact with her child post adoption. This is why my heart is more inclined towards doing what we can as a society to preserve children within the family they were born into. But it isn’t always possible and like war, adoption remains a reality that won’t end in my lifetime – if ever.

In trying to learn a bit more about post adoption contact agreements I did read In some states, when adoptive parents and birth parents sign an agreement called a “Post Adoption Contact Agreement,” it is filed with along with the adoption papers and becomes a legal, enforceable part of the adoption. However, in other states, it isn’t recognized as a legally binding contract. Therefore, the first thing to learn about is whether it will be enforceable in the state where the proposed adoption will take place.

According to one adoption attorney, Michael Belfonte, Missouri currently does not allow for enforceable post-adoption contact agreements. If either a birth parent or an adoptive parent breaks their post-adoption contact promise, there are no legal consequences that could be addressed in court. This is what he has to say about open adoptions –

You should not let this deter you from choosing an open adoption. In the majority of cases, both birth mothers and adoptive parents will keep the contact promise they made — as it’s just as important to them as it is to the other party. In fact, for many birth mothers, the possibility of an open adoption is why they made their adoption choice in the first place. They will want to see their child grow up and, more likely than not, will do everything they can to continue their contact.

Likewise, once they are fully educated about open adoption, adoptive parents will understand the importance of open communication for their adopted child throughout the years — and will do all they can to honor the choice the birth mother made and support her through her healing process. If you’re worried about a birth or adoptive parent continuing to stay in contact with you, there are some things you can do:

Choose a professional who will mediate post-adoption contact. When a parent begins to decrease the frequency of their contact, you may feel frustrated. Things can get complicated if you try to fix it by yourself, and you may end up doing more harm than good. If your contact is mediated by a professional, they will know the best way to speak to the other party about their lapse in communication and handle the situation going forward — without harming the relationship you already have.

Establish a solid relationship with the birth or adoptive parents. Open adoption can be more than just an agreement to send and receive pictures and letters every couple of months; before placement, it gives you the chance to get to know your adopted child’s birth parents or adoptive parents in a way that will be highly beneficial for the future. If you have the chance to build a strong friendship with the birth or adoptive parents before placement, it’s highly recommended. The more you understand, respect and trust each other, the less likely it will be that the other parents will break their agreement to keep in touch as the years go by.

Make your expectations known. While you cannot create a legally binding post-adoption contact agreement in Missouri, you can certainly create a written agreement that outlines contact expectations throughout your adoption process. In fact, this kind of written document is encouraged in any open adoption.

Remember, just because an open adoption contact agreement is not legally binding in Missouri doesn’t mean that you can’t have a successful open adoption relationship with your child’s birth or adoptive parents. More often than not, a prospective birth mother chooses adoption because she can watch her child grow up through open adoption — and has no intention of ever going back on her open adoption agreement. Similarly, adoptive parents understand how important open adoption communication can be and will likely do all they can to honor your contact agreement.

However, if a birth parent does break their post-adoption contact agreement, it’s important that adoptive parents continue to send the pictures, letters, emails, etc. that you agreed to. In many cases, if a birth parent decreases their contact frequency, it may be because they’re at a difficult point in their life — and fully intend to return to their previous contact frequency as soon as they can. It will mean a great deal to them that you continue to honor your agreement and give them updates on their adopted child during this time.

On the other hand, if adoptive parents miss a scheduled contact with you as a birth parent, it’s important that you do not jump to conclusions about their intentions. Like anyone else, unforeseen situations can come up that may delay their contact with you. If you’re concerned about them holding up their end of the agreement, we recommend you reach out to your adoption professional, who can approach them professionally and non-confrontationally about honoring their contact agreement.

I find this law on the books in the state of Missouri dated August 28 2018 – it is vague however about enforcement in my opinion. Still this is an example of one state in which I happen to be living. You should look into the legal decisions in your own state before agreeing to an adoption based upon promises that it will be open and you will be allowed ongoing contact.

The Pain of Family Feuds

I’ll let this story from my all things adoption group speak for itself.

I’m an adoptee that was adopted by my maternal grandparents at birth, my birth mom has always been in my life at different times and in different ways, our relationship now is very rocky, and I never saw much of my dad growing up.

When I was 6, my grandparents cut off all contact with my dad’s family. For years they told me that it wasn’t safe, or that they had no interest in seeing me, which wasn’t true – my grandparents actively threw out letters and cards from them.

I used to beg to see my family, when I was a young teen I started sneaking out to see my aunt, then my grandparents found out. I was grounded and stopped from leaving the house. I grew up remembering and loving these people who lived literally two miles away but missing out on a childhood with them.

I grew up with no racial mirrors and felt like I did something wrong to these people that I had fun memories with as a kid. One time I saw my aunt across a store and begged my grandma to say hi, but my grandma dragged me out of the store and said it wasn’t safe.

4 years ago, I reunified with my dad’s family locally and have an amazing relationship with them, and flew to California to see my uncle and meet my cousins for the first time, and eventually flew to New York. I was greeted with open arms, but it doesn’t make up for the 20 year gap of not having these people in my life. These are people I should’ve grown up with!

My aunt lives close to me and we talk, but I feel like a stranger in her house. I feel like I don’t belong here. My uncle is in town to visit with his kids, and I’ve been here all day, and decided to stay the night…for the first time at 28 years old, I’m spending the night with my aunt – something that most kids did growing up.

It’s 3 AM and I’m laying on her couch, unable to sleep because I don’t feel like I belong here, even though they treat me like we were never apart. I don’t know what the point of this post is…it’s just complicated, not many people understand my complex adoption trauma or seem to think that it’s somehow “less” because I was adopted by my grandparents, I should just shut up and be grateful for that.

I still feel like I’m in the fog. My grandparents have both died, and I have a hard time wrapping my thoughts and emotions around the trauma that two people I loved very much even so caused. I’m just trying to live with it.

Joni Mitchell’s Daughter

Joni Mitchell reunion in 1997
with Kilauren Gibb

Adoptee reunions with their birth parents happen almost daily it seems to me in the adoption related groups that I am a member of. My adoptee mom wanted such a reunion but sadly hers never happened (when she tried to get her adoption file from the state of Tennessee, while denying her that information which would have brought her so much peace, they told her that her mother had died several years earlier).

This morning I’ve been tracking down the story of the daughter that Joni Mitchell gave up for adoption because she wrote song lyrics about that experience in Little Green a song on her album Blue which is 50 years old today.

~ lyrics

Born with the moon in cancer
Choose her a name she will answer to
Call her green and the winters cannot fade her
Call her green for the children who’ve made her

Little green, be a gypsy dancer
He went to California
Hearing that everything’s warmer there
So you write him a letter and say, “her eyes are blue.”
He sends you a poem and she’s lost to you
Little green, he’s a non-conformer

Just a little green
Like the color when the spring is born
There’ll be crocuses to bring to school tomorrow
Just a little green

Like the nights when the northern lights perform
There’ll be icicles and birthday clothes
And sometimes there’ll be sorrow

Child with a child pretending
Weary of lies you are sending home
So you sign all the papers in the family name
You’re sad and you’re sorry, but you’re not ashamed

Little green, have a happy ending
Just a little green
Like the color when the spring is born
There’ll be crocuses to bring to school tomorrow

Just a little green
Like the nights when the northern lights perform
There’ll be icicles and birthday clothes
And sometimes there’ll be sorrow

Both mother and daughter were searching for each other when a series of coincidences finally brought the two of them together. It would be a very typical adoptee search and reunion with her birth mother if her mother had not been so famous. Most adoptees do not have to deal with that kind of media frenzy. It would be a typical adoptee reunion with her birth mother leads to a reunion with her birth father but for all of the fame involved. And it would be a typical adoptive parent anxiety about losing the child they raised if not for all the media frenzy that followed. On Joni Mitchell’s own website you can read the details in Joni’s Secret: Mother And Child Reunion and fully appreciate the complications.

My all things adoption group seeks to encourage young, unwed mothers like Joni Mitchell was to keep and raise their children. This is because, like Joni, adoption is a permanent solution to a temporary problem. Joni’s problems were poverty and the baby’s father being unready to parent and so abandoning them. Within 3 years, Mitchell had a recording contract, a house and a car, and could have raised her child but it was too late by then. The adoption was closed and so when the daughter began her search, she was only given non-identifying information, which is typical as well.

Things actually went surprisingly well considering it was way back in 1997 when the reunion occurred. Like my good luck in uncovering my own original grandparents, something of their stories and connecting with biological/genetic cousins and an aunt, it was as though one door opens and the pieces begin falling into place. And as like attracts like and as intentions seek to fully fulfill the desire that gave birth to them, sometimes in the adoption world we get lucky.

It is somewhat interesting and all too typical that the adopted person also has their own struggles that somewhat mirror their birth parent. Kilauren claims that she did not find out she was adopted until she was 27. “She knew when she was a teenager,” her adoptive mother, Ida Gibb says. “Her friends told her. But maybe the full significance didn’t sink in.” Kilauren’s adoptive father, David Gibb says, “The mistake we made was in trying to say she’s not adopted, that she’s one of us and let’s forget the whole thing and put it away somewhere, because we wanted her to be part of the family.” Then he adds: “People are born. They are a life. They belong to nobody.”

Kilauren’s biological parents, Joni Mitchell and Brad MacMath, were both art students in Calgary when she was conceived. They moved to Toronto during the pregnancy and discussed settling down but as he says, “We were not communicating.” and he moved from Canada to California. Mitchell says her main concern at the time was to conceal her pregnancy from her parents. And what would her parents have done ? Mitchell’s mother, Myrtle Anderson says, “If we had known she was expecting a baby, we would have helped. I’m sure we would have encouraged her to keep the baby, but we didn’t know anything about it until several years later when she and Chuck (Mitchell) separated and she was home and told us about it.”

Like many birth mothers, Joni Mitchell regretted losing her child for 30 years before the reunion finally occurred. Like many birth mothers, she might see a couple with a daughter about the age hers would have been at that time. Toronto music manager Bernie Fiedler who was a friend of Mitchell’s remembers being with her at the Mariposa Folk Festival about four years after Kilauren’s birth. “There was a couple with a little girl wanting to speak to Joni. We went over and talked to the girl, who must have been 4 or 5, and afterwards Joni turned to me and said: ‘That could be my daughter.’ I will never forget that. She was obviously suffering tremendously.” Kilauren (at the age of 32) ended up separated from the father of the son she is raising. Broken relationships seem more common with adoptees, and often with their biological parents as well, than within the overall population in general.

The thing about adoption is that it changes trajectories. Joni Mitchell may not have become as famous as she did had she kept and raised her daughter. Her daughter’s life would have been different had she not been raised in the well to do home that she was. Both mother and daughter suffered and that is always the case (whether acknowledged or unconscious) when that separation takes place. It is always the case as well, that no matter how loving the adoptive parents are or how good of a childhood that adopted child has, a yearning to be made whole again is universal. Not all reunions go well and this one has been bumpy like many of these are.

Typically, the adoptive parents feared this as well. Losing Kilauren to her birth mother “was our greatest fear,” her adoptive mother Ida Gibb said. “It was a nightmare that this would happen to us when she was little and when she was a teenager. Now, it is easier to take. But it’s still hard.”