I don’t remember him actually making any kind of strong impression on me but I did see the movie “GoodFellas” back in 2020 (thanks to Netflix keeping track of these things for me).
It is interesting how ideas for this blog come to me. This one was from a short acknowledgement in Time magazine about the man’s recent passing. Something about his adoptive mother dying during the filming.
I thought, so another adoption story. It never ceases to amaze me how many people in our society are somehow touched by adoption more broadly (meaning not necessarily adopted themselves but in their extended family). I went looking to learn more about this aspect of the man’s life.
The story I read was about how he found peace with his adoption. He said, “At first, I didn’t understand how a parent could give up a child. So, I had that kind of energy of just being like, that’s just f***** up.” His perspective changed after the birth of his own daughter in 1998, at which point he felt he had to trace and locate his birth mother.
Ray was born in 1954, the same year I was, in Newark New Jersey. He was adopted at the age of six months. He was in an orphanage at the time. His adoptive parents were Alfred and Mary. Liotta knew he wasn’t his adoptive parents biological child growing up. He also had an adopted sister, Linda.
His drama teacher in high school asked him if he wanted to appear in a play during his senior year. Liotta didn’t take it seriously at the time (he was into sports) but it led to him eventually studying acting at the University of Miami. After graduation, he got his first big break on the soap opera Another World.
In his 40s, he hired a private detective to locate his birth mother and younger siblings. He subsequently learned from her that he is mostly of Scottish descent (like I learned regarding my maternal grandmother’s family). He then met his birth mother and siblings – a half brother, five half sisters and a full sister. She explained to him that she had given him up for adoption because she was too young and couldn’t contend with the responsibility.
He said that then, “I realized that she did it for very valid reasons from her perspective and for 99% of the kids put up for adoption, the birth parent believes that it’s for the betterment of the kid… Often, the household, the situation, the age just dictate that’s the best thing to do for the child.” After the meeting her, Liotta honestly said that he was “disappointed” by his mother’s story. He reminds me of my own mom in saying that he was “really grateful that [he] was adopted.” When Larry King mentions there is a book for adoptees called “You Were Chosen,” Liotta admits that his was “I was given up.” Most adoptees hate the “chosen” narrative.
Liotta died in his sleep while filming Dangerous Waters in the Dominican Republic. Foul play is not suspected in his death. At the time of his death, he was engaged to fiancée, Jacy Nittolo. That had made him a happy man. He wrote, “Christmas wishes do come true. I asked the love of my life to marry me, and thank God she said yes!!!” Liotta is also survived by his 23-year-old daughter, Karsen, who he shares with ex-wife Michelle Grace.
Benjamin’s birth mother, Holly, was only 15 when she gave birth to him. When she was 6 months into her pregnancy, she began to search for adoptive parents for her baby. She feared that she would not be able to provide adequately for him.
Benjamin was given up to Angela and Brian Hulleberg on the day he was born, which just happened to be Thanksgiving Day in 2001. His adoption was never hidden from him and his adoptive parents talked to him about his biological mother.
Like many adoptees, including my own adoptee mom, Benjamin had always had a deep desire to meet his birth mother. He searched for her for many years. He’d written letters to adoption agencies of Utah, had his DNA tested and registered with the adoption registry. Nothing came of his efforts.
Like many birth mothers, Holly cared deeply about the baby she had given up for adoption and did a google search which found him on Facebook. 2 days before his 20th birthday, she took a risk to message him on Facebook – “You don’t know me but 20 years ago I made the hardest decision of my life and placed my beautiful little baby up for adoption with a beautiful family.”
Like many birth mothers, she was concerned about disrupting her son’s life, yet she simply wanted him to know that she had thought about him every day of his life. So she admitted that she finally found the courage to send him a message. She simply wanted to wish him a happy birthday.
When Benjamin saw the message, of course he wanted to meet her right away. So, they planned to have dinner and agreed that both of their families should be there to support them. On National Adoption Day, his wish became a reality. He discovered he had 2 half-siblings and that he was actually working at the same hospital that his birth mother worked at.
His mother is a medical assistant at the heart center at HCA Healthcare’s St. Mark’s Hospital. Hulleberg volunteered at the hospital’s neonatal intensive care unit. She notes that “Every morning, I would come in through the women’s pavilion to come into work. So, I passed right by the NICU every single day. We parked in the same garage, could have been on the same floor, had no idea that we were so close.”
After their reunion, Benjamin moved in with his mother, Holly. He also shares a coffee break with her each day before his shift in the NICU. He will leave soon to attend school in another Utah town.
The closed, sealed adoption records of yesterday are much easier to pierce with today’s inexpensive DNA testing. Today’s story from Severance Magazine.
It begins this way – in 1967, I’d given birth to my first-born child in an unwed mothers maternity home in New Orleans, Louisiana. I had been a typical 17-year-old high school senior with plans for the future that evaporated overnight. In the sixties, it was considered close to criminal for a girl to become pregnant with no ring on her finger. The father of my child had joined the Army, preferring Vietnam to fatherhood. After my parents discovered my shameful secret, I was covertly hurried away and placed in an institution for five months. There, I was expected to relinquish my baby immediately after giving birth to closed adoption and I was repeatedly assured my child would have a better life without me. After his birth, I was allowed to hold my son three times. My heart was permanently damaged when I handed him over the final time. The home allowed one concession—I could give my baby a crib name. I named him Jamie.
In the Spring of 2016, this woman and her husband submitted DNA tests to Ancestry.com. By October 2016, a ‘Parent/Child Match’ message popped up on her iPhone, causing me to stop me in my tracks, as my knees gave out from under me. After 49 long years, Jamie had found her. Who was he? Where was he? Would he hate me? How would this affect my life? My family? His family? She had always dreamed of finding Jamie but never thought past that point.
She relates – that night I heard my son’s voice for the first time. The wonder I felt when he said, “I know your voice” transformed me. In minutes, the secret of my son changed from fear of anyone knowing about him to wanting to shout out to the world, “My son has found me!” She also learned she had three new grandchildren. Within four days, her son flew from Louisiana to California to meet her. She describes that first meeting as magical. She says, “My son was back in my life, and suddenly I was whole.”
Due to severe depression brought on by the COVID pandemic as a messy divorce, the loss of his job, and unhealthy isolation began to destroy him, she worried from a distance. In February 2021, they had what would be their last conversation. Before hanging up, her son said, “I love you, Mom. You’re the best thing that ever happened to me.” Two days later, the son she had mourned for 50 years, the son who had found her, left her again. He took his own life. Now she had lost him twice and this time was forever. Even so, she cherishes that phone call.
She ends her story with this – “I wish I could speak to all the birth mothers out there, who continue to carry the shame and guilt that society placed on us. For those who refuse to allow their relinquished child back into their lives. I want to say I know your fear. I know your uncertainty. I lived it and still live it. It is deep-seated in us, regardless of the circumstances that resulted in us leaving our children. Please know if you are brave enough to welcome that lost child into your life again, you may create a peace and a bond worth all the fear and guilt. There is nothing quite like reuniting a mother and her child, and you may be giving a gift of connection to that child and yourself, as it should have been all along.”
I am short on time today and if things go as planned, there won’t be another blog here until Friday. This is an important issue and so I want to give it some space. Very often money in adoption causes problems. It is not only the direct expenses related to adopting a baby that cause the problem, it is money passing from hopeful adoptive parents to expectant mothers that causes many problems. Sometimes, it is the hopeful adoptive parents that have been scammed by a woman pretending to be pregnant who then goes silent and disappears about the time the baby is due to be born. Of greater concern to me and many people within the adoption community is the coercive effect adoptive parents giving money directly to a pregnant woman who may be in difficult circumstances to make her obligated to turn her baby over to the hopeful adoptive parents.
This is becoming an issue in the awareness of legislators in some states. In my example here today – Louisiana House Bill 568. Present law provides for the crime of adoption deception and defines the crime as being committed by any person who is a birth mother, or who holds herself out to be a birth mother, who is interested in making an adoption plan and who knowingly or intentionally benefits from payment of adoption-related expenses in connection with that adoption plan if any of the following occur: (1) The person knows or should have known that she is not pregnant at the time the payments were requested or received. (2) The person accepts assistance for living expenses from a prospective adoptive parent or adoption entity without disclosing that she is receiving such assistance from another prospective adoptive parent or adoption entity at the same time in an effort to adopt the same child. Proposed law amends present law to include when a person has the specific intent to make false representations to induce the payment of living expenses or other benefits in connection with a purported adoption placement. Proposed law does not apply to a person who agrees to an adoption plan agreement and subsequently, in good faith, declines to proceed with the prospective adoption in favor of parenting the child.
Amendments Adopted by House –
1. Specify that the person needs specific intent to make false representations to induce the payment of living expenses or other benefits in connection with a purported adoption placement. 2. Provide an exception for persons who do not agree to an adoption plan agreement and subsequently, in good faith, decline to proceed with the prospective adoption in favor of parenting the child.
A women concerned with the reform of Ethics in Adoption is proposing this – eliminate direct payments from hopeful adoptive parents to expectant mothers. Vulnerable women/parents should be able to change their minds at ANY point without penalty. Exchange of money and threat of prosecution should not be leveraged against vulnerable women/parents who want to parent their own children and change their minds. The proposal would move all payments for medical, etc… to social services instead of “direct payments” from hopeful adoptive parents, and make such transfers of money, “direct payments,” illegal.
I will admit to being a bit of a Luddite (sometimes defined as a person opposed to new technology or ways of working – which certainly applies to me LOL). I’d still be back in Microsoft 3.0, if it wasn’t for my husband pushing me forward. I don’t do TikTok or Instagram or any of the many other platforms available today. I hate apps. I view them as multiplying clutter that I don’t need. However, I did come across notification in my all things adoption about an article in Teen Vogue (which as I am almost 68 would probably have not come to my attention otherwise). The title is “Adoption TikTok: Building Community and Critiquing the U.S. Adoption System.”
The young woman wrote – “Myself and an another adoptee were featured in this TEEN VOGUE article! Such an exciting opportunity to be heard and I think the journalist did a wonderful job.”
One woman describes meeting her birth mother in Brazil (she was adopted as an infant by a New Jersey couple). “My mother pulled me into her house and pulled me onto her couch and into her lap, even though I was probably almost twice her size. She looked at my fingers and looked at my toes and, like, it was just so primal to me. Like how you would look at your baby.”
Her adoption, the country she had to leave behind, the shape of her life: All of it could be traced back to poverty. “We are all indoctrinated into this overly positive narrative about adoption, right? We see it in movies and kids’ movies, this trope of adoption being a beautiful thing,” she said. But her story didn’t feel beautiful. Her birth mother’s pain had transformed her already shifting understanding of adoption. While some women choose adoption because they don’t want to be a mother, others lack the emotional support or financial resources to raise children, even though they very much want to.
TikTok hosts a growing community of adoptees who use the social media platform to shed light on the trauma and economic pressures that have shaped their adoption experience. The hashtag #adopteesoftiktok has garnered tens of millions of views.
You can read the rest of this article at the Teen Vogue link above.
One reader in my group commented – “Research also suggests that open adoption can reduce the grief that many birth mothers experience after giving up a child for adoption.” My only feedback is where it says that research supports that open adoption reduces grief, that doesn’t sit well with me. The study only went to 20 years post placement – yet time and again I am finding in natural mother’s groups – it’s at 20 plus years that things start to unravel, as their relinquished child starts to form and share their own views surrounding their adoption, outside of the influence of their adoptive parents. ~Natural mother 26 years into an open adoption
This morning has been a learning experience for me. Infertility is a leading cause of adoption. One adoptee wrote – I find it hard to sympathize with infertility and I’m aware it’s because that was the only reason I was adopted by my adoptive parents. I’m angry because of the abuse I’ve suffered because of that issue. In the adoption community, women are counseled that they must deal with their mental and emotional issues related to infertility before choosing to adopt a child. An adopted child will never be a replacement for a baby you lost or failed to conceive. An adopted child was conceived and birthed by another woman who will always be that child’s first mother.
Is infertility a disability ? – turns out that legally it is.
In 1998, the US Supreme Court found in Bragdon v Abbott that reproduction is a “major life activity.” And the Court held that the risks of passing the disease to offspring constituted a “substantial limitation” on reproduction. Consequently, infertility met the ADA’s criteria as a disability.
According to the World Health Organization – Infertility has significant negative social impacts on the lives of infertile couples and particularly women, who frequently experience violence, divorce, social stigma, emotional stress, depression, anxiety and low self-esteem. A diagnosis of infertility is determined as the inability to get pregnant after a year or more of trying. Infertility can trigger feelings of shame and a sense of failing to live up to traditional gender expectations. Infertility can strain romantic relationships that included the expectation of shared parenthood. (We watched the 2020 movie Ammonite last night which dramatizes that strain.)
The National Institutes of Health notes that – infertility could be a source of social and psychological suffering for women in particular. In some communities, the childbearing inability is only attributed to women, hence there is a gender related bias when it comes to a couple’s infertility.
Psychologists also must understand that infertility is a kind of trauma, often a complex trauma. Anxiety, depression, grief and loss are part of the psychological impact of infertility. There may even be more to the experience when defined by the individual. At the extreme, the process can be so stressful that a woman who undergoes fertility treatments may develop a form of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
While defining infertility as a disability may have legal and medical applications, most women do not see their infertility as a disability. When I experienced secondary infertility, I never thought of myself as disabled. I simply had reached an age where my own fertility (I gave birth to a daughter at 19 and had a pregnancy aborted at age 22 or 23) naturally had ended. While it did make me sad that my husband now desired fatherhood after I was too old to gift him with that, I still did not think of myself as disabled. Women in my adoption community who have experienced infertility do not consider themselves disabled either.
Part of my learning experience today was learning about all the “baby” symbolic concepts that I didn’t know before. Angel baby always was understood by my heart. I find it interesting that a mom’s group that I have been part of for over 18 years initially gave our group the name Sunshine Babies because our babies were all born between April and August. Later, we simply changed that to Sunshine Moms. We knew nothing of the use of such words when we chose that concept as our group symbol. We never knew that word “sunshine” had a larger meaning outside of our group.. We all conceived via assisted reproduction. Therefore, a sunshine baby can have different meanings for different families.
My own daughter experienced a still birth prior to giving birth to my grandson and later my granddaughter. It was a sad and traumatic event to be certain. The terms acknowledge the complexity of pregnancy and infant loss as well as any pregnancies that follow such a loss. For those as clueless as I was before this morning – here are some commonly used phrases related to pregnancy outcomes.
The term rainbow baby refers to a baby born to a family after a miscarriage, stillbirth or neonatal death. The concept of a rainbow baby relates to the concept of a beautiful rainbow appearing after a turbulent storm. The concept symbolizes hope and healing. I always have loved rainbows. After every storm there is a rainbow. A rainbow baby brings an unimaginable amount of joy and a sense of peace, knowing that you now have a beautiful, precious little baby.
The sunshine symbol is often used to refer to calm moments before a storm. Therefore, a sunshine baby is the child who was born before you encountered a loss. Your loss could be the result of a miscarriage which is defined as the loss of a pregnancy in the first 20 to 24 weeks. A sunshine baby represents hope. Their presence allows you to believe that you can conceive a baby successfully. Your sunshine baby is a reminder that you are fully capable of maintaining a pregnancy and delivering a healthy baby.
There are even more terms as well – a Golden baby: a baby born after a rainbow baby, a Sunset baby: a twin who dies in the womb (I did experience a “vanishing” twin in my first son’s pregnancy), a Sunrise baby: the surviving twin of a baby who dies in the womb.
If you have a biological child, you are simply lucky. Some people will never have that chance or will have had the opportunity to parent taken away from them by miscarriage or infant death. When an intractable infertility may become an awareness after a first pregnancy results in a loss. Some women will mourn that loss all the more, realizing that they will never, ever experience having a child of their own genetic biology. This can be extended as well to a birth mother who loses her child to adoption for whatever reason, especially if that mother never experiences a reunion with her child (as happened to both my maternal and paternal original grandmothers).
The truth is, when you lose a baby from any cause, you develop a permanent psychological scar. In some women, it is difficult to imagine that they will ever have another baby. Losing a baby can change a person’s dreams and hopes of any future that includes being a parent. Some people will tell you that you should just “get over it.” This is not helpful advice to extend to a bereaved parent. The overwhelming feelings experienced following a loss are normal. Usually with grief and sorrow, the intensity does lessen as time passes.
When faced with complex feelings related to complicated situations, people with no experience with that reality will try to throw in a feel good positive but that does not indicate that they really understood how this experience has affected you.
A woman in my all things adoption group received this response from a friend and she acknowledges – My friend means well but they really don’t grasp how adoption IS trauma. This is my main support person. The only person who is there when no one else is and to have such a huge disconnect cuts deep. They are very accepting that everything is just the way it is and not allowing trauma to define your life. Which at times is super helpful – yet right now I’m hurting and on this subject it doesn’t actually work.
She goes on to explain – Saying that it “Wasn’t that bad” or complimenting me by saying “as amazing as you are” does not help. Was adoption not that bad because it shaped me into who I am ? Or is it that who I am is that resilient that I make being adopted seem like adoption isn’t that bad ? See I can’t have one thing without the other. I’m not allowed my identity without adoption being brought into it. I can’t be truly separated from my trauma, so that it wouldn’t define my life, which in turn makes me feel like a living breathing trauma in a skin suit. I’m like 2 people in one body that feels one story 2 different ways.
A birth mother can struggle in similar ways. One said – I am not an adoptee, but a birth mother and I relate so much to this situation. My dad and I are very close and any time I try to talk to him about my feelings regarding my birth daughter, he says things like “it could be so much worse than it is”. It would be so nice to have friends that genuinely understood.
One of my own reasons for writing this blog every day and sharing a diversity of situations and experiences is so that people without any adoption or foster care in their personal experience might understand these situations better and find a greater degree of empathy for an adoptee or birth mother, than these people usually encounter in their own everyday life.
So the Texas State Senator, Donna Campbell, appeared on my radar Sunday when I received an email notification from The Adoption Files blog by Ande Stanley. She writes – “One of the biggest stumbling blocks to the unrestricted access to original birth certificates in the state of Texas has been the Texas State Senator Donna Campbell – (I add, who not coincidentally is) an adoptive mother who has voted against allowing access every year since 2015.” Texas Monthly has had Senator Donna Campbell on their Worst Legislators list.
State Senator Donna Campbell as an adoptive mother shares her story in a Houston Chronical article featuring state officials that have adopted (there is a bit of an infuriating paywall but I include the link anyway). Her voice was described as breaking when she talks about promising her youngest daughter’s birth mother that she would “take good care of the baby” and calls the adoption divinely orchestrated. Pro-Life legislator Donna Campbell says also that she actually said to the birth mother, “You had a choice nine months ago, and you chose life and you will be blessed, and I will always take care of this child.” So like a politician to do double duty with their recorded statements.
It happened when she went to the hospital nursery to give a message to another doctor, and she heard people discussing a baby. “There was conversation about, ‘This baby is so cute’ — everybody wanted to take the baby home,” Campbell recalled. “They said, ‘Do you want to take the baby home?’” She said it turned out that the mother had been headed from San Antonio to Houston to find an adoption agency and went into labor in Columbus. Campbell and her husband had been talking about adoption but hadn’t moved forward on it. The decision was made quickly, and she asked to talk to the mother to thank her for the little girl she named Anna Beth after her own mother. “It happened just like that. But you know, so many others that would like to adopt, it doesn’t come that easy,” Campbell said. “This is truly divinely orchestrated.” God meant it to be – a lot of adoptive mothers will say that.
Lori Holden wrote Donna Campbell an open letter – Let’s talk – adoptive mom to adoptive mom – on the Lavender Luz website. “I understand having fears about adoption and, by extension, fears about making changes in adoption law. Change can be scary. For decades many states have had laws on the books to protect people from the humiliation of unwed pregnancy or the shame of infertility or the stigma of being born to unmarried parents. In response, we have put up walls to hide the shame and stigma and humiliation.”
“One of those walls is the practice of closing birth records for one group of people who, due to circumstances of birth, to this day do not enjoy a civil right that all other citizens in your state do. It is time to re-evaluate the existence of this wall, as so many of your Texas bipartisan colleagues in the Senate and House were eager to do at the close of the legislative session last month.”
When you say privacy I wonder if you are confusing it with secrecy, which takes simple privacy and wraps it in toxic fear and shame. Privacy is chosen, secrecy is often imposed. Secrecy exists because shame exists. With openness, by unsealing records and providing equal access for all, we can dissolve the shame and vanquish the need for secrecy. Regarding the privacy issue, accurate birth records should be kept private from the public but not secret from the parties directly involved.
As you may already realize, the Internet and advances in DNA testing have enabled birth mothers and birth fathers and their now-adult children to find each others’ identities by skirting laws that were constructed in that era of shame and secrecy. Psychotherapist Karen Caffrey, who is an adult adoptee with birth family from Texas, says, “Family genetic secrets are very soon going to be a thing of the past.”
There is more in her open letter at the link I’ve supplied.
I’m realizing a day late that yesterday would have been my maternal grandmother’s birthday. Her father died on Christmas Day in 1953, one year before I was born to his first grandchild, who he never even knew. I can imagine Christmas was not the usual kind of holiday for my Stark family but then I don’t really know. My mom was adopted away from them when she was 7 months old.
Relinquishing a child has lifelong consequences for women and for adoptees. Between 13–20% of birth mothers do not go on to have other children. For those in an era of birth control, a few may consciously feel that to have another child would be to betray the first child which they lost to adoption. For many, and especially in my grandmother’s generation, there was either no known reason for infertility or something about their life circumstances precluded having more children.
After receiving the adoption file from the state of Tennessee that they had previously denied my mother, only breaking her heart and motivation to search by informing her that her birth mother had died several years before, it took me forever to make real contact with one of my grandmother’s remaining family members – this one is a niece. She would actually be my mom’s cousin, that same generation of descendants. She is the warmest person and gave to me the gift my heart was yearning for, some intimate, personal memories of my grandmother along with this picture of her with her second husband.
In some belated post-Christmas communication with her today, I felt compelled to correct the seeming misperception that my mom was the child of the couple in this blog. Here was my reply –
My grandmother never had another child. My mom was her only child (and this is not uncommon among women who lose their first child in such a tragic manner). Her father appeared to have abandoned them, at least to my grandmother’s perception of events, though a super flood on the Mississippi River in early 1937 must have been a factor. My cousin that shares him as a grandfather with me, believes he cared deeply about family. So why did he not come to Memphis to rescue the two of them ? There is no one alive now that can answer that question for me and so, there it sits forever unanswered. Of course, once Georgia Tann knew about the precarious situation my mom and grandmother were in, she swooped in to acquire yet another human being to sell. Awful but a definite truth of it all. I am happy that my grandmother found happiness with her second husband after the divorce between her and my maternal grandfather occurred (and it didn’t happen until 3 years after they first married and my mom was already permanently beyond the reach of her original family).
She later corrected that “seeming” misperception, of course, she knew my mom was not this man’s child.
It is a tragic story. Why my grandfather left her after only 4 months of marriage, causing her to be sent away to Virginia to have my mom, there is no one left alive to tell me. Why my grandfather didn’t respond to the letter from the Juvenile Court at Memphis when my grandmother came back with her baby, there is no one left alive to tell me. My grandmother was so desperate to find a way to stop my mom’s adoption that she called Georgia Tann’s office 4 days after being pressured into signing the surrender papers, under a threat of having Tann’s good friend, Juvenile Court Judge Camille Kelley, declare my grandmother an unfit mother (which she absolutely was not !!). Then, she took a train to New Orleans to prove to Miss Tann that she did have friends there who would take the two of them in resolving at least the issue of stability, even if only temporarily. Everything she tried to do, including taking my mom to Porter Leath orphanage for temporary care – FAILED tragically.
I have all of my original grandparent’s birthdates on my yearly calendar now. I wasn’t able to know them in life but I don’t forget them in death. Maybe someday in the nonphysical realm to which my grandparents (and adoptee parents) have all gone, I will meet them once again and receive the answers my heart cannot acquire in life.
“I always like to tell everybody we raised yours, mine, ours, my brother’s, now others.” ~ Suzanne Valle
The opioid crisis has strained child welfare systems in recent years, as kids who often face neglect and abuse are taken from their families and put into foster care. Jesus and Suzanne Valle thought they would become empty nesters indulging in their love of travel but they became adoptive parents instead. From 2007 to 2018, they took in six children, all from Ohio families struggling with addiction, including their own. Four are the kids of Suzanne’s brother, and two kids came through the foster care system. They had already raised nine of their own biological children.
The above is courtesy of StoryCorps and NPR. I also found this first person account – What Happened After I Tried to Adopt an Opioid-Dependent Baby from Washingtonian written by Susan Baer for Carrie Brady, a longtime employee at Google.
She was 40 and single when she decided to adopt a baby. Because of America’s opioid crisis, her chances of finding a match were better if she agreed to accept the child of someone addicted to drugs. She had received a call from the adoption agent for the baby she expected to adopt. The mother had hemorrhaged and given birth in an emergency C-section, actually five days earlier. The baby had aspirated blood and been without oxygen, then helicoptered to a hospital in the mother’s home state, down south, and might not survive.
Her whole rationale for adoption was to be the best mom for whatever baby she was matched with. But now she found herself confiding to her sister, “I worry that if this baby survives with major brain damage, it was going to be too much for me.” She prayed about it and hoped the baby would somehow lead her to the answer. She asked her adoption agent, “Do you ever have families looking for special-needs babies?” She said, “Yeah, I do.”
She knew adopting a baby on her own would throw her tidy life into disarray. Her mother asked repeatedly, “Why do you want to uproot your life like this?” She simply felt she could give a different sort of life to a child born into tough circumstances. Reminds me of my own father, when my husband and I decided to have children (thanks to assisted reproduction) at an advanced age, “I question your sanity.” That has come back to me a few times.
The baby was taken off life support and was going to die. She wanted the baby girl to be baptized and so a chaplain was called. The nurses brought her a dress and booties. Carrie was able to hold the baby girl the only time she would ever be held. Carrie says, “I told her why she was here and how sad I felt. I promised to remember her.” For the first time, there were no sounds. The room was still.
The first thing she learned was that if she wanted to be an adoptive mother anytime soon, meaning within two years or so, she’d have to consider a baby who might have some drug dependency. Over the last several years, because of the opioid epidemic, a growing number of infants placed with adoption agents in the US (as many as 60 or 70 percent at some agencies) have had exposure to drugs or alcohol in utero, mostly opioids or treatment drugs such as methadone. Methadone is a very powerful drug given to help keep addicts off of heroin and other related opioids. The opioid crisis has had such a profound impact on the adoption landscape that placement agencies provide classes on prenatal drug exposure so that prospective parents can decide whether it’s something they can handle.
Adoption is a control freak’s worst nightmare and with an addicted birth mother, it can be nerve wracking. It is excruciating to have such a tenuous grasp on something as important as adopting a newborn and hard not to read too much into every unanswered text or canceled date. Her adoption consultant told her, “It’s not a bad thing to be all in.”
Two months after the baby girl died, her adoption agent called with the news: Another birth mother, also from the South, had chosen her profile and was having a baby boy at the end of the year. She was also in a methadone treatment program for a drug addiction (same as the first birth mother). The adoption agent cautioned her, the birth mother had been expected to place her last child for adoption but had backed out after the birth and chose to keep the baby.
This birth mother had been on methadone for three years, it was likely her baby would be dependent. The detox period could last weeks to months. Carrie was there for the baby’s delivery. He weighed 6.9 pounds and was 20 inches long. She was allowed to cut the cord and was the first to hold him. That night had been stormy with the birth mother. However, the next day when she arrived at the hospital, the birth mother was holding her infant son. They looked so peaceful. Carrie told her, I just want the best for him and would love her, even if she wanted to change her mind. She didn’t.
In NICU, the baby’s blood had a higher concentration of red blood cells than was normal, a condition that can result from maternal smoking. He was getting fluids through an IV but might need a blood transfusion. Thankfully, the fluids resolved the issue and the baby avoided a transfusion. But his withdrawal symptoms were escalating. His crying wasn’t like any baby’s cry she’d ever heard. Imagine the screams of someone being tortured. That’s what it sounded like—pure anguish—and nothing would stop it. With his symptoms worsening, doctors decided morphine would allow him a little relief.
When they weaned him from the morphine, the withdrawal came back with a vengeance. She finally got him into his crib with the sand weights, pulled down one side of the crib to lay her head down next to his. She started singing to him the country song she’d listened to on her morning walks to the hospital: “Everything’s gonna be alright. Nobody’s gotta worry ’bout nothing. Don’t go hitting that panic button. It ain’t near as bad as you think. Everything’s gonna be alright. Alright. Alright.”
He finally improved enough to be discharged. The nurses assured her that best thing for him was to be home. “It’s the nurture part that gets these babies through,” they said. For two more months, the baby struggled through withdrawals. Crying sometimes for hours on end, clenching up his face and body, and appearing mad at the world for many of his waking hours. He rarely slept more than two hours at a time, and once he started crying, it was hard to get him to stop.
At three months old, he got better and would take a pacifier to soothe himself. He started sleeping three and four hours at a time and then through the night. She never heard that awful cry of pain again. Besides normal pediatrician visits, he was seen monthly by a developmental therapist, who dismissed them after about a year. He had hit all of his milestones and showed no signs of any delay.