Break The Cycle

Early on in my education regarding all things adoption (which includes foster care), I became aware of a lot of valid evidence that trauma is passed down through families. I could see how this happened in my own family.

Take my parents (both adopted) original mothers. My dad’s mother lost her own mother only 3 months after her birth and went on to endure a truly wicked step-mother. My mom’s mother lost her own mother at the age of 11. Being the oldest, she inherited younger siblings to care for, the youngest not yet one year old. Her father never remarried, which might be just as well, but I have heard now what I suspected – he was a hard man, who without his wife, didn’t know how to love. There is trauma, particularly for a daughter who loses her mother.

There are my parents who were both torn from their mothers and surrendered to adoption. My mom’s mother was exploited in her financial duress by Georgia Tann in the 1930s when social safety nets didn’t exist. After months of resisting their pressure, my dad’s mother gave in to The Salvation Army and surrendered her son to them, which eventually led to his own adoption. I’m entirely convinced that had my grandmothers had sufficient support and encouragement, they would have raised their children. It is entirely possible that had their mothers been alive, they would not have relinquished.

My parents found each other in high school. Though they both shared the backhole void of origin information as adoptees, they were not of the same perspective regarding their adoptions. My mom confided this to me because she couldn’t talk about her yearning to locate her original mother to my dad who warned her against opening a can of worms. They were good enough parents. We knew we were loved but they were strangely detached as parents. I only know this as an adult observing how other parents generally feel a long-term involvement in their children’s lives.

With me, I knew they expected me to leave as soon as I graduated from high school and so, I married and a year later had a daughter (for which I am eternally grateful). The marriage was flawed by the time I was pregnant with her and by the time she was 3 years old, I was no longer married but also unable to support us as my ex-husband refused to pay any child support (since it was my decision to leave him). Eventually, he ended up raising her. She ended up with a stay at home stepmother and for the most part, it seems to have worked out for the best – for her – but never for me. I still struggle with coming to terms with having been an absentee mother over 60 years later.

Both of my sisters gave up a child to adoption. One, considering it quite normal (and now the truth be known there was an extremely complicating factor – the father was a good friend of our dad’s), always intended to relinquish. Shocking to me was that our own mom, who struggled with having been adopted herself, pressured and guided my other sister to give up her baby for adoption – and she tried to get the support of the social safety net that existed in the late 70s, early 80s but was refused because she was sheltering with our parents while pregnant and their financial strength was used against my sister’s request for assistance. That sister also lost her first born in an ugly custody case brought by her in-laws when she divorced that child’s father.

Mostly, these children of ours are breaking the cycle and are wonderful parents. One has struggled with failed marriages but has remained solid with his own son. I hope these recent successes continue on down our family line.

Evolving Approaches

There may come a day when adoption is a rare occurrence but that day isn’t here yet.  What is happening is that adoption is experiencing a more honest, truthful and open approach to the reality where adoption has already occurred.  And there is at least one group (I know because I belong to it) where the members seek to convince mothers-to-be who may be considering a surrender of their baby for adoption to at least try parenting first.  That is one of the ways that adoption may become rare someday.

One question may be – how young is too young to tell a child they are adopted ?  Some advice is – not to ever wait.  Putting off talking with your adopted child about how they came to live with you often becomes a never good time to tell.  I know of one case where that situation has become very very complicated and the truth is still not shared with young adult adoptees.  It has become difficult in an unusual way, so understanding this, I am not judging it, but it is an example of what can happen when telling is put off until the child is “older”.

One adoptee shares – I had an adoption story that was bare bones to start with, as I got older, more information and whys were added, discussions evolved from that retelling. So, create a short TRUE story of how you came to adopt your child – 4 or 5 sentences long at a very young age. Practice telling the story to a friend, in the mirror so YOU are comfortable telling it. Then ask your child if they want to hear about when you adopted them….and tell your child that story.

Waiting until the child is older means they’ve lived that many years without you being truthful with them about who the child is. Just don’t wait.  You want your child to trust you and they will if you are always telling them the truth. Set a date on the calendar to do it soon, a very short story of how you came to adopt them…

Another issue that often comes up with transracial adoptions is about teaching these children about their culture of origin.  It’s never too early to start introducing things from the child’s heritage. 

For example, a Puerto Rican child adopted by a white family. Some suggestions – Introduce Spanish as a normal part of your household, even if that means everyone learning it. Watch as much cultural content about Puerto Rico and its history as possible, and try to find opportunities to connect the child with their culture. Connect with the child’s biological family’s religious traditions – if that is a possibility – so it isn’t foreign to them. Always speak positively about their family, heritage, and culture. Plan a family trip to Puerto Rico when the child is of elementary school age, and then return as frequently as your finances allow. Bonus – learn about your child’s roots and connect to them in tangible ways. Try making some local friends who are Puerto Rican and see them regularly. If this all feels like too much, just recognize that your child is currently surrounded by American culture 24/7.

It goes without saying that this advice applies to all other ethnic groups and countries from which Americans adopted children on an international scale.

Even in those situations where the biological parents are addicted and may even be violent, or maybe the mother never wanted to keep her child, leaving the hospital as soon as she gave birth . . .

There is likely to be some extended family somewhere who would be open to some form of contact. Every child should have those biological ties as much as it is safe and of course, desired by the child themselves.  And don’t forget – people DO often change over time.  How they were at one point in their lives evolves and they become more conventional in their lifestyle and behavior.

Finally, it’s okay if a young child doesn’t understand what being adopted actually means.  An adoptive parent should openly talk about it anyway.  The child will always remember being told their story, about their birth or whatever is known and can be shared in a positive manner.  Adopted children will talk about being adopted, if they have always heard that, even before the child fully understands what it means. Truly, it IS simply a part of who the child is.

When To Test

I read about a situation today where the genetic parents of a toddler who has been adopted want the adoptive parents to have the child’s DNA tested so that family connections are available for that child.  This is within a diverse adoption community and the responses were diverse as well.  It is true that in getting our DNA tested we have no idea how that identifying information may be used in the future.  Many of those commenting thought it should wait until the child was old enough to consent.  Many suggested the genetic parents do the tests so that it is out there if or when the child wants it.  Some believed it would have been helpful to them to have this information while they were yet a child.

I’ve had some experiences with adoption or donor conceived and DNA testing experiences.

Both of my parents were adoptees. I’ve done both Ancestry (my mom also did this one but it didn’t help her and yet, has been invaluable to me for learning ancestral relationships and my genetic family’s movements over time) and 23 and Me. Both have helped me be accepted by genetic relatives who might have doubted me otherwise. I’ve been able to make a few “good” connections and have a better sense of some of my family thanks to stories and photos shared. As to developing relationships with people I lost over 6 decades getting to know ? It is slow going though everyone has been nice to me.

Now on another front . . . both of my sons are donor egg conceived. We’ve never hidden this aspect of their conception from them and they have met the donor on several occasions. Fortunately she has an amazingly good perspective on it all. I waited until the oldest was 18 to gift him with 23 and Me. I knew the donor had done that one and before I gifted my son, I gifted my husband. After the older one received his results, I gifted the 15 yr old as well. He is mature and there was no reason to exclude him. It is uncomfortable but the GENETIC reality that the donor is listed as their Mother. They grew in my womb, nursed at my breast for a full year and have known no one else as “mom”. They seem to have processed it well as far as I can tell. Thankfully.

The adoptive mom of my nephew did Ancestry using only initials to identify him. It turned out (and she helped him in discovering this), my sister lied about who the father was on my nephew’s birth certificate. The Ancestry DNA test was their first suspicion. The effort though came at the nephew’s desire to know. He has since met his genetic father several times. They look remarkably alike and now my nephew has certainty.

My niece (child of a different sister) was also adopted and is going through some frustrations over her DNA results though her mother has given her the name of the genetic father. It can be a complicated and confusing experience.

There is one other nephew who was raised by his paternal grandparents. My sister lost custody in court when the paternal grandparents sued to possess him. This child is of mixed heritage – both white and Hispanic. He was raised in a very Hispanic family. His DNA shows a beautiful diversity.

No solutions, simply thoughts and examples.

A Question of Ethics

A question arises among adoptees about the morality of putting a price on their lives.  It is a fair question.  Is it right to pay tens of thousands of dollars to buy a child ?  The going price is often in the $30,000-$40,000 price range.

One adoptive parent answered that question rather honestly – “We were so clouded by desire that we really didn’t think about the cost.”

What would you think, if you knew, that an agency had tiered pricing on the babies they are selling ?   White$$$, whomever $$, Black$.  Is value related to the ethnicity of a person ?

An adoptive parent in an honest evaluation of how they are feeling might say, “The moment we drove away from the hospital it felt like we stole him. It was such a conflicting feeling.”  Some won’t even give it a moment’s pause.

What would you think if you knew the legal system was being gamed ?  “Our lawyer was a whole other bag of nuts as she moved our court date around because the judge that was assigned to our case hates adoption.”  I wonder why ?  Could it be that judge knows something about the realities ?

A very honest adoptive parent might admit to an adoptee that – “Yes we bought a kid, yes at the time we thought we were doing the right thing ‘if we didn’t take him…’ yes, I wish it was different for him that he wasn’t a secret. But I love him. I am totally geeked when he discovers something new. I make little videos and pictures to send to the one app that I know the natural mother checks, so she can see her son. I hope that she comes and builds a relationship with this amazing human. I also daily feel conflicted with the whole process. I caught myself in the market one day when asked if he was adopted – I replied ‘oh no we bought him.’ I struggle with not wanting him to feel like he was a purchase. Do you ever feel like you were not bought ?”

Money will always be a complicating factor.  It is often said of corrupt practices “follow the money.”  That makes sense.  Who is gaining wealth at the expense of whom ?  Just one of the reasons that the whole system of adoption is being looked at deeply and reforms to that practice are being discussed.

The Sound of Love

It may be hard to imagine what a joy it is for a mother who once relinquished her child to adoption to finally hear their voice decades later.  One such story that reached me today and was conveyed like this –

“I got the call I’ve waited on for almost 31 years. More so the past 2 years.
My Son called me! 💙💗
His voice was like that of someone I’ve always known. He sounded so familiar. Almost a 2 hour phone call.  It was more than I ever imagined.💓

It may have taken a pandemic but it finally happened 🥰

And now I embark on this next rail of this roller coaster that has been my life. At least today I woke with a smile.”

Not every attempt at a reunion ends happy.  Some mothers are so devastated that they have tried to block out all memories of the unhappy experience.  They do not wish to remember what happened.

And in this time of isolating ourselves an in-person meeting may not be possible but I guarantee that someday this will all be in the past and while life may never look like it did before ever again, a new kind of normal will emerge.

An experience like the one I have shared is healing for both the mother and the adoptee when it goes so beautifully even with the complications of our current moment.  Advice for entering into such a fragile beginning –

Understand your emotions will be very intense, this is normal.
Journal journal journal.
Cry cry cry.
Yet, try with all your might not to burden your child.
Ask for their permission before you do stuff.

Adoptees had no choice regarding what happened to them. If your relinquished child comes back, be grateful for such a blessing.  Always be gentle towards both you and your child.

It’s Complicated

I find myself in conversation with a diversity of people about a diversity of issues related to adoption and mother/child separations.  I am always amazed at how many people have some such issue in their family and friend’s lives.

Even though I have had a radical change of heart about adoption due to learning about the wounds that causes, I also acknowledge that the issue is not simple but very complicated.  There are times when children definitely need a safe and loving space to exist in.  There are times, when knowing the circumstances, we can admit that adoption was better than the alternative.

But there always are alternatives and some are less damaging than others.  Harder to arrive at is why people become wounded and messed up.  Why they don’t do better.  Why the children are often the ones to suffer the most.

Learning about all of the circumstances at play in my own family’s lives has given me an appreciation for the big picture and how things progress over time.  I am in the midst of editing a new manuscript that I actually wrote the rough draft for six years ago and then events delayed my return to it.

At this point in the story, I am in heaven.  And the topic of predestination and free will comes up between me and a trusted friend of the heart there.  I think this perspective may be close to the truth of the matter and so, I share –

“Are you telling me that everything is preordained and that I had no choice in how my life unfolded?”

“Absolutely not.  The nature of reality in this realm is that everything is adjusting instantaneously to every choice and circumstance that happens.”

What happens if different choices are made ?

“It would have all morphed and changed to suit new circumstances.  In fact, there are layers upon layers of redundancies. There are trajectories and unfoldings that are the natural outcomes of current events and like your own micro circumstances it is all morphing and adjusting continuously.  There are situations that, if they don’t occur,  could delay your next lifetime.  Other situations could speed up your return to Earth in another incarnation.  We really don’t know the hour of our birth, just as we really don’t know the hour of our death; and yet, it is all completely natural.”

Though Life is so very complicated that any action we may take could be beneficial or detrimental regardless of the best of intentions, even knowing all that could possibly happen that we never considered, we act anyway – for not to act might bring some irreversible harm that could have been prevented.

Who Is My Mother ?

It is a complicated world we live in.  For many children, one of those complicated things is defining who their mother is.  For decades, since adoption became fashionable, this can be a hard question for a child to answer.  Other children are challenged for other reasons.  When I first told my youngest son his conception story that involves an egg donor, he asked me if she was his mother.  I did my best to explain in age appropriate terms.  At some point, in discussing this reality of my sons’ existence, the older one asked if he was supposed to be grateful.  We answered, no but we are.  When we did 23 and Me and the egg donor was identified as their mother, my youngest son lamented he did not have my genes.  Sometimes reality is complicated.

For an adoptee, this can be a confusing question, especially when the child is very young and the only mother they know is the one that is present with them.  In this modern age, some children have two mothers or in the case of two fathers, may have been born by surrogate.  It is not an easy question for a lot of children to answer.  With divorce being such a common occurrence, many children end up with step mothers.

As the source of nurturing, comforting, sustaining and unconditional love, it is no wonder a child will love their mother.  Yet, for many children defining who the mother is can be confusing.

Even though every human being truly has only one mother, for many children with non-traditional forms of “Mom”, they should NOT have to correct an erroneous identification and say a primary caregiver is not their mom.  This puts the child in too difficult of a situation.  An adult can make it even more confusing for the child by trying to be accurately correct.

With big feelings what’s best is to validate and reflect the child’s feelings, and be a safe person for them to share their thoughts and feelings with.  If you are not the woman who actually carried and birthed that child but are the one who is there for them in that role, day after day, let the child decide what they should call you and deal with the reality that their life is complex.

There Can Be No Denying

Becoming adopted will never be a natural circumstance.  There is a loss of security and certainty in having been adopted that cannot be prevented.  For whatever reason, an adoptee has been torn away from those who gave themselves to that life.

There cannot be other than a sense of abandonment and rejection.  And not knowing the reasons and causes only makes it worse.  That is why closed adoptions are not good and yet, there are fears attached to open adoptions as well.  A fear of intrusion and difficult people making difficult demands and confusion as to who holds the authority over one’s life.

Life is a hard school.  There’s no denying that.  Adoptees have to contend with some harsh realities, no matter how much those people who do care about them try to minimize the effects.

Some will crumble under the reality and some will find within their own self a strength that requires no one else.  Some will find the way to make the most of a bad situation and some will fight and struggle against what is all the days of their life.

While every person born faces challenges, those faced by adoptees are an added layer of complication that only they can meet and must meet in their own personal efforts to somehow rise above.

People Still Buy Babies

In this day and time so far away from the scandals of Georgia Tann stealing and selling babies, I never expected to see someone actually talking about “buying” a baby. It troubles my heart though realistically, one doesn’t come by a baby without cost, even when that child is gestated in their body.

The bit of advertisement above came from a FB group called “Mothers United Against Anti-Adoption”. I removed the more personal, identifying information.

I’m not joining and I am NOT “anti-adoption”. I have simply come to understand that being adopted is way more complicated than I understood growing up or for most of my life (both of my parents were adopted).

I agree that regardless of how you become a mother (or father), the common thread is love.  And whether we are natural or adoptive parents, we all go through the same kinds of challenges of feeling like an utter failure. As one adoptive mom said in a Huffington Post article –

“Some days I get tired of it all and just want to be a family. Not the adoptive family … just a family.”

A young woman approached the adoptive parent (it is a transracial adoption and so it was rather obvious), “I was adopted as a baby and it has been a wonderful thing. We need more families like yours.” I stared at her, stunned.

“She didn’t think what I assumed everyone was thinking. She saw beauty and love and hope and family. She thought we were wonderful and it made her smile.”

There are children who need alternative parents for whatever reason. What is perceived as “anti-adoption” issues are really mainly related to two core issues –

[1] Identity and Genetics – let your adopted child keep their original name and don’t have their birth certificate altered.

[2] Family Preservation – whenever possible, the natural parents should be supported in locating the resources to parent their children and given every encouragement.

For those times when a child actually does need alternative parents, then adoption fills a need.