Anxiety For The Unknown

Today’s topic is stepping into what’s next when aging out of foster care. I don’t know how that feels but I have stepped into the unknown myself, to leave a dangerous romantic relationship with only a suitcase and $500 and drop myself into the city of St Louis where I knew no one and had not job waiting for me. It is empowering to face such great challenges and survive through them, so I am certain this young woman will be fine. In fact, immediately, from my all things adoption and foster care came lots of offers of support.

Right away came some simple advice with which I agree 100% – Make plans but try to stay in the moment, worry comes from living in the future.

The young lady admits – Everything seems to be slowly working itself out. I do have a lot of anxiety about the unknown. Many of us do but somehow we manage to muddle through. And that is what I found as well. Things begin to fall into place as you take the next logical step forward.

Do you have monetary needs ? Two possibilities were mentioned – Dream Makers project and One Simple Wish (both are said to be on Instagram, I’m not, so you’ll have to look for those if you are and are in need).

You can make a great life for yourself. I’m rooting for you to find that out for yourself. If you are in the Bridges program, they will pay your rent and utilities until you’re 21.

I know that many states do have programs to assist young people aging out of foster care. Many help with finding an apartment and a job, other skills a young adult will need to survive. For many, I think simply the huge shift from no responsibility to a LOT of responsibilities for their own welfare, can be scary. In this young woman’s case it includes her young son. Adding a dependent, which I didn’t have, certainly makes the situation more difficult.

More good advice – start out with making do and then improve things a little at a time. Do all of the things that you can for free, while you can.

With Privilege Comes Judgment

Growing up, I remember being told not to judge, to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes before judging them. I need to understand the other person’s experiences, challenges, thought processes, etc before judging their own personal choices or lived stories. It is true that judgments keep us safe, help us make friends, accomplish our goals, and all sorts of wonderful, important stuff.

The idea of privilege has become really controversial in some circles, even offensive. Usually the people who are offended by the idea of privilege are the people who have it. And when someone who has had some experience – maybe they have experienced being judged, as being inferior, because they were living in poverty, or they had a bad experience in foster care or in their childhood while being raised by adoptive parents – we should do our best to listen to their stories with compassion, realizing that because we did not have that experience ourselves, we cannot really know how bad it was for them. We need to simply give them the benefit of the doubt and open our heart to their pain and/or trauma.

So, too often when people are simply trying to share whatever awful experience they have lived through, someone will feel triggered and quickly counter this person’s lived experience with the words “not all” – which is simply meant to shut the person up and not allow them to revel their own experience honestly. Maybe you are a foster parent or an adoptive parent or do social work or work for the government in some kind of child welfare or government assistance office and you are feeling judged by the story you are hearing. You are desperate to point out that you are not one of those kinds of people yourself. And it’s wonderful if you are not. However, you should restrain yourself at such a time, take comfort and be confident in the knowledge that the story you are hearing is not about you but about the person telling it and their experience. Allow them to revel their own truth without dismissing it by inserting why you are such a good person (and in fact, maybe look long and hard at your own heart to determine is what it actually is that is being triggered. Is it your sense of being some kind of savior to some segment of humanity ?).

Privilege is something your life gives you that is good. By being able to see those aspects as a privilege, you should also be able to realize that you have had access to something that some other people didn’t.  Often in adoption land, as in real life, those with privilege and those in government service too often treat the underprivileged poorly and that is un-necessary. They have it hard enough without you piling on.

The truth is, adoptive parents hold the dominant view in society. Their perspectives rule when it comes to creating the perceptions that people with no experience with what adoption is like in general, believe it to be. Adult adoptees are too often either silenced or dismissed. Money rules. The financially privileged hold the power in society over the less fortunate – who are too easily overlooked or not seen at all. Adoption is almost always a case of allocating a child. Taking a child out of a poverty stricken family and placing that child into a rich one. Georgia Tann didn’t hide her belief that doing this intended engineering of a child’s life led to better outcomes for that child than leaving them in their original poverty-stricken family. So the truth is, money matters.

Just as it was with Georgia Tann, money continues to be the motivation in our modern times. There are people making a LOT of money by taking money from rich people, in return for giving them the opportunity to experience parenting. An experience that infertility or the tragic death of their biological child may have robbed them of. Money can buy you the opportunity to parent a child. Only people with money can afford a domestic infant adoption. This is the reality. And some determined people without financial good fortune will even set up a Go Fund Me page or some other kind of charity outreach to get the money to adopt a child. But the fact remains – the adoption industry is doing very well at generating a lot of revenue for itself.

Adoption Ad During the Super Bowl

Toyota featured the story of Jessica Long, 13 time Paralympic Gold Medalist. Born in Siberia and due to a rare condition, had to have her legs amputated, Jessica Long has inspired people with her story.

Toyota tells through a reenactment how her adoptive mother found out that she would need to have her legs amputated.

“Mrs. Long. We found a baby girl for your adoption,” says a woman on the phone with Long’s onscreen mother. “But there are some things you need to know. She’s in Siberia and she was born with a rare condition.”

“Her legs will need to be amputated,” the woman adds as the scenes play out floating in water while Long swims. “Her legs will need to be amputated. I know this is difficult to hear. Her life, it won’t be easy.”

The commercial then shifts to Long winning a race as her mother watches from the kitchen table.

“It might not be easy, but it’ll be amazing,” Long’s mom says. “I can’t wait to meet her.”

The commercial voiceover then adds, “We believe there is hope and strength in all of us.”

During an interview with People magazine back in 2016, the swimmer said – “Winning gold medals is incredible and obviously it’s what I want to do, but there’s something so special about having a little girl who has just lost her leg from cancer come up and tell me I’m her hero.”

Clearly, it is her physical disability that informs Jessica’s identity much more than the fact of her adoption.

“It took me years to realize that if I act ashamed and I try to hide them people kind of react the same way,” she added. “But if I wear my shorts or a cute summer dress and I show off my legs and I’m willing to talk about it, people are engaged and they want to know about my story.”

The renowned athlete was adopted by Americans from a Russian orphanage at 13 months old. At 18 months old, her legs were amputated below the knees. In total, she’s won 29 gold medals, 8 silver medals and 4 bronze ones.

As a blogger, the only question that I had was whether any pro-adoption group helped fund the commercial or suggested the idea to Toyota. Just a hint of cynicism but otherwise, I love the story of overcoming life’s realities with determination. However, there may be no connection with that kind of organization.

In 2013, Jessica Long traveled with her younger sister to meet her birth parents, who were teenagers when Long was born Tatiana Olegovna Kirillova. It was a three-day journey to her Russian adoption center and then an 18-hour train ride to what would have been her Siberian hometown. “Long Way Home” (the story of her journey) premiered on primetime during the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics in Russia.

Jessica says this about her adoption – “When I first see my Russian family, I want them to know that I’m not angry with them, that I’m not upset that they gave me up for adoption,” Long said in the film, before a tearful, hug-filled reunion. “I think that was really brave, and I don’t know what I would have done if I was in her situation, at 16 and having this disabled baby that they knew that they couldn’t take care of. I want to tell her that when I see her that, if anything, I have so much love for her, my mom, because she gave me life.”

And I’ve learned a bit more of Jessica’s adoption back story – her teenaged parents were persuaded to give her up, with doctors telling the mother that she was “still young” and would be able “to give birth to a normal child.” This is disgusting. This is why so many kids end up in ‘orphanages’, not because they don’t have parents, but because of lack of support, ablism and/or poverty. And even sadder is this, her mother said, “Of course I was against leaving her in the hospital but because of the circumstances we had to do so. In my heart I did want to take her home, and thought I would take her back later.” This belief that their child will return to them someday is a common occurrence in international adoptions.

There is of course, some questionable motivation when a car company wanting to sell more cars uses these kinds of themes. For those closest to the situations, it is absolutely a triggering commercial – hit notes on adoption, orphans, and a special needs person. At the same time, it is a perfect little story wrapped in a bow, delectable, and very palatable for the masses who gobble it up. General society and adoptive parents as well as the hopeful adoptive parents always love a “poor little orphan finds a home” story.

There is also a hashtag, #ToyotaWeDisApprove, trending on Twitter.

 

Abandonment Part 2

In you haven’t already read the previous blog – Abandonment Part 1 – you will need that context to fully understand today’s follow-up.

So after sharing her backstory, the woman’s story I shared added these questions.

Am I delusional for wanting to adopt ? Is adoption really that bad? How can I help my daughter ? I know her situation is different than an adoptee but some of the feelings seem to be the same. Do I continue to push for a relationship with her dad’s side of the family, when they don’t seem to want to be involved ? I’m ok with continuing to push but sometimes it seems it hurts my daughter more.

Now for some selected responses (there were 109, indicating a “hot” topic in my adoption community) –

The very first one totally surprised me. Consider looking into uterine transplantation so you and your husband can have your own child which is what you really want…there are several programs out there…. To which, the woman actually admitted that she was already researching that. Who knew ?

The next one is one I had thought of myself as I read this woman’s story – Help your daughter before you even consider adding a stranger’s child to your family dynamic. Beyond that, the thought occurred to me that that daughter who it is said wants a sibling, will soon be mature enough to leave the house. If this couple adopts an infant or young toddler, the adoptee will be there “alone” for many years, unless they adopt more than one (and I’m not in favor of adoption – just to be clear).

Along these same lines of thinking came the next response – Don’t you think bringing in another child would add to your daughters issues ? Can you and your marriage handle two traumatized children ? I’d stop thinking of adding a child until you get your other child in a healthy mental state.

And back to a core issue –

My first thought is to continue to foster a relationship with your daughter’s paternal family….but, accept that it may not be what you want it to be at this time. Guide your daughter to this acceptance too. Their lack of reaching out is disappointing….do you know why they have become so resistant to contact ? When you reach out to them, do they respond ? The biological dad appears to be entwined with a woman who is controlling and dismissive. He made a choice and it is disappointing. You and your daughter can be upset with him….and hope one day he might change his mind about contact. Both can be true. His lack of effort for contact appears to be about his lack of control and maturity to deal with challenging issues.

The last thought I’ll share is from the same woman as above but it really appeals to me and at the end, I’ll share why.

Adopting? No. Your focus needs to be on your daughter and supporting her during this time to adulthood. Once she is independent and on solid footing you could revisit foster/adopt. Whenever I read about a teen struggling with emotional stuff I turn to horses. I suggest you investigate therapeutic equine programs in your region. It has been shown that being around horses (caring for them, riding, therapy with them) can be a positive in a teens life. Furthermore, it is a confidence builder!!!!! Handling and riding a 1000 lb animal is exhilarating and mood boosting….offers a child new adventure….promotes focus and maturity….and helps balance brain chemicals. If not therapeutic horse program….find something she enjoys with a passion & go after it with gusto – it will give her joy and purpose and conversation, and balance the difficult emotional stuff her paternal family offers.

My youngest sister was a lifelong horsewoman. It may have been working with horses that actually pushed her decline into mental illness (most likely paranoid schizophrenic though it is obvious to me now that the vulnerability and even a few brief psychotic episodes may have occurred earlier in her life, I’ve also been told that she was sexually exploited by an older man at the horseback riding stables she frequented, so there is that too). Anyway, eventually, she was placed in a locked facility for observation but our parents were of the mind they lacked the financial resources to keep her there.

When she was scheduled to come out, I tried calling many such places. She was so good at caring for horses and I thought perhaps we could get her employment with access to a therapist but no one was willing to take on the liability – sadly. I had thought that getting her away from people and the craziness of society and putting her with horses might bring her back out of it. Now, she has been in that state for over a decade and admitting that the life she believes she lives as a secret agent is a delusion is probably no longer possible for her to accept. I will always worry and care about her.

When Abuse Is The Reason

It is sometimes misunderstood when a reform of adoption and foster care come up that those who support these issues don’t fully grasp the problem of child abuse.  That isn’t true.

One of the books I read early on in my own effort to educate myself about such issues is Etched in Sand by Regina Calcaterra.  You can learn more at her personal website.  She lived it all – from surviving an abusive mother who often left them alone to fend for themselves with inadequate resources to foster care.  It is not an easy story to read.  From her website blog about the book –

“The middle of five children, Regina, and her siblings, Cherie, Camille, Norman and Rosie were born to the same mentally ill abusive and neglectful mother but all different fathers. Their mothers mental illness, and fathers abandonment, contributed to the families instability. They would constantly move quickly shifting from houses and apartments to trailers, homeless shelters, cars and the streets. Regardless of where they lived, the older siblings would work to make each place they lived a home for the younger siblings. Through Regina’s experiences Etched in Sand chronicles how the siblings lived on the fringe of society as they struggled to  survive. All the while avoiding the authorities by keeping a pact that it was better to stay together on their own then be separated and placed in foster homes.Through Etched in Sand Regina shares the scrappy survival instincts, mishaps, adventures and bonds of a group of essentially parentless siblings.”

There is a lot that is broken and wrong about how society deals with cases such as hers.  This morning I read a heartbreaking accusation of a group I am part of that seeks reforms –

“I see a lot of you are against adoption… as if it’s some horrible thing… I see many people in here wishing they were not adopted or wish they were with their birth family…. etc. etc. I’ve seen people say adoption isn’t love. It’s bad. It shouldn’t happen.  And I even see some of you discouraging others from adopting or give up their children for adoption.”

“Why on earth would you guys want me to be with my molester/abuser.  The person who poisoned me with drugs as a child… aka my birth mom… or any other children kept with their abusers? I suffered with her for 4 years of my life being sold as a child prostitute by my own mom. I was drugged by her, in poverty and beaten repeatedly by her and then another 3 years in foster care I was abused until my bones were broken…, why would you guys want this for people? Or maybe I just don’t understand. Because adoption saved my life. I was left for dead by the person who supposedly ‘loved me’.”

“So why should children be forced to remain with their abusers or left with unfit parents???”

While I’m not highly active there nor do I read there every day, I do get a lot of ideas and am exposed to important information, which I often share here in my blog – including today’s (at least I feel it is important to my general mission of educating people about adoption and foster care from those who live it). From our group administrator comes the clearest answer, with which I agree since I’ve been in this group since late 2017.

“No one here advocates for ANY child to be abused. To insinuate that we do simply because we promote family preservation first is pretty horrible. Supporting moms to parent their children, helping them with resources and helping them see the value in themselves and the value for their children is not supporting ANYONE to remain in an abusive situation. No, we do not support that and ANYONE that has read in here long enough would know this already.”

And furthermore, just as I would say my own parents had a “good” adoptive life, the administrator added this (which I share to help clarify my own stance on these issues) –

“I am glad you had a great adopted life. I too had a great adoptive life, but that does not negate that adoption is not and should not be first choice. Moms that want to parent should be able to parent with the right supports. It is not necessary nor should it ever be necessary to seek adoption when you are unsupported, financially lacking, dealing with mental health issues, etc. These are all things that can be helped and should be. I have great relationships with my natural family too. The majority of my story is what adopted parents wish for when they adopt. Still, I am against adoption without a child’s making an informed decision and most certainly when moms just need help. The overwhelming majority of moms that seek adoption do so for financial reasons, which is ridiculous.”

That was the reason my grandmothers lost my parents who were both adopted.  It is definitely the reason one sister gave up her daughter to adoption.  The other sister just viewed adoption as a totally natural choice for a single, unwed mother.  However, in her case, severe mental illness and a period of homelessness, plus the awesome way her son has matured into a fine and upstanding person, makes us glad she did give him up.

There is not a one-size-fits-all answer to the well-being of any child or family situation.  The group I belong to advocates protection under guardianship because adoption is a commercial, for profit system.  Better is a model of “village-care” which is natural in many societies (though not in the US which is so individualistic).  On the positive side is this perspective –

“What we would want to see is that you could maintain your original birth records & medical history while being under the protection of your current guardians.  What we would want to see is that your family grows, not shrinks.  Instead of cutting off branches (the ENTIRETY of that side of your family for your abusive parents actions), we would want to extend your family outward. More care. More kin. A wider community of care.”

 

Adding Insult To Injury

We are living through uncertain times.  Many people feel un-moored from their usual sources of confidence that all will be well.  Children who have been adopted or are in foster care find their worlds upended.  Lacking consistency, routine, and an overall feeling of stability and security as their personal worlds are being shaken up again by the Coronavirus and the efforts to contain the spread of that infection.

Schools have closed and public community events through which diverse people usually bond are cancelled.  Instead of joining together in common experience we are forced to isolate ourselves from one another.  At least we have modern technology to keep us connected while maintaining a safe distance from one another but life is not routine or what we would conventionally expect as we wake up each day.

For those parents who still have jobs to go to while their children are alone at home, the struggle can be significant.

One of the responsibilities that foster parents face is transporting the children in their home to visitations with their birth parents and biological family members. Often times, visitations take place at child welfare offices, while other times, visitations may occur at public places, such as parks, restaurants, churches, and other public venues. Visitations are important as they help to maintain the relationship between both child and adult. Along with this, many foster parents have very strong relationships with the birth parents and during visitations, trust is built and children can grow and develop in a healthy fashion, as a result.

Yet, those public spaces are now closed to most of us in most locations throughout the United States.  And coming out of the usual wintertime season of colds and flu can complicate things because many of us have all had one thing or another since Thanksgiving and our immunity is generally low.  Essential services such as therapy sessions, drug counseling, and even court appearances have also been affected by Covid 19.

All families face difficulty at this time in our collective history and families with the additional challenges of trauma and regulations face an additional burden on top of the difficulties they face every day.  All families are concerned, and confused, looking for answers and receiving little guidance.  There is no school, foster care related visits are being cancelled, church services are cancelled, and generally all children are now isolated from the friends they depend upon in their everyday lives.  The challenge in an era of social distancing is physical, and tangible, but can’t be solved by throwing dollars at it.

Stay safe, be well.  Come together – though at a distance.  Keep the efforts to slow the spread of this virus going until the assurance that it is once again safe to have greater contact with our fellow human beings becomes more certain.  Patience is necessary and flexibility too.

Without Us

It is difficult being a woman.  It is difficult being a mother.  It is difficult being a wife, a daughter or a sister.  Sometimes it is difficult having women friends.  Today is International Women’s Day.

I was in a difficult romantic relationship with a dangerous man. He lived in dangerous ways and he was dangerous for my own self to be with. More than once he physically hit me. I’m not denying that my own behavior may have pushed him over the edge those times but I also know that whatever holds a man back from harming a woman, if he is able to break through that barrier even once, the risk then exists that it will be easier for him to go through that same barrier the next time. So eventually I left his physical presence. I planned my leaving carefully to be able to safely go. I saved money from what was allotted to me for groceries by buying wisely over a long period of time and I left without saying goodbye. After I was safely at a distance, I notified him that I wasn’t coming back.

It took that courage of leaving to put me into alignment with meeting my husband, so I could live in this deeply nourishing place where I feel very safe and am contented. And it took other actions too, like being brave enough to place a personal ad in a weekly entertainment newspaper in St Louis, without which I would have never come in contact with the man I married a little over a year later. Traveling through life is a lot like being in a car where I always know that I can never actually get truly “lost”. All roads eventually go somewhere and one can always backtrack and find a “somewhere” that we recognize. Leaving can be like backtracking to where you were comfortably confident in your own self, after the damage an abusive relationship can inflict upon a person. I know that all experiences – the good and the bad – end up somewhere else eventually. In that there is a great deal of comfort and a real confidence for living through it all.

My family supports the regional women and children’s shelter.  They support women and their children to survive domestic violence and end up in a better place.  They help keep mothers and their children together.  If you have the opportunity to do anything that will keep a mother together with her children, please consider doing so.  The future of our humanity depends on us being here.

Profound and Mystical

Painting by Nazar Haidri

At the time my parents were given up for adoption, not as much was known about how the initial relationship of a child to his mother contributes to a healthy self-esteem.  My parents were each with their mothers for 6 months or longer and that was a good thing.  My mom seemed to me to have less self-confidence than my dad but she had a difficult adoptive mother who I doubt my mom ever felt she lived up to the expectations of that woman.

My niece and nephew who were given up for adoption were taken from their mothers shortly after birth.  I don’t really know what effect that had on them and it is difficult to know which was worse.  I think my parents probably suffered more because they had that time of closeness with their mothers and then suddenly she was gone.  They were pre-verbal.  How to explain that the sun has ceased to shine and won’t be back ?

The success of human beings on this planet has much to do with the ability to adapt to changing conditions.  There is yet much to learn about the cost of having to adapt, regarding the attempt to substitute an unrelated mother for the original natural mother.  I would suspect that at the least there is a wariness about what is happening.

The relationship of a child to their mother is profound and mystical.

That Was Then

The human child requires a period of a year after birth to attain a degree of maturity. The Self or core-being of the infant is not yet separate from that of the mother but psychologically contained within her.

The nature of their relationship is fluid, mother/child/world transcending time and space.  The mother provides a container for the child’s developing ego, just as her womb previously provided a container for the child’s developing physical body.

It is a dual unity – the mother not only acts as the child’s Self, but actually is that Self. An uninterrupted continuum of being within the matrix of the mother is necessary in order for the infant to experience a rightness or wholeness of self from which to begin it’s separation or individuation process.

The continuity and quality of this primal relationship is crucial, and it may set the tone for all subsequent relationships.

~ from The Primal Wound by Nancy Newton Verrier

When my daughter was born in 1973, we were kept separated except for brief reunions in my room.  She was in a nursery the rest of the time and fed a bottle, which damaged the effort to nurse her.

By the time my sons were born in 2001 and 2004, they were in the room with me – the first son almost all of the time and the second son in the nursery briefly each night so I could sleep but it was interesting that we would wake at the same time.

Being returned to the natural mother is better than being handed over to someone else. Any interruption in the continuum of the primal relationship with the mother can result in a lack of trust in the continuity of the goodness and rightness of the child’s environment and of their own self.