It Really Was That Bad

Today’s story –

I was adopted from foster care when I was 12. I was adopted into the same home as one of my biological sisters. Being adopted was the only way I could stay with my younger sister, so I consented. I knew my first family, as I lived with them to the age of ten. Having to leave them, especially my siblings, destroyed me.

Nearly as bad was the family I ended up with. My adoptive mom berated me constantly, and could be very cruel. I was told that my sister and I weren’t wanted, and that’s why my mother kept her other (three younger) kids but gave us up. That we were lucky that she chose us. The day of the adoption she told me that my life now was between her and Jesus.

I have a good relationship with my biological mom and stepdad, and their kids. I love them, and they love me back with a kind of enthusiasm that I never experienced in my adoptive home. Awhile back, my adoptive mom sent me a message, trying to apologize. It was painful, but it made me know for sure that things were as bad as I thought they were.

From the adoptive mom –

A couple of years ago we sat in the livingroom and I made an attempt at making an amends with you. I thought if I had stopped drinking and stayed sober, then the past was the past.

At the beginning, when you moved into our home, I made a feeble attempt at reaching out to you. You cringed and would not trust me, would not call me mom. You already had a mom and I had not even showed I was a safe person. I couldn’t and didn’t listen to your silent pain.

I know I verbally and emotionally abused you. You went to therapy but it didn’t work and I was glad because I did not want my neglect to be exposed. I knew I was guilty for causing the demons that haunted you.

At the height of your anorexia, you were hospitalized and yet I was jealous of you. I know I was insane. It was my own mental illness more than the alcoholism.

I just wanted to tell you that I am so ashamed of not giving you the childhood you deserved. It was my loss, I never really got to know you. I take none of the credit for your strength.

Adoption Vows

In there never ending quest to make adopting a child a celebration, here is what one couple is doing –

With adoption day on the horizon, my husband and I plan to recite a modified version of (see image above) to our daughter at her court hearing. Changing “I” to “We” and making a few personalized adjustments for her. Adoption vows . . . loving it. What else did you do to make it a special day ?

The person in my all things adoption group who shared this writes – I want to compose a response that she will hear! Because this is complete bs! What about the kids who end up not fitting in and get ” rehomed” or sent away to group homes… they where made all the same ” promises” and now look where they are. How should I word it where she will hear me or do I even waste the time? She is clearly caught up in the unicorn and rainbow effects.

The first response is – The whole point of vows is that they’re made between consenting adults, who also have a right to break that consent. Adoptees can’t consent. Decisions are made for them. And they can’t easily dissolve the relationship, even as adults.

Another comment – The whole thing is yuck…but especially the “Til death do us part” which could be super triggering for any kiddo but especially those with loss. Not only that but often if an adopted parent dies, the adopted children are no longer seen or treated as family by the remaining family members.

This was confirmed by one adoptee’s experience – The only member of my adoptive family who still treats me like family is my dad. The rest of them turned their backs on me after my mom died.

Another also shares – all I have of my adoptive family is one cousin in California. She was my mom’s very best and favorite cousin. I love her guts but the rest literally told me I was not family and good as killed my mom with my “drama,” whatever that means.

So here was one suggestion –

If you want her to (maybe) hear you it’s important to try to prevent her becoming defensive, so I would keep it semi-validating. Like

Wow !! I can see how much you love her through your excitement! As an adopted person, I want to open up to you a little and be clear I do it to support – not upset. But I’m sure you’ll understand, you seem really open minded. Adoption represents a huge loss. Even if our biological parents are terribly troubled, dead, uninterested, in prison…this is the death of something every human wants – to be be loved by, raised by, and important to their own parents. At the same time, no child wants to hurt the feelings of the adults they now must count on, who they are often silently trying to prove their worth to. I say this to encourage you to remember that in your approach. These marriage vow style things make sense to you, since you are only gaining, not losing, and you get choices. I would suggest having a private, special day where you say to your daughter that you love her, are so happy to have her, but also to validate that it’s ok for her to feel a lot of conflicting emotions. That you accept and love her whole story. Take pictures but don’t share them anywhere and only with her when she’s old enough. Let her be the one to do it, if that is her choice. Adoption is more like a divorce than a marriage. I hope this makes sense. Best of luck.

It was also suggested that the couple modify these vows. Then go and make these vows with each other and their preacher. To make a commitment between themselves that these things are true. Lots of adopted kids hear these kinds of promises and yet, their adoptive relationship is later disrupted. This makes good sense to me.

Finally, this is celebrating the girl’s worst day. One adoptee felt this was unbelievably cruel. She also noted how common it is that marriage vows are broken. Adoption disruptions and dissolutions are estimated to occur at approximately 25% for all adoptions in the US.

Just noting, regarding those vows – Autism is not an illness or a tragedy.

Always An Adoptee

Advice from an adoptee – If/when your adopted child says anything that you deem “negative” about their adoption, instead of just throwing around frequently used adoption phrases – please please please consider the long term affect of hearing some of these phrases

1. “Would you have rather stayed in the orphanage/on the streets, been aborted, would you rather have died?”

Yes, sometimes. Adoption is complex and complicated. Sometimes I wish I wasn’t here instead of enduring nights of sadness, depression, suicidal ideation, intrusive questions, all the unknowns, the mental health problems .. I will never stop being an adoptee. It affects EVERYTHING in my life

2. “God/We saved you from your biological family.”

Let us decide that. What was I saved from? I do not know. There are many things adoption has NOT protected me from. So please let me decide in what ways I was saved. It may shift and change. Also, please don’t say negative things about our biological families. Give us the FACTS that you know and allow us to decide where to place them in our hearts and lives. Y’all don’t get to decide if our biological families are good or bad. Many things I was told about my biological family ended up being racist, unkind, untrue, and problematic.

3. “You were chosen”

Maybe. Kinda. But often, not exactly. My adoptive parents chose me between 2 babies. I was laying beside another baby and they chose me. But if they had decided “no, she’s not for us” they would have found another baby – easily. Adoptees often feel like replacements. We know a lot of our parents wanted A BABY – not necessarily “us” specifically. We have to process that – please allow us the space and time to do so

4. “They loved you so much they decided to give you up.”

No. What about desperation? Survival? Poverty? Lack of resources? Addiction? Death? Would you give up your child because you loved them? I was not given up out of love but I was raised to believe so. It made me feel awful about myself and my biological sister (she was not “given up”). Does loving someone mean sending them away forever? Would my adoptive parents do the same because they loved me?

5. “Be grateful for what you have. Be grateful you are not dead/alone/orphaned/poor/etc. You are so lucky to have a loving, stable family.”

STOP telling us how to feel and what aspects of our lives to feel good about. Especially in response to something we have said, please don’t.

Please Imagine losing your mom at a young age and when you tell someone, they say “Wow but you should be so grateful that you still have…” or “You are so lucky that you have a family that loves you!”

How about “I am sorry for your losses and pain. How can I help without overstepping?”

There are days I would rather be dead than adopted. Days when I miss my biological family. Days that I want to return to a place I barely remember. Those are not the times to dismiss an adoptee’s feelings. Imagine how you’d feel hearing these responses.

What Does It Feel Like ?

Today’s very sad story . . .

I wonder if everyone has a breaking point. Where they’re just done. Numb. Detached from everything that once was…..I moved out of my adopted parents’ house a year ago into my own house that I’m still renovating. Today I stopped by to see how they’re are doing as my adoptive mom is dying. I went to my old bedroom and found it completely empty. Why am I so upset about this? My adoptive dad threw out EVERYTHING that had come from India with me. No more photos or books in my native tongue. Gone is my baby book filled with what I liked and disliked. And the most terrifying loss? My little teddy bear that kept me company when I flew to America. I feel like I was abandoned again. I feel like that little girl again in the orphanage, crying for her mom. Crying. Crying. Nothing.

In a situation like this, one can only hear the sorrow and feel for the loss. And often, since there is no fixing a situation like this, that is all that is needed. It was a horrible abusive act on the part of her adoptive father. No excuse for such heartless cruelty. The least they could have done is either box it up and ask her to come get it or allow her some space to chose what she wanted before they cleaned out her room.

When Circumstances Change

Expectant mothers considering a surrender of their not yet born child to adoption who end up in my all things adoption group are often counseled “don’t choose a permanent solution to what is actually a temporary situation.” Case in point, in today’s story.

So a woman had a baby when she was 19 years old. She surrendered him to adoption because she felt that she could not support herself and so by extension, could not support a child either.

5 years have passed and the original mother recently graduated from college. Throughout his young life, the adoptive mother has allowed the boy and his original mother to have contact with one another.

In a definitely misguided perspective, the adoptive mother encouraged her adoptive son to think of his original mother as a cousin or a friend. The complication here is this is a kinship adoption. The original mom is the adoptive mom’s cousin. 

Well, his original mother can now support herself. At the moment, she wants MORE contact with her son and for him to stay with her a few nights a week.

The adoptive mother is a stay at home mom and she claims her concern is that his original mother would utilize day care for him and only spend time with him at night.

The original mother and adoptive mother are now at opposite ends – the adoptive mother claims that if the original mother loved him so much, she would not have given him up 5 years ago.

The original mother claims it is cruel of the adoptive mother to refuse her request for a few nights a week with her son.

When the original mother brought up her financial struggles at the time the boy was born, the adoptive mother came back with “You don’t get to abandon your child and then decide you want him back 5 years later. I am his mother now.”

The original mother believes, given time, the two of them will bond with one another again and he will begin to think of her as his mother also. It has been proven that children are able to comprehend of more than one woman as being equally both of his mothers.

Now, the adoptive mother has threatened the original mother saying – “If you continue trying to steal him from me, I will stop letting you see him at all.” The reality is – the original mother can not legally undo a finalized adoption – so it is not possible for her to physically steal the child back from the adoptive mother.

One can certainly agree with the concern about putting him in daycare but this “stealing” language is very destructive. No one “owns” their own biological child, much less someone else’s child who one has adopted. He should be allowed to bond with his mom as often as he wants. The child should set any boundaries regarding the rebuilding of a disrupted mother child relationship.

There really has to be another way to satisfy both women. The original mother could pick her son up for the evening and drop him back off with the adoptive mother before work. Rigidity often prevents viable solutions to sticky issues from being considered. Always, the child’s best interests and well-being should be what governs decisions.

The truth is, the original mother did not abandon her child but was doing her best to do what was best for her baby at the time. Unfortunately, whether conscious of it or not, every adoptee has an abandonment wound. Because their original mother did leave them. Pure and simple. Understanding adult complications is not possible until a person is mature and living the realities of life’s hardships themselves.

The honest truth is that visits for the original mother and her child will promote a connection that is critical for the child after having been relinquished. Seeing that no harm comes of it would ease the mind of the adoptive parent. This is a situation in which a professional therapist acting as an intermediary might head off some horrific results. The child will grow up eventually and will know the truth. Better to keep things harmonious during his childhood.

Almost Never Acceptable

It’s very hard to understand why ANYONE would choose to take another mom’s (or dad’s) child either through adoption or by becoming a foster caregiver. The only acceptable path I see is true kinship, when their parents are dead, ie they are orphans (both of my parents were adoptees and I thought they were orphans when I was a child – I was totally ignorant that biological family existed and was living lives unknown to me). Other than that, no possible excuse.

So here are some questions for adoptive parents and foster caregivers to contemplate: How do you not see what an absolutely horrible thing this is to do? Have we as humans become so blind that we see taking another mother’s child as a good thing? Where is the accountability for adoptive parents and foster caregivers since they are contributors to this huge problem of family separation? Why are we constantly talking about the best interest of the child and not the best interest of the family? Do adults who lose their children not count as well?

A better choice is guardianship and not adoption – if there are children who have arrived in your home, who aren’t able to be with their first/birth family. Allowing them their identity and knowledge of their genetic family.

One should feel absolutely sick to their stomach, if they’ve built their own ‘motherhood’ on another woman’s brokenness and loss. How cruel and selfish, to be so focused on your infertility loss, that you failed to see the other humans in your family’s picture.

No one advocates kids being abused. 

Our society needs to be doing something before a crisis sets in. Maybe the parents need support and some intervention but this should occur WAY before it becomes necessary to remove children from their natural home. Maybe those parents didn’t have a good role model, to show them how to parent properly. Without a role model for how it is done, it can really be an impossible task. Maybe if, as a society, we didn’t leave so many parents unsupported, there would be no need for adoptive parents and foster caregivers.

I know that this sounds very utopian. The challenge is actually translating this into the real world solutions. So how would real world people make a difference for families where the children have been separated from their parents for apparently valid reasons involving the child’s welfare? Here are some ideas related to foster care . . .

The social end goal for that situation is reunification of the children with their parents. There are a lot of steps along the way. Weekly urine analysis requirements, parenting classes, drug counseling, therapy, visits/phone calls with kids, parents needing housing, a job, education, showing up to court.

As a foster parent your job should be to walk along side the parents as an additional support to them in their own efforts. You can’t make anyone do anything, but you can support them, encourage them and remind them of the ultimate goal. You can help pay for those weekly urine analysis requirements, if $10 a week is too much. You can help them get signed up for parenting classes, you can drive them to parenting classes. You can help them find a drug program and get started with therapist. You can provide transportation and support after those sessions. You can go to court and support them and advocate for them. You can help them get to visits, or call them instead of waiting for them to call. You can help by providing resources for housing/jobs. Transportation, if needed.

And then after you’ve helped, you’ve taught them a lot about where to access the resources they need. You’ve shown them what they can do for themselves. And now, they may have many of the skills they need to be successful. You’ve lead them to goal by supporting them and making them feel safe that you aren’t only there to take their children away. Now they can find their own way to parenting their children properly.

And the inconvenient truth is this – too many foster parents flat out refuse to spend any time with the children’s parents or even talk to them because they look down on them as inferior and damaged and not worthy of help. Yes, it is true that some children’s parents are not safe, but it is more true that most of these parents simply need some help to be safe.

Foster Care Abuses

While some foster care abuses are extreme, some are more minor but still critical, like using the stipend for reasons other than directly related to the child. A book I read, Foster Girl (and reviewed in this blog) had some stories like that. The girls went through several foster homes over the years until they ended up in a wonderful one with a caring, mature single woman.

In the movie Just Mercy, the convicted white felon, Ralph Myers, who’s false testimony has put a Black man’s life in jeopardy of the death penalty, admits to the attorney that he grew up in foster care. While in a foster care, he was placed to sleep in the basement where the furnace blew up and his pajamas caught on fire for a frightening few minutes leaving him scarred for life. In attempting to coerce the false testimony that he had been unwilling to agree to at first, he was placed on death row where he was subjected to the smell of burning flesh that triggered for him a reaction that left him in a fetal position in his cell and willing to do whatever the authorities wanted of him. The damage of spending his childhood in foster care derailed the remainder of his life.

The inspiration for today’s blog came when I read about the untimely death of Victoria Spry as she was only 35 years old when she died. She is known for the horrendous stories of her sadistic foster mother. This is admittedly an extreme example of abuses suffered while in foster care.

She was abused by Eunice Spry for almost 20 years. In 2007, a court heard how her foster mother beat her and two other children with sticks and metal bars, scrubbed their skin with sandpaper, and forced them to eat lard, bleach, vomit and even their own feces. Eunice Spry was a Jehovah’s Witnesses. She was punishing the children because she thought they were possessed by the devil. Once she even kept two of them imprisoned, naked and starving, in a room for a month.

How was it that welfare officials failed to pick up on the abuse ?

Spry was convicted of 26 charges including unlawful wounding, cruelty to a person under 16, assault occasioning actual bodily harm, perverting the course of justice, and witness intimidation. Justice appeared to arrive for Eunice who was 62 years old when she was imprisoned for 14 years. However, her sentence was reduced to 12 years on appeal. She was freed in 2014.

Victoria wrote a book titled Tortured and then spent her short life working to improve the system that had failed her. Apparently not allowing anger to be her focus but helping other children involved with the foster care system.

As a society, when will we learn that supporting struggling families at risk is preferable to removing them from the families they were born into and placing them with strangers in foster care ?

Can We Just Pretend ?

What to do for this little boy ?

Ok here is my question – I adopted our kiddo when he was 4. He has always known he’s adopted, he’s always been excited and proud of it. He introduces himself as adopted. He has a long story but basically he came to us with the termination of parental rights and two failed adoptions. Lots of trauma and 17 placements.

He’s now almost 7 and in 1st grade. So here’s what’s up…all of a sudden he wants us to pretend he’s not adopted. To not talk about it and let him pretend he came from us. He wants us to make up a birth story. We don’t have biological kiddos, so it’s not like he’s hearing other birth stories here. The kids all vocalize adoption and biological families. His mother is deceased and his biological family hasn’t been open to any contact.

He’s super smart but isn’t able to articulate what created this idea. He just wants it. My question is how to approach this…do we give him this? Do we allow it for however long it lasts, while initially reminding him that he can always take it back? Or do we just apologize that his story is his and he doesn’t have to ever share it with anyone he doesn’t want to but that we can’t just pretend?

I’m at a loss. I want to do what’s right by him and honor his experience but I also don’t want to play along, if it’s harmful down the road. I feel like I will make the wrong decision no matter what I choose.

Someone offered this explanation that makes sense – We had a friend that didn’t want people knowing she was adopted. Said she hated when people would say “oh, she’s adopted”. She just wanted to be like her friends and be a part of the family. Maybe that’s how he is feeling.

Then there was this sad reality (kids really can be cruel) – When I was in high school I had someone make fun of me for being adopted and refer to me as a “dumpster baby” multiple times. I was 15 and shut it down and moved on.  IF that had happened to me when I was 7, I imagine it would have been incredibly damaging and embarrassing for me.

Someone else suggested –  I work with young kids, and I think pretending/role playing is their way of reflecting. In order to understand, “What does it mean to be adopted?” he has to first ask, “Well, what would it be like if I wasn’t adopted? In what ways is it different?” Completely normal child behavior; I’d let it happen.

To which another affirmed –  That’s a great way of thinking about it. Children do think about hypotheticals a lot and that’s discouraged more and more as we age. I think that makes a lot of sense given that he’s 7.

An adoptee suggests –  I would personally ask him if there is a reason he wants to – if someone said something or why ? – and just go with it. I would not tell him he can’t pretend. It may just be his way of coping right now because obviously something is going on in his mind that’s causing him to want this. So I would just ask questions to make sure he’s okay and listen to him and go with it.

And I really, really like this suggestion –  “Sometimes I think of “if” you had been born to me but then, I remember you wouldn’t be the same you, if you had. Your mom, DNA and genetics have made you – you – and I would never want to miss you. You wouldn’t be the same you, if you were born to me.”

Now that is beautifully honest.

When There Is Another Mother

Cinderella and her Step Mother

Step-mothers have an enduring place in the societal imagination and like natural mothers they come in all types from loving and kind to cruel and indifferent.

I often relate to original mothers who have lost a child to adoption.  In my case, I lost custody unofficially to my husband when he remarried a woman with a child and they proceeded to have another child.  Because my daughter grew up for the most part away from me, I suffered every bit as much as any mother who has lost awareness of her child’s day to day life.  I am grateful that I continue to have my daughter’s presence in my life though it is mostly at a distance and that for the most part our relationship is a good one with no more than the usual number of bumps along the road of our life’s path and unfolding.

When I was on a path of discovering who my original grandparents were, a big breakthrough was learning that my dad’s unwed mother had subsequently married and what her married name was.  I learned that thanks to finding a copy of a will on Ancestry.com that was her step-mothers.  It was clear between the lines that there was some kind of rupture in the relationship of the step-mother with her husband’s children by a previous wife who died when my grandmother was only 3 mos old.

When I discovered a cousin with the same grandmother thanks to 23 and Me DNA testing, she told me stories she had heard about my grandmother’s life with her step-mother.  How the step-mother would tie her to a tree in a lightning storm either to scare my grandmother into being compliant or in the hope the tree would get struck and eliminate the life of my grandmother.  Who can know now?  But it was traumatic for my grandmother.  Also that her step-mother put her to work in a rayon mill, barely a teen, in Asheville N Carolina when they migrated there from Oyster Bay Long Island.  Her step-mother would take the money she earned to assist the family’s financial support and while that is not unusual in itself for a family in poverty, it was still yet another area of conflict between them.  So my grandmother “divorced” her family in effect by refusing to return to N Carolina and instead stayed in La Jolla California with her aunt.  It was there that she met the father of my dad.

I was reading this morning about step-parent groups are as mean and nasty to original parents as some foster/adoptive parent groups.  I suppose it is a type of insecurity that would drive someone to bash the child’s original parent, want to erase the child’s original parents and want the child to replace those with the step, foster or adoptive parent by insisting the child call them mom or dad.  My daughter tells me that her step-mother always insisted my daughter maintain a relationship with me.  I can only guess regarding some of the less than happy thoughts my daughter may have had about me from time to time but as I said, I am thankful for the relationship I still have with my daughter.  Her step-mother died some years ago.  My daughter still honors her memory.  At the same time, I feel less competition, if that is the proper word for it.  I have tried to heal my own wounds around the situation.

One step-mother admitted that she hates it when her step child calls her by her given name. She has to explain to other people hearing that, why her step daughter doesn’t call her mom and is personally embarrassed. She thinks it’s disrespectful of her step daughter because this step-mother accepted her step daughter as her own child. She considers her step daughter her daughter.  I think the most hurtful thing that ever reached my own ears related to my daughter’s step-mother is that she told my daughter that I gave birth to her so that the step-mother could have her instead.  Not an exact quote but close enough.

Regarding these online groups, one woman said of the mommy groups and step parent groups that they can be awful. The entitlement. The control issues. When you marry someone with kids, the kids have parents already. You’re accepting the ex and the child or children. It is very important to never bash the ex partner who is also the child’s parent or have unrealistic expectations about how your step-child relates to you. You came into the child’s life uninvited.

Much the same applies to adoptive and foster parents as relates to a child’s original parents.  Many wounds come from this negativity in an effort to build up one’s own ego.

Three Identical Strangers

In the 1960s, a research project into identical siblings, placing them separately for adoption into different classes (poor, middle and wealthy), was done for the purpose of determining the impact of financial resources on their outcomes.  Back in the 1930s to 1950, Georgia Tann had a similar thought – taking babies from poor families and placing them into wealthier homes would lead to better outcomes for the children.

My mom was one of those babies.  She was adopted in 1937.  Both of her parents were very poor and struggling to survive the Great Depression but they were exploited by threats from Georgia Tann that her close relationship with the Juvenile Court judge in Memphis would support any removal of children she suggested.  Sadly.

So, in the 1980s, when these young men were 19 years old and began attending college, they discovered that they had been separated after birth into different adoptive families.  Even the adoptive parents didn’t know there were other genetically identical siblings.  The triplets accidentally found each other when two of them enrolled at the same college and found the third when he saw the story on the news. After the three siblings reunited, they became media darlings for awhile and even met their original biological parents.

It is not entirely a happy story and a suicide trigger warning is justified.  The two surviving triplets carry the DNA, the history, the pain, and the heart of their deceased brother. As the three boys entered adulthood each of them dealt with mental illness and psychiatric care.

The carelessness of the adoption agency that gave the boys away turns out to be something far crueler and more deviously deliberate than possibly imaginable. It is a shockingly true story but not unlike other psychological research from that era. Ethics were just not on the radar yet. People were treated like lab rats.

One woman, now much older, who was involved with the research study is blasé about the whole thing saying it was exciting to mess with people’s lives and noting what’s done is done.

The children who were the study subjects involved will not have access to the findings until 2065, by which time they will likely not be still alive.  This is because our own government funded this study.

This program does show how strong genetics truly are.  Being separated at birth results in life long trauma. All adoption agencies exist to make money. The program suggests that some of the adoptive parents would have happily taken all three boys, if they had known the truth, at the time.

One of the scientists involved in the study interviewed for the program kept laughing, saying inappropriate things, none of what happened was funny.  He said there’s probably at least four people (probably many more) who have no idea they are twins or that they were part of a study.

Currently one of the brothers practices law, the other sells insurance and investments. One of the two is (or soon will be) divorced.  These kinds of mental health and relationship impacts are quite common among adoptees.

Which leaves me with two questions (I have not seen, only have read about this program) – Is science worth keeping secrets and being immoral to accomplish unbiased research ? And how much of who we are is Nature and how much Nurture ? (That second one I’ve been looking at for 20 years.)