We were matched with an expectant mother 2.5 years ago who chose to parent. We understood and gave her all the things we had for the baby. We checked in on her legitimately a few times to offer help, but she blocked us – which I also understood. This was not a $50,000 agency adoption. She found us on social media. During the time we got to know her, we also got to know her sister who we have remained Facebook friends with. The sister recently reached out to ask how we were doing. In that conversation she shared that soon after her niece was born, her sister got into a bad relationship and started using drugs. Her child was taken by Child Protective Services, the Termination of her Parental Rights by court order occurred and the foster parents adopted the child. The sister was complaining that at first the foster family let them have visits, but they were super uncomfortable, seemed sketchy, and have since blocked contact with the child’s biological family.
I do advocate for moms to keeping and raising their babies. The woman above asked, “but what about situations like this?” and goes on to make a point that there are some moms that do not do well parenting or maybe their circumstances change. That maybe she wasn’t as able to parent though she thought she was.
A really good response to this story acknowledged that the woman telling this story was really trying to learn and wrap their head around breaking out of the whole “rainbow and butterfly” narrative (what adoptees often refer to as the societal adoption myth). I believe you are mature enough to understand that there is always going to be a “not“ situation that falls into a gap. I have a sibling who could perhaps fall into that not all situation… (and in fact this blog author does too.) To answer your question… Yes, there are probably situations involving parents who don’t want to raise their children. Some parents believe the narrative that giving a baby for adoption is better than having an abortion. Some parents, maybe in this particular situation, decided to parent the child because they honestly feel that’s what is in the best interest of their child and it was. Here’s the reality – being in an abusive relationship can change the victim’s mentality. A person trapped in such a relationship can literally become someone you would no longer recognize and someone they never intended to be. So again… Had this child remained with the mother and had she received the kind of support and assistance she needed when she need it including how to get away from her abusive partner, this story would have had a good outcome. There are so many women in situations that really could use help. There are a bunch of places where the system fails to help. And in her case, those failures resulted in the termination of her parental rights. I immediately wonder why this woman’s sister wasn’t contacted to foster this child who is her kin. Why was this sister not encouraged to adopt this child? It’s too late for answers to these questions. I’m just saying there were so many ways in which this one child was failed by a seriously flawed system. The trauma will be huge over the child and her mother’s lifetimes.
I once had an abortion. The timing of my pregnancy was all wrong (and significant drug use was taking place), the father to be all wrong (not interested), the progression of the pregnancy was all wrong (see drug use above) as breakthrough bleeding was occurring. My sister-in-law gave birth to a son with severe birth defects. While I cannot know if her desperate attempts to hide her high school, out of wedlock, pregnancy played a role, it could have. I know when my first husband discovered I was pregnant at a time when he had an active case of hepatitis (most likely also drug related) he feared our child would be compromised. I stuck with that pregnancy and she is as close to perfect as any of us are (we do all have our individual health related challenges in life).
So, I was grateful for the ability to have a safe and clean, medically provided, mental health counseling included before the procedure, abortion at Reproductive Services in El Paso Texas in the mid-1970s. Honestly, it has haunted me. Not because I think it was the wrong decision but because abortion is such a contentious issue. For a long time, I didn’t tell anyone I had had one.
I am old enough now that whether abortion was outlawed or not, it would not affect me personally. I am wise enough to think, instead of trying to control women’s bodies, men could choose to control their own. For one by not promiscuously pursuing sex. Young men could be given vasectomies that are reversible when they become mature enough to be responsible as fathers. That’s a winning option in my perspective.
I loved the passion in Paxton Smith’s speech because I see my own self when I was that age. I have always been an outspoken person. I loved to debate the boys in my Algebra class in high school (I also had a coach for Geometry class who made it more understandable). I gave impassioned speeches at pep rallies on occasion. I am still outspoken as anyone who follows my Facebook page surely knows. Paxton has said the most meaningful reactions to her speech have come from concerned fathers who fear for their own daughters’ futures.
Paxton Smith had pre-written a speech on how TV and media have shaped her worldview, which had been approved by school administrators. But when it came time to address the graduating class of Lake Highlands high, she switched course. Her nervous emotions are plain to see before they reach that level of impassioned anger. I recognize how that feels.
Texas’s new “heartbeat” measure ranks among the most extreme abortion bans in the US, blocking the procedure as early as six weeks into a pregnancy – before many women and girls even know they’re pregnant. The bill, due to come into force in September, doesn’t include exceptions for rape or incest and allows private citizens to enforce its provisions through what could be a torrent of expensive and time-consuming lawsuits.
Abortion or Pro-Life issues are the hot button for evangelical Christians. It is not lost on me, what the Salvation Army in El Paso Texas told me when I was researching my dad’s adoption through them – they had to close down their homes for unwed mothers (a method of channeling infants to prospective adoptive parents) after Roe v Wade passed because there were simply not enough clients to keep the enterprise going. Another factor is the societal acceptance of single mothers – I know more than one who is doing a fantastic job raising their children – both genders included in this number. I don’t know if the Salvation Army took “donations” from prospective adoptive parents in exchange for infants but it would not surprise me if they did. Adoption is a lucrative business at any level of charitable intent.
Evangelical Christians are very interested in taking heathen babies and converting them to the faith. True, it may simply be emotional, adorable baby feelings that they think causes them to be against abortion and Pro-Life. However, just like Mitch McConnell’s nefarious agenda for our government’s institutions, the powers that be in the Christian hierarchy seek to increase the number of the faithful in part through adoption.
As a Gemini, twins have always fascinated me. I have wondered if I once had a twin in utero who vanished. Having gone through assisted reproductive medical interventions, I know this happens. It happened with my older son when my pregnancy originally appeared to be twins. I really didn’t want the challenge but in my mom’s group we have several pairs of twins and one set of triplets. The father of the man I am married to was a twin. Both my father in law and his twin brother are now deceased.
The less than common occurrence of multiple births has my attention this morning after watching the documentary – Three Identical Strangers. The story tells how these men were separated at 6 mos and adopted out with strategic intent by the clinical psychiatrist, Peter Neubauer, through the cooperation of the Louise Wise adoption agency. Psychology Today did an article entitled The Truth About “Three Identical Strangers.” The article explains – Dr Viola Bernard was the chief psychiatric consultant to the Wise agency. In the late 1950s (before Dr Peter Neubauer was involved), Dr Bernard created a policy of separating identical twins when they were adopted. Dr Bernard’s intentions are described as benign. In a memo subsequently recovered, she expresses her hope that “early mothering would be less burdened and divided and the child’s developing individuality would be facilitated” by this separation. It wasn’t only the Wise agency but many other agencies that also practiced the separation of twins at the time of adoption.
The conclusion by Dr Lois Oppenheim in the Psychology Today article is – The basic premise of the film, that the triplets’ separation was a heartless scheme undertaken at the expense of the children’s well-being to enable a scientific study, is fiction. The filmmakers could have created a documentary about the complexities of the twin study, its origins and context, and the changing standards of ethical norms and lessons learned. This might have been less dramatic, but it would have made an important contribution to our understanding of gene research and parenting.
Yet, the practice of separating identical or even non-identical siblings in the adoption industry continues and the study and research of such persons continues to this day. Regarding my photo above of Lily MacLeod and Gillian Shaw, the story in The Toronto Star by Amy Dempsey tells us that the 12-year-olds were separated as babies in China but reunited after the two separate Ontario couples adopted them. When their separate/different adoptive parents made the startling discovery that their two daughters were identical twins, they vowed to raise the girls as sisters. Their situation is highly unusual: Lily and Gillian are two of only a handful of twin pairs – mostly Chinese children adopted by North American parents – who are being raised, knowing they are siblings but separately apart. For scientific researchers, the girls are yet another opportunity to study the effects of nature vs nurture in real-time. As for their families – strangers thrown together by the most unusual of circumstances – their situation explores a new kind of blended family, with unique and fascinating joys and challenges.
The Toronto Star goes beyond the story of the twin Chinese girls to note that in the late 1970s, scientists at the Minnesota Center for Twin and Adoption Research began studying what was then a new category of multiples — adopted twins who were separated at birth and reunited as adults. Dr Thomas Bouchard’s landmark paper was titled “Minnesota Study of Identical Twins Reared Apart.” The study shook the scientific community by demonstrating, across a number of traits, that twins raised apart are as similar as twins raised together. The study’s evidence of genetic influence in traits such as personality (50 per cent heritable) and intelligence (70 per cent heritable) overturned conventional ideas about parenting and teaching. And findings of genetic influence on physiological characteristics have led to new ways of fighting and preventing disease.
While I was yet pregnant with my oldest son, I chose to read a book titled Mother Nature by Sarah Blaffer Hrdy which had just come out in the year before. So my interest is long standing and it is little wonder that the issues continue to capture my interest. For centuries, the self-sacrificing mother who places her child’s needs and desires above her own has defined womanhood. Designed by nature for the task of rearing offspring, women are “naturally” tender, selfless and compassionate where their progeny are concerned. Those who reject childbearing or fail to nurture their offspring directly are typed as pathological, “unnatural” women. In traditional Darwinian evolutionary biology, the female of any species has evolved to produce and nurture the species; one could say it is her only role. Feminist treatises have long argued against the necessary conflation of “woman” with “mother,” and classics such as Adrienne Rich’s Of Woman Born have cogently argued that such altruistic maternity is a cultural construct and not a biological given.
From a review (link above) of Hrdy’s book Mother Nature – US anthropologist Sarah Blaffer Hrdy strides into the minefield, examining motherhood across cultures, historical periods, evolutionary tracts and biological species to better understand human maternity. Hrdy’s book resides in that rare space between academic disciplines (she is a professor emerita at the University of California-Davis and she has been schooled in anthropology, primatology, evolutionary theory, history and feminism). Her work can be situated somewhere between specialist treatise and popular biological science. Hrdy’s unique placement enables her to combine the best of Darwinian evolutionary biology with feminist cultural theory, without falling into the political entrapments of either camp.
Heartening for me, as a biological/genetic mother who lost physical (but not legal) custody of her daughter when she was only 3 years old, I am reminded in this review of Hrdy’s book that stay-at-home mothers are rare in the historical and evolutionary archives; community caregiving is an age-old model of childrearing. Throughout history in primate and human communities, mothering techniques involve “allomothers”: the delegation of child caretaking to other members (male and female) of the community. “Mothers have worked for as long as our species has existed, and they have depended on others to help them rear their children,” Hrdy writes. That means I was not the abject failure I believed my self to be for over 60 years but just another kind of mother. Motherhood today often includes women who have jobs and incomes of their own. Hrdy sees this as an evolutionary process to ensure long and safe lives for these mother’s child(ren). A lack of financial resources most certainly drove me to leave my daughter with her paternal grandmother, while I took a risk to see if I could earn some decent money driving an 18-wheel truck. There never was the intention to permanently abandon my child to other people. Thankfully, as adults we are happily close enough at heart and I believe love one another as fully as any mom could hope for. It is actually the lack of financial resources that is at cause for most adoptions.
In “60 Years On, Twin/Triplet Study Still Raises Questions” – an interview of Dr Leon Hoffman by Elizabeth Hlavinka for Medpage Today looks at the ethics of that study, which began in 1960 (the documents from which are sealed in the archives at Yale University until 2065). This tells me that Peter Neubauer, who died in 2008, eventually had his own qualms about the ethics of what he had perpetrated, though he is judged to have mostly been concerned with confidentiality issues that (until open adoptions began) were the rule in commercial closed adoptions (the effects of which continue to obstruct and vex adult adoptees to this day – change comes slowly). My blog today takes it title from an observation by Dr Hoffman – that the problem with a lot of “exposés” is that we judge the past by our present values. That is an important point. He also notes that at the time of the Neubauer project, there was a prevailing belief that twins would be better off separated, if they were going to be adopted. That twins were more difficult for the mother and that it would be easier for the mother to take care of one child instead of two children. I understand. In our mom’s group, those with twins often hired au pairs to assist them in those early days.
In this interview, Dr Hoffman notes – I always tell parents of kids that I see, “How much is genetic and how much is environment?” and I always say, “It’s 100% of both,” because those two are always interacting with one another. More and more data has shown that genetic variations get very much affected by the environment. I believe this is also evident in the story about the triplets. They even admit that during that time of their own high publicity, they amplified their similarities because that is what people were curious about. It is clear that they each had unique personalities that do seem to have been affected by their adoptive parents and the differing environmental situations they were raised in. As aging adults, the two surviving individuals have very different surface appearances while retaining many similarities.
Since I have looked at mother/child separations now for several years and am against the practice of adoption generally and in favor of family preservation, I was emotionally triggered last night by thinking about the amplifying effect of separation trauma (which IS mentioned by the triplets in their documentary) as yet another separation wound for babies who grew into their humanity in the same womb. Fortunately for the children in my mom’s group, they don’t have either of those added traumas. “The twin relationship, particularly with (identical) twins, is probably the closest of human social ties,” says Nancy Segal, who is herself a twin. This is why it’s so important for multiples to grow up together. Segal, now a psychology professor at California State University, has found about 15 more sets of adopted twin children being raised by different families, most of them Chinese girls. Researchers attribute this phenomenon to China’s one-child policy, which led to the abandonment of thousands of female babies. Though China’s official adoption rules state that twins should be placed together, pairs like Lily and Gillian prove things don’t always happen that way.
I found one other article that I’m not going to say very much about. You can read the story – Stories of Twins Separated at Birth by Pamela Prindle Fierro at the VeryWell Family website. There are the two sisters – Anais Bordier and Samantha Futerman. They found each other through Facebook and YouTube. They had been raised on different continents. The article includes information about the “Jim Twins” – James Arthur Springer and James Edward Lewis who found each other at the age of 39 in 1979. And there are actually MORE stories at this link.
The important thing to learn is that every action taken, that affects another human being, has the possibility of unintended consequences and that there is always the need for a fully informed consent in the interest of human well-being. An issue with adoptees is that due to their young age, they are never able to give informed consent and therefore, their rights are never considered. This is an issue with many adoptees who feel they are treated like second-class citizens with important basic human rights withheld from them – identity and medical issues foremost. An evolving issue with donor conceptions is similar. The human being conceived in that manner had no ability to consent to the method of their conception. Realistically, none of us consents (in a human sense, but I believe we do in non-physical prior to birth as I believe we are eternal souls).
My all things adoption Facebook group is all about reforming the practice. The first step is waking people up. When I first joined this group, I was just beginning to learn who my original grandparents were (both of my parents were adopted). Because adoption was the most natural thing in the world in my own family, I was totally in the adoption fog, even though I was not adopted myself. It was so normal in my family that both of my sisters gave up babies to adoption – one did it as her intentional choice, the other one wanted to keep her daughter but could not access the support to do so. Unbelievably to me now, my own mother who was actually troubled or at the least conflicted about her own adoption (believing she had been stolen from her birth parents by Georgia Tann) pressured my sister to relinquish her daughter to adoption.
So today’s story speaks to me of how society’s perspectives on adoption are based on illusions. Here it is –
I joined the group because I have always wanted to adopt a child. In my head (because of media, and various stories I’ve heard elsewhere) there are hundreds of thousands of children, maybe even millions, out there suffering and in desperate need of a loving home. I was SO convinced this is true that I believed having my own child was selfish. I’m not infertile or anything….I just had visions of helping a child… or even multiple children. I joined the group hoping to learn more about the adoption process and how best to help a child through the process. Boy – was I naive. Thank you ALL for your sharing your stories and providing an education that I never would have gotten if it wasn’t for this group. Seriously. Thank you. I am now no longer interested in adoption in the way the current system is run. But – it has left me with a deep wanting to help children and moms who go have to go through the system. It seems like poverty is the main reason children are pulled from their homes. What is the best way to be helpful, reunify, provide resources (what resources?) help the birth mothers, etc.?
One commenter wrote – I’ve realized the best way I can help is at the source. If through the foster care system I am fostering pregnant and parenting teens to make sure the cycle won’t continue and help them keep their own babies. If it’s outside of the system same idea. Help at the source without removing the child. Offer babysitting, a room in your house, groceries, transportation, professional clothes and a hair dresser for interviews, etc. to do it right the focus is on the parents and supporting the parents.
Some more advice –
If you learn of a mother to be who is – for whatever reason – struggling/considering adoption for her baby/vulnerable take her under your wing and offer to help her educate herself and find balance, so she can focus.
Promote preserving the family….both in foster settings and vulnerable pregnancies. Our society loves to takes babies from parents who are “less than” (pffffttttt) and give them to the almighty “better than” (no, nope, nada)!!!!! Change in this area is an uphill journey but the more we speak of how critical it is for the children to be preserved in the family they were born into, the sooner THAT message will begin to drown out the child snatchers!
I remember worrying the first time we visited our egg donor after our oldest son was born. We were there to try a second time with her to conceive a sibling for our son (spoiler alert – we succeeded). As his gestational, biological but not genetic mom, I was worried about how I was going to feel when she interacted with him. That turned out to be an unreasonable fear on my part because it was clear that she had ZERO confusion about what her role in our family was. She had 3 genetically related biological children already. She has always been interested in the boys but from a distance, never initiating contact with them. They are linked to her as their genetic mother at 23 and Me and so they have an avenue of contact without concerns about my monitoring any such interaction.
The truth is, no matter the reassurances prospective adoptive parents were once given and regardless of the continued practice in half these United States of maintaining sealed records and denying adult adoptees the right to their own origin information, it is a whole new ballgame now. Inexpensive DNA and social networking platforms now make it possible for adoptees to discover and reach out to their original, natural families. Adoptive parents best get over it. Therefore, today I share a piece from Slate because the advice this nervous adoptive parent receives is spot on. I will excerpt the original question (my asides in parentheses) but share the response in full. If you want to read the entire piece – you can go to this link – I’m Devastated My Daughter Secretly Contacted Her Birth Mother.
Dear Care and Feeding, Apparently, when our adopted daughter went through our files a few months ago looking for her Social Security number, she found some adoption records with her biological mom’s name and a little bit of info, and she used it to find her on Facebook. We did a closed adoption and have never had contact with the woman.
I didn’t think she cared who her bio parents were, or about being adopted. (Truth – adoptees always care, even if it isn’t apparent.) She and her biological mother have been talking for about three months, but she hadn’t told me because she was afraid we wouldn’t approve or we would think it was a rejection of us. (And her instincts appear to have been correct.)
They’re planning to meet at a coffee shop, and from the messages, bio mom sounds very eager to meet my daughter. I know I should be happy that they’ve been reunited, but I can’t help feeling hurt and rejected, like I’m not enough for her. I am terrified that this woman might try to take over my role in her life and become her mother figure in adulthood. I’m also apprehensive because my daughter has kept their relationship a secret. It worries me that they have been talking behind my back.
The main reason I’m writing is because my daughter is now wanting to involve me in the in-person reunion, and her bio mom wants to meet me too (we never met when I picked my daughter up from the hospital). I don’t want to go. I chose a closed adoption for a reason.
The response –
Dear Tale of Two Moms, I understand how hard this is for you. If you chose a closed adoption because you didn’t want the bio mom involved in your life in any way, and you’ve spent 17 years certain that your daughter “didn’t care” that she was adopted or have any curiosity about her biological parents, this development must make you feel that your world is tilting on its axis. I’m hoping you can take a breath and think this through clearly, setting all of your own feelings aside for a moment.
Your daughter is offering you the chance to participate in something that’s important to her. Is she making that offer because she truly wants you and her bio mom to get to know each other? Maybe—maybe simply sitting with the two of you will be helpful to her and bring her a sense of wholeness or resolution that she is seeking as she enters adulthood. Or maybe she is asking you to join her simply because she wants you to feel included, to make it clear to you that her desire to meet her bio mom is not a rejection of you. Or how about this? Maybe she’s nervous about this meeting and wants to be able to lean on her mom. Or—for all you know—maybe she’s acceding to the bio mom’s wishes: The woman who gave her up for adoption would like to know who has been the mother to this child. To reassure herself that she did the right thing all those years ago—and/or to have the chance to thank you. And the daughter you raised is kind and generous enough to want to help her do that.
No matter which one of these possibilities is true—and all of them may be true—you should brave this meeting. It’s the right thing to do. Will there be tension? I suspect this is up to you.
And please try to let go of your distress about your daughter keeping her correspondence with her bio mom a secret from you, and talking to her “behind your back.” She did so because she feared you wouldn’t approve or would feel rejected—and she was right, wasn’t she? You don’t approve; you do feel rejected. Your terror, as you describe it, that the woman will take over your role in your daughter’s life is something for you to work out (I hope with the help of a therapist, because it sounds like you are having a very rough time with this). You can’t pretend any longer that your daughter’s adoption at birth isn’t a part of her life story.
And I will remind you, too, that the amount of love we all have available to give is not finite. If it turns out that your daughter and her bio mom do develop a real, ongoing relationship at this point, it does not take anything away from you; it gives your child one more person to love and to be loved by. I’m not suggesting that jealousy and envy—and insecurity—are easy to rise above. What I’m suggesting is that for your daughter’s sake, you make every effort. And if, in the end, nothing comes of this reunion except that your daughter is able to satisfy her curiosity about where she comes from, I hope you’ll make an effort to understand and support her in that too. For that matter, if things “get complicated” and go awry, as you also fear, and your daughter ends up heartbroken, your job will be to support her through that too. Because you are her mom, and that’s what moms do.
A woman I met at a “Salon”, a week long intensive, hosted and held at the Ashland OR home of Jean Houston) recently asked me – What would you say your role is? – and then quoted Mark Twain shown in the graphic above.
This is what I replied –
Generally being a beneficial presence through any of my writing efforts.
My most recent role was re-connecting my family’s genetic threads. Both of my parents were adopted and both died knowing next to nothing about their origins. My mom did try to get her adoption file and was denied (which I was able to obtain in October 2017). My dad never wanted to, which is a shame because he had a half-sister living 90 miles away when he died, who could have shared real insights with him about his mother.
My dad’s mother was unwed, so I never dared to believe I would discover who his father was but I persisted never-the-less. In less than one year, I knew who ALL 4 of my original grandparents were and since late 2017, have made contact with at least one genetic relative for each family line. I wrote a self published “family history” and distributed 10 copies only to relevant family members – so that what I learned and what made me whole is not lost when I die.
That was major and maybe why Life had not killed me off over some of my younger foolishness. I lived over 6 decades of my life with a void beyond my parents and no idea of my genetic cultural heritage or family medical health information – all thanks to adoptions.
About that day I was born. Learning about my parent’s adoption stories made me realize what a miracle it was that my high school junior unwed mother was not sent away by her banker adoptive father and socialite adoptive mother to have and give me up for adoption. Talk about realizing how your life is a miracle and understanding that my younger sisters, my daughter and my grandchildren would not have existed if this quite plausible situation had occurred.
I believe I have my dad’s very humble and poor (financially) adoptive parents, in particular, my Granny to credit for my own (and my family’s) preservation with my natural parents.
Now, back to my Missing Mom blog – I continue to follow adoption reform issues and foster care challenges and write something about these every single day. Some days I write my own personal bits and pieces of the “stories” as well. BTW, not only were both of my parents adopted but both of my sisters gave up a baby to adoption – both of these children have thankfully been reunited (as adult persons) with our family.
That’s probably more than you were expecting. My daughter has said – it seems like you are on a mission (regarding adoption reform) and she has accurately assessed that. It is my passion currently.
I also share spiritual insights daily – in part by bringing forward that day’s essay from my Gazing in the Mirror blog – which has 366 entries and was written between 2012 and 2014 but is universal enough to mostly not become dated. I also share poems by Rumi, Rilke and Hafiz as well as other spiritually oriented items on Facebook daily.
Beyond ALL of those considerable efforts – I am a political activist through my Facebook page. And at a heartfelt passion to be part of an effort to create a world that “works” with positive support of basic human needs for everyone.
Today’s story is about a birth mother who’s daughter, put up for adoption, has rejected contact with her 25 years later thanks to the Dear Therapist article in The Atlantic.
My daughter gave a child up for adoption about 25 years ago. She already had one child, and although I offered to help her raise both children, she felt it wouldn’t be fair to us or to the baby, so she gave her up to a very nice couple, whom we both interviewed and liked. The couple has kept in touch with us both over the years, sending pictures and updates on their daughter.
My daughter always felt that in time the child would want to get in touch with her, and in fact, her adoptive parents have encouraged this, but the girl has always said she didn’t want to. This is very painful for my daughter. Can you give us an idea as to why the young woman might not want to meet her birth mother, or offer any explanation that would make my daughter feel less rejected? She has even tried contacting her on Facebook, and the response was that Facebook was not an appropriate place to discuss this relationship. But no reciprocal contact has ever been made.
Blog Author’s note – It’s tough being a vulnerable, under supported, financially struggling birth mother. I get it. In my own family, the two children put up for adoption have since reconnected with this but that does not un-do all the years of living lives separated into other families. Even for my own self, I’ve re-connected with my actually genetic, biological relatives but it doesn’t make up for not knowing each other for decades. It is better to know who they are, it’s just tough building a relationship after so much time has gone by. So I am interested in this response.
Answer from the therapist –
I’m glad you’re curious about why the woman your daughter put up for adoption 25 years ago might not want to meet her birth mother. I say this because you write about your daughter’s pain and feeling of rejection, but I’m not sure that your daughter has a good sense of how her adopted child might feel—not only about this meeting, but about the circumstances that led to the adoption and her life since then.
Something to consider: Adopted children don’t get to choose whether or not they are adopted, or what family they’ll end up in. Adults make these choices for them. Given their lack of choice in what happened, making their own decisions about how to handle their experiences later on matters greatly.
Of course, different adoptees will make different decisions, for all kinds of reasons. But too often, adults try to dictate how they should feel and what they should do with regard to their birth parents. Sometimes it goes something like “You shouldn’t try to find your birth parents; after all, your mom and dad will be so hurt.” Other times it might be “Don’t search for your birth parents, because it might disrupt their lives or that of their families. They chose a closed adoption for a reason.” Or: “You should definitely search for them, because you’ll regret it later if you don’t.” Or: “How can you refuse to meet your birth parents? Don’t you realize how lucky you are that they’ve reached out and you have the opportunity to know them?” None of this, of course, respects the feelings of the person who was adopted.
Right now, there doesn’t seem to be much regard for your daughter’s biological child’s wants or needs—your perspective seems to be all about your daughter’s desire for this relationship. In fact, there’s so little regard for this young woman’s feelings that your daughter, despite knowing that her biological child has consistently said she’s not interested in meeting, reached out to her on Facebook.
As for why someone who was adopted may not want to meet her birth mother, the reasons are as varied as the individuals involved. Some adopted children feel angry or abandoned by the birth parents, especially if there are other siblings who stayed with one or both biological parents, as is the case here. (This may feel like being the “unwanted child.”) Some adoptees don’t have those feelings—they are living a perfectly happy life—but there’s fear of the emotional turmoil such a meeting might bring. It could raise new questions of what might have been; it could reveal information that the adoptee would rather not have known; it could start a relationship that doesn’t work out, resulting in a loss that could be quite painful on top of whatever feelings of loss the adoptee already has.
I’ve also heard from some adoptees who have met their biological parents that they found the experience disappointing. Despite imagining that they’d have a lot in common with their biological parents, upon meeting they felt as though these people were aliens with different interests, worldviews, personalities, and values—leaving them with a sense of emptiness. Some have told me that they would have preferred to maintain whatever fantasy they had of their biological parents rather than be faced with the much starker reality.
All of this is to say: A lot can go wrong, so it makes sense that some adoptees would choose not to be in contact with their biological parents. But whatever this young woman’s reasons, she doesn’t owe your daughter an explanation. It’s not her job to meet your daughter’s emotional needs.
Instead, gaining a better understanding of what those emotional needs are might help your daughter feel less pain about not meeting her biological daughter. I imagine that she has a lot of complicated feelings about the adoption that perhaps she doesn’t fully understand, and talking to a therapist about them might not only lessen the intensity of the longing but also help her consider what she’s asking of her biological daughter and why.
Finally, it’s worth mentioning that your daughter’s biological child may feel differently about reaching out at another juncture in her life. She may have some questions about the family’s medical history one day, or decide that she wants the experience of seeing her biological mother face-to-face. If that time does come, it will be important to focus on her needs. There’s a difference between a phone conversation and a meeting, and between a meeting and embarking on a relationship. The less this woman worries that her biological family might want more from her than she’s willing to give—which is likely how she feels now—the more open she might become one day to making contact. But even if she doesn’t, the most loving thing you can do for her is to honor her choice.
Ten years ago, there was an article in The Guardian which the title “Facebook has changed adoption for ever.” The sub-title was “Social network sites like Facebook are changing what happens after adoption. At the click of a button, birth parents can contact their children – and vice versa – with far-reaching consequences.” I would add inexpensive DNA testing via Ancestry and 23 and Me have done as much.
The lead-in on that article noted – “Adoption is undergoing a revolution. Until recently, it has been a closely managed process, with social workers going to enormous lengths to protect children placed with adoptive families from inappropriate contact with birth relatives.” That was always the argument but never the truth. The truth was that social workers and adoption agencies were protecting the adoptive parents from the intrusion of the natural bond between the original parent and their child. There certainly have been “. . . cases of adopted young people being contacted by birth parents through Facebook. There are even more instances in which the approach is initiated by adopted young people themselves, who are curious about their birth families.” You can read that rest of that decade old perspective at the link above.
Now today, another one. This one published in Wired titled Adoption Moved to Facebook and a War Began and raising the hackles of some in my most important (though I do belong to several) adoption related support group at Facebook. The sub-title notes – As the adoption industry migrates to social media, regretful adoptees and birth mothers are confronting prospective parents with their personal pain—and anger. I do see these in my support group. In fact, adoptees are the “privileged” voices there.
This is true to the best of my own knowledge on the subject – “The adoption industry has never been very well regulated, and there is a history of certain firms engaging in unethical practices. But when agencies were the primary facilitators of adoption, they could at least perform basic vetting of birth mothers and adoptive parents and manage complex legal processes. The open marketplace of the web removed that layer of oversight.” Wired refers to people in adoption support groups as anti-adoption but then goes on to note that these are older women who, as “unwed mothers” in the 1950s and ’60s, were forced to give babies up for adoption; women whose churches still pressure them to give up children born outside of marriage; adoptees who want to overturn laws in 40 states that deny them unrestricted access to their original birth certificates. These are legitimate experiences and desires that do not in themselves constitute being anti-adoption.
However, as understanding of the deep sub- and un- conscious trauma that adoptees experience and the lifelong regret that mothers who surrendered their children to adoption as a permanent solution to a temporary situation are increasing shared openly or privately in groups that maintain anonymity, as my dominant choice does, there is a desire to limit the number of adoptions that do take place. There are recommendations for kinship guardianship whenever possible, for true efforts on the part of foster parents to assist the original parents in successfully navigating the child welfare requirements for reunification with their own children and that at the least, when adoption seems somehow the only alternative left – allowing the child to retain their original identity by NOT changing their name nor creating a new “false” birth certificate the creates the impression that the adoptive parents gave birth to that child.
These are reasonable attempts at reform.
In the movement Wired identifies are a wide range of perspectives. Some recognize the value of adoption in certain circumstances and have specific goals, like improving federal oversight, eliminating practices that are coercive to birth mothers, or giving them more time to reverse a decision to give up a child. Others see adoption as wrong most of the time – in my group it is NOT as Wired indicates “in all cases” – but there is a recognition that the natural bond between a biological mother and her child is a reality. Some are finding community and expressing feelings of anger and pain for the first time; birth mothers describe pressure, regret, and lifelong mourning for the children they gave up, while adoptees talk about their sense of estrangement and about not knowing their medical history. Certainly, poverty plays a role in children being removed from their parents and placed for adoption.
Wired does proach the topic of the Termination of Parental Rights (TPR). The article notes that TPR has been called the “civil death penalty,” because of its severity and finality. It is overwhelmingly levied against poor families. Some children are taken away from parents who abuse them horribly—and others who should be removed are not and die at the hands of abusers. Nationally, the majority of children are removed from their homes by child protective services not for abuse but neglect, which can be a more subjective state. Neglect can mean a child was left in a hot car for hours or that a child’s parent is an addict. Or it can mean that a child was alone at home while their mother worked an overnight shift or went to the store, or that there’s not enough food in the fridge. In other words, poverty can create conditions that lead to neglect, and the exigencies of poverty can also be interpreted as neglect.
My own adoption support group advocates, and some experts in child-welfare reform do as well, for helping families get what they need—rehab, food stamps, child care subsidies. We agree that should be prioritized over permanently removing children from their parents. In a 2019 paper, “A Cure Worse Than the Disease? The Impact of Removal on Children and Their Families,” Vivek Sankaran, a professor at the University of Michigan Law School, and his coauthors note that removing children from their homes is traumatic for both parents and children, and that standards for removal vary from state to state. In some states there must be evidence that a child is in immediate danger; in others, suspicion of neglect is sufficient cause. Some states allow a parent to appeal the removal within 24 hours; in others a parent may have to wait 10 days. As a result, the authors note, states and even individual counties have widely varying rates of removing children.
“If we eliminated poverty in this country, that would be the best abuse- and neglect-prevention program,” according to Elizabeth Bartholet, director of the Child Advocacy Program at Harvard Law School.
It is true that the internet, along with widely available genetic testing, has dismantled the possibility of a truly closed adoption. However, the truth about open adoptions is the adoptive family an easily end the relationship. Open adoptions exist at the discretion of the adopting family. They are not legally enforceable in all states, and where they are enforceable the cost of a lawyer can be prohibitive for a birth mother.
My adoption support group often recommends the Saving Our Sisters (SOS) organization to expectant mothers considering a surrender of their baby. This group seeks to persuade birth mothers that financial strain shouldn’t prevent them from keeping their children. When a woman who is having second thoughts reaches out to SOS online, the group tries to find a “sister on the ground” nearby to bring her diapers, a month’s rent, or a baby swing. In 6 years time, they helped 90 mothers and their children remain together, rather than be lost to adoption.
Even with one’s biological/genetic children, we don’t own them. We may be the vessel through which they came to Life but that does not give us ownership rights. This is true as well regarding adoptees. An adoptive parent does not own their adopted child. Hence the disturbing nature of today’s story –
The child is sad and missing his birth mother. He has been with his adoptive parents since birth. He wants to be with his birth mom. He wants to know why he’s adopted and is asking questions about his birth mother. One of the comments from the post that is now deleted is actually how some foster and adoptive parents think. “Tell him ‘I got you away from her because I need a child to love. Stop bringing her up. You are not meeting her end of discussion, you belong to me, not her. period’. Lady, you need to fight for what is yours, be strong. How would you feel if this was your husband wanting to visit an ex girlfriend he really liked? This is your family, not theirs, fight for it”.
Comparing one’s adopted child to a cheating husband ? Unbelievable.
Fear is common in adoptive parents. Here’s another adoptee’s experience – My adoptive parents would say “they don’t care about you. They wanted a closed adoption. They didn’t show up for court.” They wouldn’t let me see my adoption papers until I was 25 and actually called the lawyer that handled my adoption for advice. I found out that’s totally not the case. I think my adoptive parents are still scared (since I call my original parents “mom and dad” now). To be honest, I call friend’s parents mom and dad too. And my adoptive parents are scared that I’m going to choose my first family over them. What I really want is for everyone to get along.
From another adoptee – It’s common to want to know. I didn’t understand until I was older. My biological mom was an addict. She lied and made me think she had custody of my 3 brothers and she didn’t. She lost custody of my brothers when my youngest was 3. And I lost contact with them until 2012, when I found one of them on Facebook.
For some time now, I’ve been writing these adoption related blogs every day. I don’t think I have missed many, if I’ve even missed any. I often wonder what there is left to say . . . and then something arises and off my fingers go to type up a new one.
I know my perspectives have grown since I started writing these. A lot of credit for that goes to my all things adoption Facebook group – where I often find stories and perspectives to pass along here without revealing any sensitive or private details. I hope that by sharing these, my readers also find their perspectives broadening along the way.
When I first joined that group, it wasn’t long before one of the members called me out on my unicorns and rainbows happy perspectives on adoption. It hurt at the time but it was an important wake up call and I do believe I have emerged entirely from what is known as adoptionland fog.
Because both of my parents were adopted and both of my sisters gave up babies to adoption, what is actually a VERY UN-NATURAL practice seemed entirely normal to me. Yet, now that I know who my grandparents are – I’ve added their birthdates to my annual birthday calendar – because I wasn’t able to acknowledge them in their lifetimes. It matters to me.
I now think of my adoptive grandparents and aunts, uncles and cousins as placeholders for the real thing I lacked. This isn’t a judgement of them. They probably all viewed it as natural to our lives as I did but it really isn’t. I don’t even think of them as related to me anymore. But I do have a history with them and have felt their love and concern over the years, especially during my own childhood.
And adoptionland IS changing slowly but surely, one family at a time. In my all things adoption group, expectant mothers are often encouraged and even financially supported to the best of our ability (such as with Amazon gift registries) to keep their babies. It is more of a walk the walk than simply talk the talk group and I am proud of that.
Adoptees and former foster care youth are PRIVILEGED voices in that group, as they should be for they have the direct experience to open the minds and hearts of the public in general. Many people who have already adopted are learning to be more sensitive and to do the already reality situation better, including honesty, truthfulness and attempts to keep their adopted children connected to their biological/genetic families and at times, even culture (when that is different than the adoptive parents’ own culture).
My hope and certainly my wish is for our society to be more supportive of struggling families in EVERY WAY POSSIBLE and to see adoption no longer a choice that couples realizing infertility feel privileged to make – taking some other family’s baby to pretend that child was born to them.
A change it is a comin’ and I am grateful to be part of that. Happy New Year.