A woman asked for perspectives today in my all things adoption group (basically they are about 100% against and I understand why). Here is her story –
Since before I was an adult even I have felt so sure I wanted to donate eggs, the desire and resolve only grew stronger over about a decade but I wanted to have my own child first. Now I have and coincidentally found this group around the same time. It has made me completely rethink egg-donation. I had a kid and I don’t have much time left to decide due to age, so I have to decide. I know there are some donor-conceived people in this group as well and I’d so so much appreciate your thoughts on whether it’s even an ethically okay thing to do? Anyone that wants to can answer of course. Would I inevitable cause trauma to the resulting child by donating eggs?
Extra info in case it matters to anyone’s perspective: I live in a country where I won’t get paid for it except medical expenses covered, and the law says the children will get their donor’s identity if they want at 18. The family services and all related health and social carers (they are excellent here) will strongly encourage all recipients to tell their children of how they came to be from the very start.
Here is my own response –
I can only speak from experience. Back in 1998, after 20 years in a marriage where the understanding was that he was glad I had been there, done that (I have a grown daughter and 2 grandchildren from my first marriage), my husband sprang on me that he wanted to have children after all. We did ovulation predictors, were referred to a doctor who does assisted reproduction and got a booster shot when I saw my last egg. No pregnancy resulted. Then, he told us about another way – egg donation.
We did everything ourselves. Vetted potential donors by email. One said something that reminded my husband of something I would say. We chose her. She already had 3 children of her own. But she had promised another couple first. In the end, they treated her very badly and I thought she would change her mind about us but she did not.
We have always respected her and what she did for our family. After our first donor conceived son was born, my husband immediately wanted another. I had a cycle between our two boys where my womb failed to develop a good lining and had a D&C. Our donor moved from the location of the first doctor – who only did 4 procedures that year with only one success – ours. We followed her to the new location with a doctor who was one of the first in this country to do these procedures. We succeeded in having our second son. Donating was not physically easy for her. We did what we could to alleviate what we could post-extraction.
Our boys have met her more than once. I show them pictures of her or her children sometimes via Facebook because distance prohibits a closer relationship. She did 23 and Me, so I bought a kit for my husband, then for our oldest son and then for our youngest son. She is shown as their genetic mother there. 23 and Me provides a private messaging channel should they want to communicate with her. She has said she is open to that. I send her photos about once a year and updates when appropriate.
I’ve only known about issues related to donor conception since I went on my first roots discovery journey in 2017 after my parents died (they were BOTH adoptees). Fortunately, we have been honest with our sons about their conception since day 1. The 23 and Me results allowed us to fully discuss their conception now that they are much older and more mature. They understand they would not exist otherwise.
Knowing what I do know about in utero bonding, I am grateful they gestated in me, I breastfed them each for 1 year + and I have been in their lives pretty much 24/7. They are now 18 and 21 and seem well adjusted. Only twice have they indicated their perspectives to us – once my older son asked if he was supposed to be grateful to her – we said No, but we are. The younger one asked if she was his mother at a very young age. I explained that I am his mother but that without her, we would not have him.
I think the respect we have for her and she has for us has been an important factor. I think our willingness to be transparent with our sons was crucial. Back in 2000, some of the mom’s in my donor egg mothers group chose not to tell. With the advent of inexpensive DNA testing and matching, I wonder what their experiences have been and whether they have any regrets but we don’t communicate as frequently or openly as we once did.
Many hopeful adoptive parents experience the uncertainty of whether that unwed young mother they have matched up with to take her newborn after birth will back out. And some do experience that outcome after spending tons of money on baby stuff in anticipation. Many of these are angry. Why are your family’s hopes so high that another family must fail to satisfy their hopes ? Me. Me. Me. My family. My family.
Because newborns are a scarce commodity bringing in huge profits for adoption agencies and lawyers, the field is competitive and the effort expensive. Here’s one example of the perspective of a whole family of hopeful adopters.
First comment on the above – Your family needs to change their expectations, and their expectations are not your responsibility. Its NOT your baby. Even if you get the placement. If Dad steps up that would be the BEST thing for that baby ♡ if dad can’t and you get the placement then that’s great that you are so well prepared and your heart and your families hearts are so open for that baby! ♡
It should be the reality that the father has to be PROVEN UNFIT before that child is taken into care. The father should NOT have to prove he is FIT to get his own child back! The child shouldn’t be with the woman complaining AT ALL, if there is a dad coming forward. I don’t care what his legal record is, as long as he isn’t a child abuser.
The hopeful adoptive mother is already feeling this way, before she has the baby ? What about the father ? He has to get a lawyer to even get this child back-during FORMATIVE BONDING MOMENTS that no amount of money can bring back. She gets those moments – but why? WHY!?
If there are concerns the father can’t parent, then society should support him with the resources they would have sent the foster parents – parenting classes, therapy, any assistance for supplies/etc. There should be no need for him to have to fight for HIS baby, the fact this is even a thing is appalling, and sadly, this is not a one off circumstance.
One adoptee shared this sad story – My poor sister had her 3rd child stolen out of her arms in the hospital and had to go to court postpartum (like that is on any woman’s to do list after delivering a baby and should be bonding) to get her baby back. The effects of this on her mental and emotional health was awful to watch-and triggering (cuz you know, she didn’t have the support she needed already). I was an adult by this time and had been removed/adopted into another states system and seeing them steal my nieces and nephew and have our family have to deal with all the lies of the courts again, well it just sent many of us into dark holes for many years.
Another comment – Personally, I don’t believe that anybody should get into fostering with the sole intention of potentially adopting a child. From everything that I learned in my classes and have read, the goal should always be to have a child return to their biological family if possible. In the event that is not a reality, then bringing a child into your life is the most beautiful thing that you can do for them. I’m a little concerned that this person may have been one of those people who is only interested in fostering newborns/babies…because they hope to adopt one.
Sharing the attitudes, language and culture surrounding the adoption industry are a primary purpose of my own in conveying information like this.
Someone in my all things adoption group posted this – no biological, genetic offspring EVER HAD TO CONSIDER, what if they had been given away. Kept children never wonder if their life “would have been different if..” Not even IF it would be different, but HOW it would be different. No biological kept child will have a day where they realize that there was a whole other route that their life could have taken and that they could be a million miles away in a completely different situation and WHAT would that life be??
I replied – So, this touched something deep in me. I have. It came as a distinct understanding as I learned about my adoptee (both of them) parents original parents and the fact that my mom was an unwed high school student when she conceived me. Given how “normal” adoption was in my family – especially to my adoptive grandparents – how could it have been in the mid-1950s Baby Scoop Era, that my mom was not sent away by her socially prominent adoptive parents to have and give me away – just as she had been given away (and in truth, just as my dad had also been given away) – well, it is staggering to me that I wasn’t. Of course, with all I have learned about the traumas of adoption since joining this group, I am understandably grateful. Not bragging that I wasn’t, just realizing how I missed having that outcome by a hair’s breadth.
Yet, because of ALL of this, I have a satisfied feeling as I approach my own 68th birthday with both my parents now gone from physical life, that preserving me in my original family allowed me to care about reconnecting the broken threads of our family’s genetic, cultural, biological roots. Had I been given up for adoption, I doubt that would have ever happened.
If I had been given up, would I have had that same yearning as my own mother had to make contact with her mother ? To let her know that she was okay. My mom once said that as a mother, she would want to know what had become of her child. But by the time, my mom became seriously active in trying to make that happen, the information reached her that her mother had been dead for several years. Would my mom have searched for me, like she did for her mom ? Would my parents have been open to a reunion ?
I don’t know. Having adoptee parents is a rather complicated experience. While they were “good” parents – we were provided for, cared about, loved even – they were also strangely detached as we matured. I always knew I was expected to leave home after I graduated from high school. To become independent. After all, my parents were married at a young age and had to do adult things. So no wonder I did that – married, then had a child and went to work, even tried to pursue a higher education. I pretty much failed at all of that . . . but then I wasn’t the Super Woman the women’s liberation activists had made me believe I should be.
And I also think it was something to do with having those biological, genetic bonds severed that made my parents the kind of parents they were to us. Not judging them for that. They did reasonably well all things “adoption” considered.
I’ve been thinking about writing on this topic recently and having learned that today is National Sons Day, I decided it was appropriate for me to just go ahead and write about my thoughts.
In adoption circles, “birth mother” is no longer the preferred term for a woman who gives up her child to be adopted by strangers never to see that child again. These women increasingly prefer first or natural mother for their role in their birthed children’s lives. For many, some kind of reunion takes place after the child has reached an age of maturity. Such reunions are becoming common place. Some are happy and others are heart-breaking.
When I embarked on my journey to discover my own genetic roots back in 2017, I really didn’t know much about adoption. In fact, it was the most natural thing in the world for me and my sisters because both of our parents were adopted. They really had almost no idea of where they came from and varied from one to the other regarding how they felt about the situation. Now I know what my parents didn’t know the day they died, I know who their parents were and a bit about each one of them.
Back in 1998, when my husband and I celebrated our 10th wedding anniversary, he surprised me with the announcement that he wanted to become a father after all. I had become a mother in 1973 within my first marriage. He had always been glad I had been there, done that, no pressure on him. Now he was instigating the unthinkable and it proved to be almost undoable as well. We tried all of the advice and used ovulation predictors but could not achieve success. A nurse practitioner in my GPs office referred me to her own OBGYN who delivered the good and bad news to us. I had an egg developing that would prove to be my very last. He gave me a shot of something or other to give it a boost but to no avail. At that same initial meeting he told us there was another way for us to become parents – donor eggs.
We found our donor and everything was simply agreements between the three of us. The first son was the only successful pregnancy out of 4 that the doctor tried to assist that year. We had no idea he had so little experience. We also never anticipated that inexpensive DNA testing would come along or prove so popular and accessible. While still in the maternity ward, recovering from a necessary c-section due to me being positive for hepC to prevent transmission to my baby, my husband was already saying – “Let’s do it again.” We had some leftover embryos and tried that but it failed.
We weren’t certain our previous donor would agree to “do it again” but to our undying gratitude she did and we were by then at a very experienced clinic in Las Vegas with a doctor who’s reputation for success was very reassuring and we did – succeed. We now have two sons that are fully genetic and biological siblings and they are wonderfully close and appreciative of each other. Each one has some of my husband’s traits but each one is also very individualistic. The older one has an artist’s soul and has gifted us with many dvds starring himself and his brother as reminders of their childhood days. The younger one turns out to have a genius IQ and a natural aptitude for composing music and takes to all things computer oriented like a fish in water.
Thankfully, we never hid the boys method of conception from them but we never made a big deal about it either. We have visited with the donor on more than one occasion but distance and financial constraints have prevented us from getting together for quite a few years now. Enter Facebook. Thanks to social media I remain in contact with her and the events that take place with her and my son’s half siblings born to her. I show my sons photos of them when appropriate.
One day, I discovered she was doing 23 and Me. I had also done that DNA testing as had my daughter and my nephew and assorted relatives from my original grandparents that I have since made contact with. So that year, I gifted my husband with a 23 and Me kit. Then with the older son turning 18, I gifted him with a kit and decided to go ahead and gift the younger one as well, so that all was reconnected on a genetic basis. This also allowed us to reiterate the boy’s conception stories to them now that they were mature enough to understand them fully.
So, this brings a unique circumstance into all of our lives. At 23 and Me, the egg donor is shown as the boys “mother”. Neither myself nor my daughter nor any other genetic relatives of mine are shown as related to my sons. Only the younger one has expressed any sadness that we are not genetically related but the truth is, they simply would not exist nor be who they are any other way and they have a happy life as near as I am able to judge that. We have a happy family as well. Generally, I’m not very public about this because I don’t want people to be cruel to my sons but it is the truth and I am able and willing to face that. The egg donor is available now to each boy privately via the messaging system at 23 and Me, if the boys want that, and I’ve told them both she is willing to receive any contact they wish to initiate. She has always shown a caring perspective about them, while understanding with phenomenal clarity about her limited role in their lives.
So where does that leave me as their mother ? Birth mother fits pretty well because by golly I carried each boy in my womb for 9 months and they each nursed at my breast for just over a year. We have never been separated as mother and child such as occurs in adoption. I am the only “mother” they have ever known and I love hearing them refer to me as “mom”. We are very close, I do believe, though the older one is now 20 and forging a bit of independence. We did not fully foresee all of the ramifications of our decision to conceive them at the time we made that decision – we were not inclined to adopt someone else’s baby – and so, we used the only method available to us and I am grateful we were successful because from what I know only about half of all couples who try this method are successful.
While I may not have been fully aware of all the effects of our decision, having these two boys has been a tremendous gift. When my genetic, biological daughter was only 3 years old, I was forced by financial hardship to allow her to be raised by her dad, who subsequently remarried a woman with a daughter and together they had yet another daughter. My daughter has half and step siblings in a yours mine and ours family. I was unable to give her a family life during her childhood and by the time I married this husband she was well along into high school. Never-the-less we are as close as most mothers and daughters may be but without very much childhood history, which I recognize I have lost and can never regain.
I considered myself a failure as a mother and though I’ve done a lot of soul searching over the years, I still do feel that way in regard to my lack of mothering her. I failed her and the effects have been somewhat similar to what adoptees experience within her own life. I am grateful she doesn’t hate me for it. She seems to understand the situation I found myself in at the time. What these boys have given me is proof that I am not a failure as a mother and for that I will always be grateful. It is my hope my sons will always be grateful for the life they have. Some donor conceived persons struggle with their reality. I understand this now, though I didn’t know then what I know now about so many of the messy complications of life.
Birthmother – heroic, damned and judged. Believe me, these women have ALL of my sympathetic compassion. They are too often exploited. My preference would be that no mother who birthed a baby would ever be separated from them. That these women and their babies would be supported – if necessary in comfortable surroundings with no other demand upon them than the baby makes. Sadly, that is not the society we live in. Dominated by the search for profits – babies are taken from their birthmother and given to whoever can pay the price. This is just plain wrong.
What does it mean to attempt to move forward in a life after a woman relinquishes her baby to adoption ? For myself, though my daughter was not relinquished to adoption, she was surrendered to her father to raise, in effect – it isn’t much different. Diminished. Somehow a failure. Less than. Some kind of monster person. I’ve lived with all of those feelings.
Often in this blog, I do choose to spend a lot of my time and energy pointing out the more negative aspects of adoption as I have come to understand the institution. I feel entitled to do this because both of my parents were adopted and both of my sisters gave up a baby to adoption. At this point, it is fair to label me as “anti-adoption” because honestly, for the most part, I am. I would like to explain what the words, anti-adoption, mean in my perspective.
I believe that it is wrong that there is profit being made in the adoption industry. The transferring of parental rights to a child, that we call adoption, is a $13 Billion dollar annual industry. Every day we hear more and more about corruption in adoption and many adoption experts agree that we need to get the profit motive out of it. There is just too much income motivation and not in the best interest of the child – most often in the interest of hopeful adoptive parents. Money matters – not the child’s welfare. In addition, the high cost of adopting makes it completely out of reach for many prospective adoptive parents. These people, in desperation, take out second mortgages or hold adoption fundraisers. I do not think of this acknowledgement regarding the influence of money as “anti-adoption.” I see this acknowledgement as looking for efforts that are pro-child welfare and not focused on turning babies into commodities.
Birthparents face a lack of follow-up services. Whoever has the prize (the baby) has won the battle. The one who gave birth no longer matters. If there are any mental health professionals involved, they are often uneducated about the long term effects of relinquishment on the birth parents. I see this as being a strong advocate for the continued support of the people directly affected by adoption, including the adoptee who never had a say in what was being done to them.
I believe that the marketing and promotional aspects of adoption need to be seriously overhauled. I do think there is something wrong with an adoption agency spending thousands of dollars in advertising or using crisis pregnancy centers to recruit mothers, simply to ask them to consider adoption as the outcome for their babies. Adoption websites must discuss both the positives and the negatives, the risks and possibilities, when providing adoption information to all of the parties involved. People should not be told what they want to hear in order to seal a deal, pay a fee, or relinquish a child. I see this perspective as demanding “truth” from the industry and honoring that spirit by demanding honest information be conveyed.
We must change adoption practices so that the expectant parents considering adoption have enough information to make an informed choice. An agency cannot tell potential birth mothers that they are strong and courageous, promise them relationships with their children and expect them to find peace and heal. Adoption professionals must present, however scant, the known research about the consequences of long-term grief, the true statistics regarding of adoptee outcomes, secondary infertility rates, and the legal truth about open adoption agreements (they are un-enforceable). Adoption counseling should be from a true unbiased source and must ensure that mothers considering adoption have other real options – plans for parenting their baby and realistic bail-out, change of mind/heart time frames available. It is wrong to ask mothers to “choose” adoption unless they do so with truthful knowledge, of their own free will and knowing the realities they will face the rest of their life related to their choice. I can not count how many birthmothers QUICKLY regret that decision to surrender their precious baby to adoption. “Informed” must be truly informed and not based on some pretty descriptive version of adoption fantasyland.
Pro-ethical accountability. I want to see children’s needs come first. I want fathers’ rights upheld. I want legal accountability from all parties involved. I want more than a patchwork of state laws that allow people to cross state lines, get a new license, and work around regulations. We must restore to adult adoptees access to their original birth certificates. Currently adult adoptees are the only classification of US citizens that are denied the right to access their original birth certificates based on the fact they were adopted. This issue touches on their right to know their true identity. If the adoptee desires, it is normal to want know the story of their own birth. Adults should have access to their actual genetic history and genealogy, as well as their detailed medical information. Sometimes even the ability to get a passport, a driver’s license, vote or to have health insurance is dependent on true identity information (and not some made-up identity, as in adoption). The state governments are still stuck in a past created on a perception of shame, defending secrecy regarding adoption details and supporting the lies necessary to accomplish this. My perspective is anti-discrimination and in support of adoptee civil rights.
A couple of questions were asked of adoptive parents in an all things adoption group I belong to –
Does being an adoptive parent feel the way you thought it would before you adopted ?
Does it fulfill your needs ?
In fairness, the question could be asked of biological/genetic parents as well. So it was that this thoughtful woman attracted my attention with her response –
She says directly that she is not an adoptive parent. She is a grandmother and the mother of 3 adult biological children with some post-divorce estrangement issues. She is the child of narcissistic parents from whom she picked up narcissistic habits that she’s now trying to recognize and eradicate within herself.
She describes herself as “a middle-aged woman coming to terms with my own flaws, strengths, and failures of both commission and omission. The questions shown above are phrased like arrows —bound to pierce anyone who truly is open to them.” She goes on to admit that these are great questions— and horrible questions, too. For sure, necessary— probably for ANY parent, but especially for adoptive parents.
She says honestly, “At each and every stage of motherhood I could have answered Yes and No to the first question. PARENTHOOD overall does not always feel AT ALL the way we think it will, before we experience it. And parenthood itself has plenty of rosy myths associated with it— but obviously NOT the sanctity and saviorism that gilds our culture’s concept of adoption and adoptive parenthood.”
She notes that – “The second question is intended to be an unsettling question— even for biological parents. We’ve got a huge biological imperative to bear children, as a species, so there’s a deep evolutionary, hormonal sense of “need” to procreate for which I don’t think we should be shamed. Many humans get pregnant by accident, or without much thought given to the repercussions of sex.”
Once a living, breathing child exists, that person is NOT AT ALL here to fulfill the parent’s needs. And it doesn’t take very long for that one to be recognized. Even so, we do not always realize that. During the toughest years of parenting, most parents barely have time to breathe, much less analyze the psychological, ethical, and moral framework that their parenting rests upon— and there is always a framework, whether the parent knows it or not.
These penetrating questions are relevant to ALL parents, at any stage of parenting. We all live as the protagonists of our own lives, and thus are prone to centering our stories upon ourselves. Sometimes it’s okay to center yourself in a story. Yet, that is NOT true in terms of your children or perhaps more accurately, they are going to center their own stories on their own lives. This is the great web of interpersonal interconnectivity that binds us all.
So okay, maybe there is no huge profound wisdom in this blog today. Even so, these are really deep questions that are WORTH sitting with, even if they cause some discomfort when thinking about our own answers to them. It is not surprising if they feel hugely uncomfortable when you read them. You may even feel that you have somehow failed as a parent. We are all too self-centered, even when we think we are being self-sacrificing for our children.
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).
A former foster care youth writes – I thinking about taking legal action against the state of Nevada for putting me and my 3 siblings through 8+ years of abusive foster homes? My brother repeatedly told our case workers about abuse over and over and they said no one wanted us, so we would have to “suck it up”. I want justice. We were abused, severely in some cases and the worst that happened was a slap on the wrist and MAYBE a foster license taken away. Why no jail time? I would think that most of what happened must be written in our case files somewhere. I know it’s a long shot and probably “way too dramatic” but I’m angry and so are my siblings, our lives were completely turned upside down and we will carry unnecessary trauma with us our entire lives. There has to be something we can do??
Turns out this isn’t as rare as you might think. Oh I knew many are abused. I read a book last April titled Foster Girl, a memoir by Georgette Todd in which she shares her own experiences of being in foster care.
So in the responses to the plea above came stories about other cases and some not-legal advice from a lawyer.
Just last December 2020 in the state of Texas, Corpus Christi-based federal District Judge Janis Graham Jack found the state of Texas in contempt of court for continuing to fail to comply with court orders put in place to protect children in state custody from abuse. The ruling was the latest in a nearly 10-year-old class action lawsuit over allegations of abuse, neglect and systemic failures in Texas’ child welfare system.
The not-legal advice – I’m a lawyer but don’t know anything about this area of law (which is complex bc govt officials may have some degree of immunity from prosecution, I don’t know). I would begin by (1) googling to see if and how others have brought these suits, (2) law firms in your area who have successfully sued the state for damages, and (3) legal aid providers or maybe the ACLU to see if they can refer you to any lawyers who might be willing to take it on contingency. I’d also move quickly – some kinds of suits can only be brought for a certain number of years (but again, I know nothing about this area of law so please do not take this as legal advice!).
Another woman chimed in – I would look up recent cases brought up against the state/Dept of Human Services… Look up the law firms used… Call them or submit an online inquiry. In Oregon, you have 6 months from a qualifying event to file tort (notice that you intend to file a lawsuit) … But a qualifying event could be as minor as “remembering” a new thing. Usually these types of suits are a contingency, so you don’t pay the law firm unless there is money awarded (except if you lose you usually have pay actual costs of things like filing fees and paper copies, etc), if you win/settle the law firm takes a pre-agreed upon percentage. Law firms don’t usually take on these cases unless they are pretty sure they can win…*good luck* I hope you can hold them accountable!!!
Here is another case moving through the courts in Alabama during 2020. Alabama officials failed to protect multiple children who were abused and neglected for years while in foster care. Foster children who lived with Daniel and Jenise Spurgeon (both have been arrested and are serving time) were sexually, physically, verbally, mentally and emotionally abused, according to the four lawsuits. While the children were starved, isolated, tortured and assaulted, the lawsuits allege, the Alabama Department of Human Resources ignored signs of abuse and neglect. The lawsuits say “numerous” complaints about abuse and neglect were made to DHR by the children and others. The complaints included violations of DHR’s standards for foster homes and ban on corporal punishment, plus reports that the children weren’t properly bathed or were forced to bathe with other children.
There is an organization that does a lot of this kind of justice work. It is called A Better Childhood. They cover the states of West Virginia, Indiana, Oregon, Minnesota, Mississippi, New York, Oklahoma, Texas, New Jersey and Washington DC. A Better Childhood fights for children who are abused, neglected, and irreversibly damaged while dependent on child welfare systems. Their work challenges existing structures to improve the lives of children, whether they are in state custody or reliant on the state for protection. Using the power of the courts, they develop new legal theories and apply and expand existing law to reform the various states’ foster care and other child welfare systems. Then, we monitor the states’ responses to hold them accountable.
The ENTIRE justification for the state taking children from their families is to protect the child from abuse. If the child then is put into another abusive situation or worse yet, a series of abusive situations, then the entire premise of the state’s effort to protect children has failed. The agency has failed in it’s jo, and their justification for taking children from their families is a nightmare.
Holidays often bring with them unrealistic expectations. Even realistic expectations can prove disappointing. For an adoptee recently entering into a reunion with the woman who gave birth to them, failed expectations can be especially painful. One woman in that situation shared this story –
Merry Christmas to you all. I know it’s a difficult day for many of you. I heard from several people in my birth family except my birth mom…why? Honestly, what would keep her from shooting a simple text saying Merry Christmas?! Yesterday was the two year anniversary of us reconnecting and when I didn’t hear from her then, I just knew I would today. But no…. I didn’t. Can other birth moms explain something I’m not realizing or seeing?! Or other adoptees…. do you feel like expectations around the holidays are difficult?! I felt like it was a minimal expectation but I’m looking for feedback to understand and not just be hurt.
Some replies – from a first mom, Christmas may remind her of all she lost when she lost you. I am on the other end of the spectrum, tried for many years to reconnect with my son and nothing.
Another adoptee shares – I am the deer in headlights, can’t talk because it’s just too much sorrow and then, I feel horrible because I really do want to talk to all of my biological family, hug them, but it’s so hard to talk a lot of the time, even though I love them more than they will ever know. I try to keep the door open. You never know what’s going on… I know I’m going to try again tomorrow, and the next day, to reach out to people I should have today, but sometimes it’s just so scary putting yourself out there. Some days are tough for other reasons. I’m sorry that happened, though still sucks no matter why.
One such natural mother writes – I am 25 years into a very open adoption. I’m sorry she didn’t reach out when you wanted her to. This is the first year I didn’t send a message to my daughter. Mainly I wanted to see if she would actually want to reach out to me – I always initiate contact, meeting up or messages etc and am always the one to send “Merry Xmas” etc. I don’t know if she cares or even wants me to send a message, would I be interrupting a nice day for her? Sometimes she takes days to reply or doesn’t reply at all. I struggle enormously (something I keep well hidden) with the emotional toll it takes on me. Perhaps it is hard for her too, I don’t know.
As the blog author, I can relate. My daughter was raised by her dad and step-mother from the age of 3. I sensed that I had to keep a low profile because I didn’t want to disrupt her family life. I gave her a calling card she could use to call me anytime she wanted. Sometimes, there were long gaps between contacts. Sometimes, I would learn she gave the Christmas presents I sent to her, to her younger siblings. I was hard being an absentee mother and not knowing what the right thing to do was. While this wasn’t an adoption situation, per se, it was an unintended surrender due to financial hardship (which sadly, I share with both of my natural grandmothers who lost their own children to adoption for very similar reasons).
One other natural mother also shares – I am in reunion with my daughter. I always leave it to her to text, call, face time. I think it goes back to the 1st time you make contact, of not wanting to over step or put pressure on a delicate relationship. So, I always let her guide the contact. Perhaps your mother is doing the same. It can be hard when both parties feel they don’t want to be over bearing, so no one makes the 1st move. I’m lucky my daughter calls when she feels like. But there can be 2 times a week, then nothing for few weeks. It varies. Maybe text your mom. Open up the conversation and say that you’d love a holiday text from her too.
These separation relationships will always be fragile and there is nothing to guide any of us in attempting them. Even so, we should try. The other person may be struggling as much as we are. Any contact is better than none. And sometimes the contact or lack of it will be disappointing because there are no guarantees in this life.
Like the song goes . . .
I beg your pardon, I never promised you a rose garden Along with the sunshine, there’s gotta be a little rain sometime When you take, you got to give – so live and let live – or let go
I think the risk is always worth the potential disappointment. Sometimes we get a happy surprise.
It is a sad fact but more common than anyone could ever wish for that some adoptions fail and give rise to attempts to have someone else re-adopt a child. What are the issues?
Audrey recently turned 8 and was adopted domestically when she was 6. She has a very strained, competitive relationship with the other child in her adopted family and has failed to form a healthy attachment to the family. They feel that Audrey will be happier, calmer and more likely to attach to a family who has no other children in the home under the age of 12 (a mature child). A family who is familiar with attachment issues would be a plus! Her family is willing to consider a single parent without other children to take their focus away from Audrey, as well as a 2-parent family.
Yet, consistently, these second chance “offerings” go on to describe the child in very glowing terms.
Audrey’s adopted parents describe her as creative, funny, sometimes stubborn, flexible, playful, helpful and artistic. She enjoys playing with Barbies and practicing her mothering skills with her Baby Alive doll. She is a great helper when she is one-on-one with someone. She likes to help with food prep, cleaning, and laundry, and likes to hear that she’s done a good job. Audrey has a set bedtime and falls asleep quickly. She sometimes likes to read a book before lights out. She enjoys painting and often uses drawing as a means of communicating her feelings and memories. She loves to play board and card games. She can be very funny and sweet, especially when she feels that you are giving her your full attention. She is a mix of girlie-girl and tomboy—she likes dressing up in her mom’s high heels and wearing makeup; but will also play in the mud, climb trees and ride her bike. She is keen on taking off her training wheels soon so she can ride her bike independently!
Audrey has a good imagination and can easily entertain herself. She is a fairly organized child—neither messy nor overly organized. She likes to read and is currently enjoying Fancy Nancy and Dr. Seuss books. She is obsessed with unicorns, so if she can find a book about those, she will read it too! Her favorite foods are peanut butter, pizza and Indian food. She has a different favorite color for every day! Her adopted mom will say, “What’s your favorite color today?”
Audrey is in the 2nd grade, does very well in school and loves school. She gets mostly A’s. She loves the structure, the friends, the teachers and the social aspect. She attends a private school with a small teacher/student ratio and she thrives in this environment. Math is her favorite subject; she enjoys the challenge of solving problems. Her teachers report that she is “a joy to have in class—wonderful and sweet!” She is a worker bee—she loves to be given a task to accomplish for the teacher.
What is it about adoption that causes such a contradiction in the description of a child’s personality? It is the fact that trauma is present and too often adoptive parents don’t want to work through the core issues with patience and tolerance. They only want harmony and so if an adopted child is seen by them as the source of disharmony in their family – then they will seek to be rid of the child as though human beings can simply be thrown away if their use is not satisfying.