Regret from a Birth Father

Why I relinquished a son to adoption,
and why I never would again
~ Ridghaus

Today’s blog is thanks to a sharing by Amber Moore Jimerson. You can read the full, original story there. I have edited and condensed it for this blog.

One of the biggest mistakes I ever made was relinquishing my son to an adoptive couple. I would not find the words for the feelings surrounding my decision, until I experienced more life, had other children, left Evangelicalism, and discovered my own adoption story.

I had taken a job working for a Christian church in a neighboring state. Then, I received a phone call from Angie, my ex-fiancé’s best friend: “Becky is pregnant.” So, I left the job and returned to Becky in Kansas with hopes of reconciliation. Growing up in an abusive, alcoholic family, I wanted something better than I had, something more stable. I wanted to give our child a chance at the happiness neither of us had growing up. Despite a sincere effort, I couldn’t stay in the relationship, even for the benefit of this unborn child. After a month, we broke up again.

Back at my home church, the youth pastor’s wife contacted us to say that her sister, Colleen, and husband Brian, were looking to adopt. Colleen brought a hopefulness edged with caution; she’d experienced several miscarriages and a couple of adoption attempts which fell through. That first meeting and subsequent meetings went well, and we felt moderately comfortable about them raising our child.

I chose adoption because God could redeem our “sin” as joy for this stable couple. I chose adoption because they paid the medical bills. I chose adoption for a clean slate. Except, over time, I learned there is no clean slate. A couple wants to experience parenthood, and they will look into the eyes of the crisis couple and convince them to relinquish their child because parenting is tough. “Please give your child to us because we want one, and it will be too difficult for you.” Separation creates trauma, and trauma rewires the brain.

Brian left Christian ministry and the family when his adopted son Zach turned 11. A stable family is only a momentary snapshot. Brian leaving couldn’t be anticipated, but nevertheless that negated a reason I chose to give him up.

The clincher – when Zach turned sixteen, I found out that I had been adopted. It turned out to be unexpectedly important to meet my own biological family. My mother’s voice sounded like a song I’d always known and never heard. Watching my father shift tools easily from right to left and back to right handedness brought to mind a moment when I was 11 and my adoptive father asked, “how do you do that?” I had no idea that what I’d done was unusual.

I was reminded of a line from Ron Nydam’s book “Adoptees Come of Age” – “Adoptees are always re-creating the circumstances of their relinquishment.” My biological identity is a part of my identity, one part among others, and its importance to me took place by affirming that I came from somewhere, from someone, who did things kinda like I did them and who looked a bit like me.

Early spring 2011 when Zach turned 21, I asked him, “If you’ve ever wondered the question as to whether I’d do it again, I wouldn’t.” Zach replied, “I think I’ve always wanted to know, but I couldn’t find the words to ask.”

I chose to relinquish my first son into adoption over temporary pressures, largely financial, some cultural, Christian mindsets and expectations, and a general concern I wouldn’t be able to escape the poor parenting models I received. The backward glance has greater clarity.

I have told my children that if any of them were ever in my previous situation of facing an unplanned pregnancy, I’d want them to come to me. He had relinquished a son at age 19, and then later, at the age of 35, learned that he himself had been relinquished and adopted. He would want his children to tell him. He would tell them that they have his complete support and that he’d never let them adopt away one of their own children.

Is It Really ?

One hears this a lot from people who want to adopt a baby – “I applaud you for your courageous choice to give your daughter a chance at a better future. There are so many women with infertility issues like myself who would love to adopt a child. Please keep me in your thoughts if you know of other women in your situation. I have a lot of love to give.”

One cannot really say if being adopted gives anyone a “better life”. Both of my parents were adopted. They both would have grown up with some degree of poverty had they remained with their original mothers. And the truth of the matter is, my dad still grew up with some degree of poverty. In fact, he actually experienced food insecurity and hunger as a child. We always had more food on our table at dinner than we could eat. My mom told me that was the reason why. And my dad was so obese as an adult, he relished his nickname Fat Pat.

I do appreciate his adoptive parents. My granny was hugely influential in my life. We often spent days and weekends with her. A word from her that was very serious about some issue had the power to change the direction I was traveling in. Having learned my parents more or less full background stories, I believe had it not been for my granny, my teenage mother who conceived me out of wedlock, would have been sent away as so many girls in the 1950s through 1970s were, to have and give me up. I believe my dad’s adoptive parents insisted he do the right thing and quit college and go to work, after quickly marrying my mother so I would be born legitimate. And my nuclear family experienced hardships but we knew we were loved, even though our parents were strangely detached, having had their own familial bonds broken before the age of one year.

And how about my mother ? Her dad was the vice president at a large bank in downtown El Paso Texas. Her mother was a socialite and charity do-gooder. She was also influential in my own life for different reasons than my granny. She modeled for us good manners and good taste in home decor and clothing. However, my mom – while wanting for nothing of a financial basis – struggle with her adoptive mother. My grandmother was always thin and trim (she would starve herself if necessary, her mother and sister were quite rotund) and my mom’s body type was never going to be that – big boned Scottish farm girl stock that she was. My grandmother also dangled her wealth as a carrot and a stick over my mom.

My mom’s father was very poor and her mother’s family was also poor. My grandmother lost my mom when she gave birth while separated from her lawfully married husband during a massive flood on the Mississippi River. Unable to contact him for support or reconciliation, Georgia Tann along with her enablers the Juvenile Court Judge Camille Kelley and the Porter-Leath Orphanage supervisor Georgia Robinson (to whom my grandmother turned for temporary care while she tried to get on her feet financially without family support) exploited her financially precarious situation and coerced her into surrendering my mom for adoption. She tried to undo this 4 days after signing the papers but Tann was not letting my mom loose as her soon to be adoptive mother was already on her way from Nogales Arizona by train to Memphis Tennessee to collect her. My grandmother had previously adopted a son from Tann.

One cannot actually say my mom had a “better” life either. The truth about adoption is – the child has a DIFFERENT life from the one they would have had with their original parent(s). Better is a subjective concept that adoptive parents like to believe in order to justify taking a child, due to their own infertility, from another woman. It honestly is that simple.

Family Breakdown

Painting by Mary Cassatt 1889

Some reading I was doing today in a book titled Healing the Split by John E Nelson MD caused me to reflect on my mom’s adoption from a new perspective.

He writes – “While there remains much to learn and study, schizophrenogenic mothers bring a sense of incompleteness to child raising. This is not the same as that mother rejecting her child.”

“Quite the contrary. She regards him as particularly close and significant for her. She needs her child in a distorted way as much as her child needs her.”

This causes me to reflect on my maternal grandfather. His very young mother gave birth to him AFTER her husband, his father, has died. He was her first born (even as my grandmother was her father’s first born and his wife had died but only after the 5th child was born) and remained extraordinarily close to her all her life.

As much as I have blamed my maternal grandmother’s widowed father for not supporting her and my mother, when it appeared that my maternal grandfather (whether this was entirely true or not) had abandoned her at 4 months pregnant – there remains this question in my own heart that can never be answered now. Why did he leave her and why did he not come to her defense when she returned to Tennessee from Virginia after my mom had been born and reached out to him through the Juvenile Court in Memphis.

With the same kind of destructive failure to be supportive that I blame my maternal grandmother’s family for, I do also believe that my maternal grandfather’s mother was not supportive of him. I believe she was not happy he had married my grandmother nor did she want anything to do with the child they conceived while married.

I can never know this for certain but why didn’t he take her back to Arkansas with him, when his WPA job in Memphis ended ? It could be because he was dependent upon his mother since she was caring for his children after their mother, his wife, had died – so that he could go to work in Memphis.

So, I believe the deck was stacked against both of my mom’s natural parents raising her – by her very own grandparents, their father and their mother, one on each side of the parental equation.

Dr Nelson notes in his book – “Any movement toward autonomy leads him to feel that she cannot survive without him, added to his certainty that he cannot survive without her. For him to individuate would destroy them both.” Just the thoughts percolating in my own mind this afternoon related to my own familial adoption stories.

No, I would not give you false hope
On this strange and mournful day

Oh, little darling of mine
I can’t for the life of me
Remember a sadder day
I know they say let it be
But it just don’t work out that way
And the course of a lifetime runs
Over and over again

~ lyrics in Mother and Child Reunion by Paul Simon

Foster Care Abuses

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Child Of Separation

Family separation has taken on a new meaning in the current government administration.  Many of my friends and myself included are horrified at the barbaric and cruel images of what is being done as we witness these.

Rainer Maria Rilke wrote – “Every happiness is the child of a separation, it did not think it could survive.”  I think in the context I am considering, one could not equate happiness with separation.

Family separation means something different in my life.  It means my parents being taken away from their mothers.  It means families so broken they cannot be put back together again.  There is so much damage done when any baby is taken away from the mother who’s womb that child developed within.

Activists and reformers within the adoption world are hoping to see the common place separations end.  We seek stronger safety nets for mothers with children with no judgement applied.  It is not about how hard the mother works or how well she does trying to provide for her children but about the children themselves.  Seeing that children grow up in safe spaces with loving relatives with enough to eat and enough usable clothing to wear.  With a roof over their heads to protect them from the environment.

This is really not so much to ask of society and especially the wealthier members of our society – that we each accept a responsibility to the future generations of human beings on this planet.

Recent advances in the science of brain development offer us an unprecedented opportunity to solve some of society’s most challenging problems, from widening disparities in school achievement and economic productivity to costly health problems across the lifespan. Understanding how the experiences children have starting at birth, even prenatally, affect lifelong outcomes—combined with new knowledge about the core capabilities adults need to thrive as parents and in the workplace—provides a strong foundation upon which reforms can be created.

Not all stress is bad, but the unremitting, severe stress that is a defining feature of life for millions of children and families experiencing deep poverty, community violence, substance abuse, and/or mental illness can cause long-lasting problems for children and the adults who care for them. Reducing the pile-up of potential sources of stress will protect children directly (i.e., their stress response is triggered less frequently and powerfully) and indirectly (i.e., the adults they depend upon are better able to protect and support them, thereby preventing lasting harm). When parents can meet their families’ essential needs stress can be reduced rather than amplified.  Families are better able to support a healthy development in their children.

Leave Those Moms Alone

I don’t know these people and they are not the point.  Among the reforms I have learned about in the private Facebook group for original parents, adoptees and adoptive parents that I belong to, and one of their missions, is to support expectant mothers.  One of the reforms they advocate, and I agree with, is for the prospective adoptive parents NOT to be present in the delivery room during birth nor for the first few days after the birth.  The goal is for the new mother to bond with her baby and perhaps change her mind about giving the baby up for adoption.

The problem is the coercive effect of the adoptive parents’ presence on the new mother.  So it is today that I read the story of a hopeful adoptive mother and the problems that have occurred at the last minute in the new mother’s intention to give her baby up.  This is a teenage unwed mother who at the tender age of 15 had previously expressed a desire to go back to her pre-pregnancy life and be educated to become a nurse.  She also was not living with her parents, had been raped (perhaps by a family member) and did not believe her own mother was capable of helping her parent.

Flash forward to her difficult 3-day delivery and she informs the hopeful adoptive mother that she does NOT want her there because her mom (who opposes the adoption completely) is trying to help her through it and the new mother doesn’t want drama. She gave birth and due to the C-section, she is in the hospital for longer than expected.

Well, she begins to breastfeed the baby while in hospital and of course, breastfeeding does encourage the bonding of mother and child.  The result is that three days before the surrender papers are to be signed, the new mother has decided to parent.  The struggles of any new mother are temporary, placement is permanent, which is the message this Facebook group attempts to convey.

The result is a very mad hopeful adoptive mother who is blaming everyone from the social worker to the hospital to hormones and drugs and the immature age of the new mother and to the new grandmother as well for losing the “perfect baby-these don’t come by often” which echoes in my own mind like the words the Tennessee Children’s Home used to describe my mom to her adoptive parents.

Mothers Suffer

I have said this before but it bears saying this again.  Giving up one’s child to adoption is not a walk away and all is well process.  Most natural mothers who’s child has been removed from them – whether by choice or coercion – will spend the remainder of their lives regretting the loss.

We are so deeply attached at a genetic and spiritual level to those persons who gave us the gift of life, that there is no true sundering of that bond.  To pretend otherwise, diminishes the pain and suffering that both natural parents and adoptees will carry with them their entire lives.  The relationships that should have been but never will be cannot be recovered down the road.  One can only begin where they find themselves if a reunion occurs and develop whatever relationships they can going forward.

For an adoptee, it can be said that the woman who raises them is their mom.  The woman who created them, is the one who made their life possible.  It is possible and indeed the reality for many people, that there are two true mothers in their life.

Even so, it is not true – that in giving up her child, it was like she took out the trash and never gave it a second thought. As though that were even possible for any mom to feel that way.  I do not believe it.  Many women who surrendered a child were very young when they did that.  They felt they had no choice in the matter.

Today, there are adoptee groups reaching out to unwed pregnant mothers to encourage them to go slow, before giving up their child, and seek a way to work through the circumstances without causing a separation.  I’m on their side in this perspective.

Grandmother

The photo is not the person I wish to acknowledge.  I know a woman who is a grandmother and her role in her grandson’s life was crucial.  Her youngest son impregnated a young woman.  The couple was not only unprepared to marry but not actually ready to parent either.

Into this young family’s support came the grandmother.  For four years, she was the dominant support in this young child’s life including where he slept at night – most nights.  This gave time for the young couple to mature without being entirely out of their child’s life.  I was the fortunate witness of the grandmother’s devotion to her grandson.

Just before the boy was to enter kindergarten, his parents brought him great joy by deciding to marry.  Making that commitment to one another official, changed the young mother seemingly overnight.  In my friend’s perspective, the young woman became a Super Mom heavily involved with her child’s public school.  The young boy lives full time with his parents now.

This is the difference a strong familial support can make in a young person’s life.  This is family preservation as it ought to be, though sadly not always.

A Never Ending Sorrow

Adoption is trumpeted today as a universal good thing. For infertile couples who wish to have a family, it is a solution. For religious organizations and fellow-travelers, agencies that use the mantle of religion – it is STILL a BUSINESS.

What is rarely talked about is the long-term mental and physical effect of surrendering a baby to others for adoption.

One expects short-term grief.

What of the long-term lasting impact – 4, 25 years later ?

We go on, have lives and live a code of silence with a toxic aftermath continuing.

Mothers compelled to search for their children are prone to lowered self-esteem, anxiety and worry about the child, required more doctor visits and attributed their physical and mental problems over the years to the adoption.

Many had parental pressure to surrender their child to adoption.

They had little or no emotional support during the pregnancy and relinquishment.

There were few or no opportunities to talk about their feelings related to the surrender and there was a lack of social support for their depression.

We should care more about mothers and their children as a society.

Family Preservation

Today, I discovered a whole world of efforts to preserve natural families and reduce the incidence of adoption to those children who truly need a family.

As the child of two adoptees, who barely avoided becoming one myself (my mother conceived me in high school out of wedlock) and as the aunt of my sister’s children given up for adoption, or taken from them by caring grandparents who proceeded to poison the poor child against their own mother and her family, and as someone who lost custody of my own daughter without intending to, simply for economic reasons – I really care about being part of the evolving trend of doing everything humanly possible to keep mothers and their children together.

Today, I discovered familypreservation365.com and their related efforts.  In googling for images, I found there are many people out there trying keep families intact.

Adoption is a valuable alternative when there isn’t any other.  It should be used sparingly and for all of the right reasons.