Even When Trying To Do The Right Thing

Adoption can be a tricky needle to thread, even when one is trying their best to do the right thing. Today, I bring you the story of an adoptive mother who is trying her best to do what’s best for the children she is raising.

My husband and are the adoptive parents of two children (domestic), placed with us at birth after their original moms chose us from our profiles. The adoptions were supposed to be “semi-open,” in that we exchanged letters and other communications through the agency only, and didn’t share our last names or the towns in which we live. This was the policy of the agency, and it was the moms who chose the agency.

I naively assumed this process was driven by the mom’s wishes (we did not “choose” the agency… our first placement was very sudden and via a connection that our home study social worker had at the agency).

After the first year with our eldest child, communicating through the agency, we took the lead from his mom and stopped using the agency as middle man (and also shared last names and the specific location where we live). We now correspond regularly and directly with her, and take her lead for the amount of contact she wants. We would do more, but also we respect her choice regarding how much contact we have. If and when our son has more questions or wants more contact, we will facilitate that.

For our younger son, the agency told us after 6 months to stop sending letters and pictures for his mom because she had moved and they did not have a forwarding address for her. I assumed this was her choice too, so while it made me sad for our son, I stopped sending the letters. Now I am not so sure about any of this. I have a handful of reasons to believe that the agency was very badly administered and evidence that, at best, they were sloppy with record keeping and filing. I do not trust that it was his mom who declined contact. What I am sure of is – it’s my responsibility to know as much about our child’s first family as possible, and to share what I know as/when our child asks for it.

And here’s the sticky part where I don’t know how to balance what is ethical and what is best for our child: While I was not supposed to know his mom’s last name, I learned it in the first week of our child’s life (there was an extended hospital stay, and the hospital revealed it… I didn’t go looking for the last name). When the agency told me to stop sending letters, I easily found our child’s mom and extended family on social media. I feel like the agency should have done this, and not simply accepted the lack of a forwarding address as an indication from the mom that she didn’t want the level of contact stipulated in the adoption agreement. But they did not, and thus I have been checking in on her through social media all these years, collecting whatever information I can for our child. I am now wondering if, because of my suspicions that the agency was negligent, I should reach out to his mom directly and ask her if she wants any contact with us or updates.

What I don’t want to do is violate her privacy or wishes… but also I want as much information for our child as I can gather. Of the two children I’m parenting, he is the one with the most questions about/interest in his first family, and while I care about his mom and her wishes, I don’t feel I actually KNOW them. And, of course, our son is my priority. He’s approaching the age where his questions are becoming much more specific, and I want answers for him.

I guess what I’m saying is that I want to get a clear picture of his mom’s true wishes (not her wishes as filtered through the agency’s policy and negligent administration) before he gets to the age where he can find her on his own. While I know I can’t protect him from the traumas of adoption, I can support him, and I don’t think putting him in the position of being blindsided by whatever he finds would be the best way to support him.

The first response to this story came from a woman who surrendered her child to adoption and I do agree with her simple answer – Reach out to her. At this point you have nothing to lose.

There are many many answers and most are encouraging the attempt to make contact. I’ll just share this one from an adoptive parent –  I think you can make contact to verify her wishes, but when she tells you what she wants, respect that. And understand that your son may be blindsided regardless of what you learn now—like everyone, the wishes and life situation of his mom may change by the time he’s older and wants to know more.

Follow your instincts and respect whatever you learn. At least you can say you made the effort and if the effort closes the door, you can then put the question into the mom’s box to answer – when that day comes.

Late Discoveries

This is not as uncommon as you might believe. There are people who believe that someone is their original parent all of their lives, and suddenly, usually because someone in their family has died, they learn the truth. Today’s story is one of those . . .

My grandmother just passed away a few days ago. Yesterday my mother (grandmother’s oldest of six kids) gets a call from one of the sisters who has been taking care of things (the mother is in Colorado, sister and grandmother are in Hawaii). The sister tells my mother that my grandmother was married to another man, prior to marrying the man who we all thought was my mother’s dad.

The first husband was my mother’s actual biological father. He abandoned my grandmother, leaving her with my mom and disappeared. So the ‘grandfather ‘ we always knew, offered to marry my grandmother and tell everyone that my mom was his oldest daughter. They got married and moved to Germany. They told everyone that my mom was his daughter. And this was my mom’s life.

Somehow my mom, lived into her 60’s without ever needing a copy of her birth certificate….honestly, which I am not sure how…but yeah. Now, she needs her birth certificate and asks her mother if she has it….her mom tells her that the hospital had burned down or flooded and all the records were destroyed….

Somehow after going back and forth, my mom managed to get a copy of her birth certificate…which had what she thought was the wrong name on it. It had my great grandmother’s last name on it, my grandmother’s ‘maiden’ name….which coincidentally turns out to be also the last name of her biological father. (Apparently grandmother married a step brother? Maybe. No actual biological relationship though….because his father was not my grandmother’s father and his mother was not her mother.) My mom has a fit and somehow manages to get her birth certificate changed to my grandfather’s last name….all because that is who she has always thought she was.

Now she is questioning everything. Apparently she is not who she thought she was. Her birth certificate should not have my grandfather’s name on it. She wants to know if she is LEGALLY married to my dad…they have been ‘married’ for over 50 years.

But of course – Yes, she is legally married to the woman’s dad because she legally used her legal name when filing for her marriage certificate. Officials do ask for information on the parents, but that is to streamline county record keeping and would not make the marriage certificate null and void. The mom answered those questions to the best of her ability with the knowledge she had, she did not commit fraud and her marriage is valid.

 It is shocking to hear something like this. It takes a while to adjust and get through the emotions that any person would feel when presented with such unexpected information. It is not unusual in these kinds of circumstances to find out after one’s mother has passed. In this case, the mom at the age of 70….this grandmother would have been 92, but she passed a few days before her birthday. It is life changing and learning this is like having the rug pulled out from a person.

The sister finding out was accidental. There are three sisters. The father told the second sister in 1984 after he had been drinking too much…and she told everyone but the mother and a third sister. The third sister found out and crying, very upset, told the mother. She only told her because the second sister was threatening to tell the mother but not a nice way. Sadly, the family is a bit horrible and not terribly close.

Abandonment Part 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And back to a core issue –

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

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

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

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

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

What Could Go Wrong ?

Regarding a kinship guardian placement vs temporary foster carer ?

An adoption community acquaintance writes –

I’m supposed to take custody of a relative’s baby tomorrow (hopefully.) The caseworker is coming back out tomorrow to see things are in order for him. He’s been in a foster carer’s home for 5 days and they are already claiming he’s bonded to them and begging the caseworker to keep him. Now I’m scared the caseworker is going to come up with an excuse why he needs to stay with them vs coming to me. Selfish, selfish, selfish.

His mom is on track to start overnights in December with reunification in January. Of course, whatever stuff I have for him, will go with him, when he goes home. He was previously with dad’s mom and she lost custody because she allowed dad to have him unsupervised.

Fostering is about reunification, not adoption.

One responder wrote – THIS is a huge problem for the foster care programs. Does the state/program/whatever get money when an adoption occurs????

Another one noted – 5 days is a transition time, no way to bond enough in that time frame. He is not bonded. He is surviving. He’s clinging to a bit of kindness in the midst of chaos. At five days in, he’s likely still confused every time he wakes up and opens his eyes! When there is family that should always be the only choice. If he can be so “bonded” after 5 days with strangers, imagine how much more bonded he’ll be after five days with FAMILY.

And this advice – Let them know that with you, baby will still be able to spend time with safe relatives, which they wouldn’t be able to do in foster care. (Safe is the key word they will be looking for. They will prefer foster care, if they think kinship will allow “unsafe” interactions.)

And finally, this from experience, a woman writes –

Bonding happens faster with family. My instant “bond” with my daughter was due to her losing her mother and attaching herself to me. She is related to my husband by blood… their connection was unspoken and immediate. Ours was initially her needing me, and later it grew into something deeper. They are confusing bonding with a desperate need for human connection… they could have been anyone and the baby would cling to them after being separated. You might have a true bond that is immediate rather than earned. (I have seen this with my own eyes! My relationship with her is now a true bond and we are very close, but her connection to my husband was just a given.

Some Wounds Don’t Heal

Knowing what I know about adoption, I’m now against this whole thing and because of what happened, it would just be way too personal. And what happened ?, you ask. I’ll share the story of selfish points of view.

A somewhat distant cousin had wanted to adopt my oldest child when I found out I was pregnant in high school though I did not take her up on her offer. Fast forward to 2 years ago, I was again pregnant with my third child. At that time, I was highly considering adoption. I asked this cousin – knowing shes always wanted to adopt – what would happen if she adopted my baby. I was simply exploring my options. I explained to her that the only reason I was considering giving him up was because I felt like mentally and financially I couldn’t take care of 3 kids. Which was a correct assessment on my part at the time.

Allow me to explain my conditions related to a surrender –

I want to be a part of his life. I would still consider myself his mom. My motivation is for him to have a better chance. And here was her reply –

If she did adopt him – I would not be his mom. He wouldn’t know anything about me other than I was related family. I wouldn’t get visitations or special calls and pictures. I’d only see him at family reunions (get real, in my 24 years in this family, we’ve only had 1 reunion on that side and I was a kid when it happened). She said that other than that, my contact would be seeing her Facebook posts, and occasional text updates, but he would be her child and I would (in her words) “in fact no longer be his mother”. I politely said thank you but that doesn’t work for me.

She messaged me a few more times telling me to let her know if I changed my mind and how badly she “wanted this opportunity.” I kept my baby.

Since then there have been moments in spending time with my aunt (my cousin’s mom), that this has been brought up and I’m told about how much it hurt my cousin that I didn’t let her adopt my son. That “it hurt her deeply and was wrong.” Blah blah blah.

I answer, “How do you think I would have felt having to get rid of my baby? I would have been suicidal.”

Fast forward again –

My cousin has finally adopted the baby she always wanted. She is now having a baby shower, inviting everyone in my family (my aunt, cousins and step-grandma). They are all mad at me that I’m refusing to go and “celebrate this with her and her new baby.”

Back to the beginning, she says, “Knowing what I know about adoption, I’m now against this whole thing and because of what happened, it would just be way too personal.”

When one really begins to read what grown adoptees say for themselves about their experience of having been adopted and when one reads deeply some of the therapists that work with adoptees to heal their trauma, one understands why this young mother feels the way she feels. I belong to an adoption group with all aspects of the practice represented – adoptees, former foster youth, original mothers, adoptive parents and hopeful adoptive parents. This group works actively to encourage young pregnant women to keep and parent their child. Often they even supply resources for her to do so. Society should be actively trying to keep families together instead of tearing them apart. And there are reforms being promoted for dealing with the circumstances of the tragic few that have no family to go to.

Secrets

Even in this day and age, some prospective adoptive couples believe they can have a closed adoption and that their adoptee child will never know that truth.  However, secrets have a way of outing themselves eventually.  These adoptive parents could probably convince themselves that this child is 100% theirs and has no ties to other living human beings but that would be self-delusion.

A couple wrote, after 3 years of marriage it is clear that the husband is incapable of procreating a child of his own. This is the second marriage for the woman and she has a daughter that is 10 years old. It is said that it is this little girl that is motivating a quest to adopt a baby because she wants to be a big sister. Since it has become evident that the husband is incapable of causing a conception, they feel like a piece is missing from their family. They don’t want the adopted child to know that truth.  Therefore, they want a closed adoption.

The 10 year old isn’t going to know this sibling is adopted and can keep the whole thing a secret ?  I don’t think so.  Yet, this couple is so deluded that they are advertising their search on the internet ?  Like, don’t they know, stuff on the net is there eternally ?  Do they really believe these circumstances can be kept private ?

An adoption on this basis is set up on lies.

One adoptive parent admits – How many of us embarked on this journey not knowing much and blossomed and opened our mind to new things after having mentors and people who really cared about helping us learn. In fact many of us yearned for an open adoption and then life had different plans that didn’t allow that to happen? I see a lot of people passing judgement. I do think this couple will have a rude awakening, no secret big or small remains that way for a lifetime, however I hope that they can find the right people to educate them on their journey.

An adoptee shares – It’s hard enough growing up when you know you were adopted! Closed adoption is never, ever the answer, and closed *secret* adoption should be effing illegal. Well, all of it should be illegal but let’s start somewhere!

If there is going to be an adoption at all, then I am all for open adoption and keeping the birth family involved. To me you are not just adopting a child, you are adopting a family. Whether you have a closed adoption or an open one, that child will always have another family. You simply cannot erase that reality and what about DNA testing that is so prevalent now ?  That is how some adoptees that were lied to find out the truth.

Correcting that thought about “adopting a family” – that isn’t accurate and is impossible, even under the most charitable of situations.  The reason those impacted are turning against adoption is that bottom line – it is taking a child away from the family they were born into.

Once again – can’t we just support families ?  Financially, physically, emotionally and mentally.  Whatever they need to stay intact ?  Why is that so hard for society to come to terms with ?

 

An Inability to Relate

Actually . . . it isn’t that simple or easy in reality.  Today, I read this –

I adopted my daughter at birth. She’s now 3. I wanted an open adoption, but I find it hard to connect with her mom. I had visions of a close relationship and it’s just not happening that way. It feels awkward and uncomfortable. I know she feels it too. She is about 10 years younger than me and we have nothing in common. By now I feel we should be in a better place. To be honest, it’s become something that I find myself avoiding more and more because it’s uncomfortable. I hate that I do that. I push off calling or texting. I am not sure what I’m feeling. I think a lot is guilt. I see how when they are together how perfectly they interact. My daughter loves her. I have been reading in here and trying to self reflect to make sure it’s not my fragility. I do genuinely love that they have a close connection, so I don’t think it’s jealousy.

What it is, is reality.  What is happening is that real maternal bond that deep inside is never severed.  As an adoptive mother, you will never have that same kind of connection.  Yes, you can love a child.  Yes, you can be grateful that your child is able to know the mother who gave birth to them.

You had a fantasy about having this “close relationship” and that is the reason it is “just not happening”.  It was you fantasy and not an achievable reality.  Your presence reminds this child’s mother that you and not she is with the child most of the time.  Your deepest self is acknowledging the guilt you feel at having separated them by seeing how perfectly they naturally interact with one another.

So get real with why this feels so uncomfortable to you.  Get over your own feelings.  The well-being of this little girl should be the only deciding factor in your behavior going forward.

Adoption Or Foster Care

I’ve been reading a book about one girl’s experiences in foster care to better inform myself about a system I have no experience with.  Adoption ?  Though not adopted myself nor have I given up a child to adoption, I have LOTS of experience – both parents were adoptees and both sisters gave up a child to adoption.  I also spend significant time each day within a private Facebook group that includes original parents, adoptees and former foster youth, and adoptive (or hopeful) parents.  I learn a lot there that broadens my perspectives.

Some of the major differences I am understanding – foster care does not alter the child’s identity (doesn’t change their name or birth certificate).  Foster care is less permanent or certain.  The goal in a lot of foster care is eventual reunification of the family unit.  The quality of foster care varies but a bad placement can be gotten out of.  Not all foster parents treat the foster child well nor do they really care about what is happening to the child.  Some actually do it for the money (NOT saying most or all do it for that reason).

Adoption is a PERMANENT solution to what is a temporary problem when talking about an unwed mother or a poverty situation.  Adoption does provide a more certain home environment than foster care does but the double edge sword is that if it is an awful placement, most of the time the child is simply trapped there (I’ve read enough nightmare stories to believe this).  That said, there are also “second chance” adoptions where the adoptive parents want to be rid of a troublesome child.  This is very sad for the child as it sends a debilitating message about the worth of that child.

Most of the time, adoptive parents change the child’s name and to some extent their cultural identity if it is a transracial adoption.  Some adoptive parents hide the date and/or location of the child’s birth to place an obstacle in the way of the parent/child unit reuniting.  Genetic family bonds are broken or permanently lost.  Even when such direct family is recovered later in life, so much life experience and inter-relationship is lost that it is nearly impossible to rebuild.  I understand this as I have been able to learn what my own parents could not – who my original grandparents were.  Along with learning that, I have acquired new family relationships with genetically related aunts and cousins.

I acknowledge that not all children are going to be parented by the people who gave birth to them.  This is a reality.  I would also argue that as a society we do NOT do enough to keep families intact and could do much better.  I would further add that MONEY plays a HUGE role in perpetuating the separation of mothers from their children.  That money could be better spent with less traumatic outcomes on the natural family and its supports.

When To Test

I read about a situation today where the genetic parents of a toddler who has been adopted want the adoptive parents to have the child’s DNA tested so that family connections are available for that child.  This is within a diverse adoption community and the responses were diverse as well.  It is true that in getting our DNA tested we have no idea how that identifying information may be used in the future.  Many of those commenting thought it should wait until the child was old enough to consent.  Many suggested the genetic parents do the tests so that it is out there if or when the child wants it.  Some believed it would have been helpful to them to have this information while they were yet a child.

I’ve had some experiences with adoption or donor conceived and DNA testing experiences.

Both of my parents were adoptees. I’ve done both Ancestry (my mom also did this one but it didn’t help her and yet, has been invaluable to me for learning ancestral relationships and my genetic family’s movements over time) and 23 and Me. Both have helped me be accepted by genetic relatives who might have doubted me otherwise. I’ve been able to make a few “good” connections and have a better sense of some of my family thanks to stories and photos shared. As to developing relationships with people I lost over 6 decades getting to know ? It is slow going though everyone has been nice to me.

Now on another front . . . both of my sons are donor egg conceived. We’ve never hidden this aspect of their conception from them and they have met the donor on several occasions. Fortunately she has an amazingly good perspective on it all. I waited until the oldest was 18 to gift him with 23 and Me. I knew the donor had done that one and before I gifted my son, I gifted my husband. After the older one received his results, I gifted the 15 yr old as well. He is mature and there was no reason to exclude him. It is uncomfortable but the GENETIC reality that the donor is listed as their Mother. They grew in my womb, nursed at my breast for a full year and have known no one else as “mom”. They seem to have processed it well as far as I can tell. Thankfully.

The adoptive mom of my nephew did Ancestry using only initials to identify him. It turned out (and she helped him in discovering this), my sister lied about who the father was on my nephew’s birth certificate. The Ancestry DNA test was their first suspicion. The effort though came at the nephew’s desire to know. He has since met his genetic father several times. They look remarkably alike and now my nephew has certainty.

My niece (child of a different sister) was also adopted and is going through some frustrations over her DNA results though her mother has given her the name of the genetic father. It can be a complicated and confusing experience.

There is one other nephew who was raised by his paternal grandparents. My sister lost custody in court when the paternal grandparents sued to possess him. This child is of mixed heritage – both white and Hispanic. He was raised in a very Hispanic family. His DNA shows a beautiful diversity.

No solutions, simply thoughts and examples.

When An Adoptee Becomes A Mother

Adoption is a lifelong process, and becoming a parent adds a layer of complexity as it causes adoptees to revisit, or consider for the first time, the losses that go along with adoption.

This can be surprising for adoptees that were comfortable with their family situation for a couple of decades.  I do remember (since both of my parents were adopted) that we had no medical history at the doctor’s office but we knew there was an explanation – adoption.

Adoption can be a delicate subject. The spectrum of the adoptee experience is vast, and the conversation often feels dominated by adoptive parents who have deeply ingrained fears about losing their child or children.  This is why I focus more on the adoptee and the original parents who usually have a diminished voice in society.

Feelings and issues are bound to come up when adoptees become parents themselves. Questions arise about family and cultural histories, medical concerns and the role of identity in the parenting experience. An adoptee frequently wonders, “Who am I, really?”

One adoptee shared this – “If there was a part of me that yearned for something – a hole that was difficult to fill – I didn’t connect that with being adopted. I struggled with anxiety and trust, and that worsened as I grew into adulthood. But I was certain I wanted to have biological kids — to create them, to grow them, to birth them. I didn’t know why I needed that, or why I was lonely and struggled to trust others. I just knew I needed to fill this hole, to find this missing piece.”

I have felt this with each of my three biological children – it is an emotional response when I see my baby for the first time, feeling a definite bond to that child. It is a tidal wave, taller and more powerful than falling in love. When an adoptee experiences this it is much more – like they had missed something their entire life but didn’t realized what it was until that moment.  The adoptee may even wonder if their mother felt something like that for them.  Or if she didn’t.  What did that say about their worthiness to be loved ?  I wonder if my adoptee mother had these sudden realizations.  She is deceased now and I can’t ask her about it.

An adoptee may struggle with how their own original mother could carry them for nine months and then simply let them go – permanently.

For many adoptee moms, this grief is new, something they don’t understand until they become pregnant themselves. New ways of thinking about their adoption often heighten the myriad emotions experienced during pregnancy and birth.

All adoption is rooted in trauma. Being separated from your original family, and from the woman who you grew inside of, is trauma. The baby does miss that heartbeat, that smell, that undeniable bond. For an adoptee during a pregnancy, it may feel quite novel to realize they are about to meet their very first blood relative.  Adoptees often experience an added layer of appreciation and gratitude for as well as an added connection to their children.