The Pain of Adoption

It’s my 68th birthday and besides the usual busyness amongst so much sorrow and reasons for global level concern, I’m a bit short on time too. So sharing this worthy blog from my adoptee friend, Ande

I have been asked if I think losing a parent is the same as being adopted. No, it is not. Plenary adoption is the legal loss of identity, history, family.

Being adopted also does not mean you won’t then lose one of your Adoptive parents. Many of us do. Some to death, like I did. Others to divorce or the end of a relationship. Then, if we are able to find out who our parents are, many of us discover that they are dead, or emotionally unavailable.

People who, while still children, have lost a parent to death know that this is a pain other do not understand. The only people I have ever met who understand what that was like for me, are people who also had a parent die.

But it’s not the same as the pain of adoption.

I have lived for almost forty years with a person whose father walked away when he was a small child. I know from talking with and observing him that this loss has had a profound impact on his life. I do not in any way want to invalidate that loss. It is real, and it is painful.

It’s just not, the same. Adoption is another layer of trauma that non-adoptees do not understand. Please grant us the same respect you wish for us to show your lived experience.

Poetry For April

April is poetry month. My friend, Ande Stanley (a late discovery adoptee) wrote a poem for her The Adoption Files WordPress blog that I think a lot of adoptees could relate to, and so I share.

My parents (both adoptees) wanted their ashes scattered on Elephant Butte Lake in New Mexico. We had to be careful because it is not recommended. Most likely against the law. The first time, my daughter and I went out with my dad to scatter my mom’s ashes. That was a wild and crazy ride for both of us in his boat with my dad !!

When my dad died only 4 months later, my aunt (my dad’s half sister by his second adoptive father), my middle sister and her daughter, as well as me and my daughter went to scatter his ashes also on the lake, as that was his wish, but we did not take my dad’s boat out that time. We just stood on a dock near their last residence. Some official came along because we didn’t have a permit to take our car into lake property (it is a state park). My sister was hiding the cremation box under her jacket. LOL We did get the deed done. My aunt took the photo below. Maybe I should not go into the story of how the crematorium stole my parents rings . . . always make certain you get them back is all I can say.

Feb 9 2016, Ash Day

Inside Grandma’s Womb

I think I already knew that all the eggs a woman has were there in her ovaries at the time of her birth. Since we did not grow up with my maternal grandmother (due to my mom having been adopted), I feel a definite fondness for my maternal grandmother who never had another child after having lost my mom due the the schemes of Georgia Tann during her days of stealing and selling babies in Memphis TN to enhance her own wealth. In some strange way, it makes me happy to know that even though Tann could take my mom away from my grandmother, she couldn’t take my grandmother out of the core beginning of each of us.

My mom certainly yearned to know her own mother and was devastated when seeking her adoption file from Tennessee (who denied her as her father’s status of alive or dead was not ascertained) told her that her mother had died some years before.

There is a strong maternal line running down from my grandmother to my mother to me and to my daughter and then my granddaughter. My mom looked a lot like her mother at a certain age. I love feeling that mirror showing through. It is also a happy thought that when I was in my mom’s womb, my daughter’s seed was forming and when she was in my womb, my granddaughter’s seed was forming. We are all connected. Sweet.

Shock And Confusion

Ashley John-Baptiste

I was drawn to this man’s story in The Guardian because such unexpected events are happening more often these days thanks to social media and inexpensive DNA testing.

He had entered foster care while only still a toddler. He had been in four foster homes and a residential care home, all across south-east London, by the time he aged out at 18. He had always believed he was an only child. In his mid-20s, he received a message on social media from a stranger, about 10 years older than him, who claimed to be his brother. Turned out he was a half-brother, they shared the same father. This older man had been one of his baby-sitters when he was very young. And he knew this man had at least three other siblings.

After aging out, he was rebuilding his life. He had gotten a degree and was employed as a BBC journalist. This unexpected note from a stranger on Facebook had collided with his already fractured identity, raising a wave of questions about who he was and where he came from.

At the time, the two never went on to meet in person. They messaged each other a bit for a few weeks and of course, he scoured the man’s Facebook profile, but they didn’t pursue a more intimate relationship. Years passed without any contact – until the first COVID lockdown.

His partner had given birth to his first child and they were at a hospital for a routine well-baby check. He spotted a man outside the building. They locked eyes. Weirdly, perhaps, he recognized the man instantly. He was the half-brother who had got in touch with him all those years ago. He looked exactly the same in person as he did in his profile picture.

So, he called out the man’s name and, to his relief, the man also recognized him. They stood there, outside the hospital, chatting. Time stood still. In that moment, it felt as if they had known each other their whole lives. There was a deep knowing. Nothing was awkward about it. If anything, it felt too normal.

He said at the hospital visiting his sick mother. He introduced the man to his baby. They took a photo together and even made plans to catch up properly in the near future but since that chance encounter, they haven’t met again.

For ages after that meeting, he was consumed with questions about his past. Why did social workers and foster carers tell him he was an only child? How could no one in authority not know about his siblings? Do children’s services even care about, or prioritize learning about, the family histories of looked-after children?

Sadly, he still has not had any contact with his other siblings. At this point, all he has is that photo of his half-brother who is his baby daughter’s uncle. Even so, he says this – “Although I don’t know, and may never know, these siblings on a personal level, they serve as a touch point to understanding my past and my sense of identity. Knowing they exist reassures me that I am a part of something bigger than myself. . . . knowing they are alive and well is more than enough for me.”

Believing in Colorblindness is a Privilege

Colin Kaepernick with his parents, Teresa Kaepernick, Rick Kaepernick and girlfriend, Nessa Diab

Read the link to Colin’s story at the end of this blog to understand more completely why his photo is here.

Articles that mention adoption always catch my attention. Today, I saw one in the Huffington Post – Like Colin Kaepernick, I Wish My Adoptive Family Had Talked About Race by Melissa Guida-Richards. She was adopted from Colombia in 1993 and her adoptive parents were one of many that believed in the colorblind ideology. Her adoptive parents believed that giving a child a loving home was all that was necessary. 

For most of her life, the family didn’t talk about her race and ethnicity. Actually, she was not aware of her true racial identity until she was 19 and found her adoption paperwork. Her parents had believed that if they raised her as Latina, she would be treated differently than the rest of the family. However, people often questioned her about where she was from ― particularly when her adoptive family wasn’t around. When she was out in public with her white parents, she found that she was included under their umbrella of privilege. But the moment she was out on her own, people treated her differently.

Many BIPOC adoptees eventually learn that the world is divided into how they are perceived with their adoptive families versus when they are alone. And this is especially true in today’s climate where an Asian adoptee shopping for groceries can be attacked, a Black adoptee pulled over by police is potentially in danger, or a Latina adoptee walking in their town is told to go back to their own country. Adoptive families can think that it will never happen to their child, but for most transracial adoptees, it does. It’s just part of the reality of being a person of color.

Transracial adoptees do not have the privilege of believing in colorblindness. It can be fatal for a Black adoptee to “forget” that they are Black. If that adoptee approaches a police officer the same way their white parents do, they could find themselves in danger. When adoptive parents do not properly prepare their transracial adoptee for a racialized world, they are left playing a game of catch-up that they hopefully can win before it costs them their very life.

Current policies disallow considering race when placing children in adoptive homes. This is due to laws like the Multiethnic Placement Act (MEPA), which prevents child welfare agencies that receive federal funding from denying or delaying a child’s placement based on race. MEPA was amended in 1996 to establish that states could be fined for using race in placement decisions. While MEPA also requires agencies to “diligently recruit families that reflect the racial diversity of the children in need of homes,” it does not fine states that fail to do so.

Currently over 70% of adoptive parents are white and over half of adopted children are of a different race than their adoptive parents. One key issue with MEPA was that, while it made it significantly easier for white middle-class adoptive parents to adopt children of other races, it neglected to require anti-racism and transracial adoption education before or after placement.

The adoption industry perpetuates the idea that adoption ends in a beautiful happily ever after. When we think of adoption as an ending, we forget that it has a lasting, constant impact throughout the adopted person’s life, not just their childhood. Race should not be an afterthought in adoption. Adoptees are often pressured to be grateful and simply be happy that they have a family, to forget all of the challenges and trauma they experience.

When you are a person of color, you know how the world sees and treats you, and when your family refuses to be open to simple conversations about ethnicity and race, you start to wonder what’s so negative about acknowledging your identity. It impacts how you see yourself and how you believe your family sees you.

The author found that her adoptive family avoiding conversations of racial differences led to her having feelings of rejection and shame. She struggled to understand how her parents and relatives could love all of her, when they refused to acknowledge a big piece of her identity. Adoptive parents need to get comfortable having uncomfortable conversations about race. Race may be a construct but its ramifications are very real.

At the beginning of her essay, the author also mentions Kaepernick’s interview in Ebony magazine. Worth the quick read.

Silenced Women

When I saw this graphic, it went straight to my heart like an arrow. My grandmothers, forced by circumstances to give up their first born, and in two cases only child (which includes a grandfather who never was given the benefit to know he had a son), to go on with their lives as though nothing happened.

I don’t think I’ll ever truly 100% get over it and I probably should not because adoption is still a thing that drives mothers and their babies apart. I now have an unflinching awareness of what it means to be adopted.

At almost 70 years old now, having to live through a full 6 decades before I knew the truths of my origins, I do fell as though I was born to re-connect the broken threads of my family’s beginnings, that I have somehow managed to fulfill my destiny in having been born at all.

In learning about my family’s ancestors, I also discovered what a miracle it was that in the mid-1950s, I was not given up for adoption, with my parents forced to suffer the same fate their own parents encountered. My teenage mother and my father only having just started on his university studies – both interrupted when I decided to take up residence in my mother’s womb.

My grandparents could not tell their own stories of loss that hurts for a lifetime because no one would have been sympathetic regarding their plight but for adult adoptees today, there is a growing awareness of the trauma and pain of being cut off from one’s roots and some are even choosing to attempt parenting when they had thought to give up their child and they are finding a lot of support in society all around them.

May the reform of attitudes continue to take over the dominant narrative that adoption saves babies and children from a worse fate.

What Pro-Family Preservation Is And Is Not

I would NEVER advocate for ANY child to remain in an abusive or neglectful environment. That’s NOT what being pro-family preservation is about.

A family is a fundamental institution that provides a sense of identity and feelings of belonging. However, conflicts can affect the functioning of the family, which endangers a child’s development. In homes where there is a high level of conflict between parents, the children are at a greater risk of developing issues with concentration and managing their emotions.

A surprising 70% to 80% of Americans consider their families dysfunctional. While violence, abuse, and neglect are common forms of dysfunction, many families reported feelings of estrangement, emotional disconnection, and non-traditional family structures as well.

This has led to the development of family preservation services to strengthen the community and ensure safe environments for children. The aim is to create good quality parenting that advocates for emotional support and positive reinforcement within families to reduce conflicts.

Family preservation is a movement by state and child welfare agencies aimed at helping families cope with whatever stressors are affecting their ability to nurture children. This movement grew due to the recognition that family separation leaves some lasting adverse effects on the children. It’s possible to protect children from unwarranted traumas by offering information, guidance, and support to parents.

Millions of children worldwide live in care institutions worldwide, but a shocking 80% of kids living in children’s homes have at least one living parent. The increased number of orphanage-style institutions—coupled with an increase in people wanting to adopt babies—has motivated families in vulnerable situations to willingly take their children to the orphanage. Most of the parents who would do this are simply hoping this will give their children a better life.

Although these institutions offer refuge to such children, even the best caregivers can never replace biological families. The separation from family can harm the child emotionally and affect their cognitive behavior. The effects are worse the younger the child is and an infant is as much at risk of separation trauma as an older child. Do not think because they are preverbal that they don’t have an instinct for the mother who gestated and birthed them.

Family preservation services can benefit any parent who needs a non-judgmental environment to learn parenting strategies and other beneficial skills for their families. Typically, all families will face financial, employment, parenting, substance abuse, or illness cycles that affect the bond between members. In such challenging times, rather than giving up on your family, you need the proper support to help you safely stay together.

Much of the above (with some minor modifications from me) came from the source of my image – Camelot Care Center. There is more about their services at the link. I am not recommending them or do I have any complaint against what they do. I simply wanted to address that wishing to see fewer children adopted and more vulnerable families supported does not mean that I do not recognize that some families are in difficult straits for whatever reason. Some of those children will end up being removed. Some of those will be placed into foster care. Others may be adopted. If there is any good quality to their parents, that is where they need to grow up.

What If ?

Sunday contemplative question –

What if, in order to adopt, you were the ones who had to join the child’s family of origin instead of vice versa. Would you still do it? If in order to “build your family” you’d have to lose your first one, would you still do it? If there was a good chance, if it was probable you’d never see your current family again, would you still do it? If you had to join a family with different customs, nationality, country, ethnicity, color… Would you still do it?

Many might argue that babies are too young and mentally undeveloped to remember their families. A baby does spend 9 months intimately involved with their mother. I recently read that oral memory traditions are from female biology, an epigenetic transgenerational process embedded with tacit knowledge, knowing without being taught.

Anti-Natalism

I have seen adoptees state that they wish they had been aborted. I had not heard of Anti-Natalism but apparently it is a thing. Back when I was concerned about over-population, I could have understood this concept better. With the pandemic, it appears the planet is going to experience a huge die off before it is all over.

So I discovered this concept today when someone in my all things adoption group posted – How do you all deal with anti natalism? How would you prefer people not adopted to deal with that discussion when it does come up? One of the number one things these people seem to say is adopt, even if you can have kids, because there’s too many people and it’s horrible if you procreate while others don’t have a home. This has been frequently debunked as a myth. Poverty is the number one cause of children being separated from their original parents. In the case of both of my parents, that was certainly the issue – not whether their mothers would have rather kept and raised them.

Back in 2019, The Guardian had an article (I wish I’d never been born: the rise of the anti-natalists) about this with subtitle – Adherents view life not as a gift and a miracle, but a harm and an imposition. And their notion that having children may be a bad idea seems to be gaining mainstream popularity.

The basic tenet of anti-natalism is simple but, for most of us, profoundly counterintuitive: that life, even under the best of circumstances, is not a gift or a miracle, but rather a harm and an imposition. According to this logic, the question of whether to have a child is not just a personal choice but an ethical one – and the correct answer is always no.

In my all things adoption group, the first comment was – infant adoption is a for-profit industry and feeds into producing babies as a commodity, so also contributes to over population. Adopting or (even better) providing guardianship for teens with a Termination of Parental Rights background who are currently in in foster care would be much more ethical.

In another’s perspective – They’re applying an argument that makes sense for animals to humans, because they don’t see the difference. With pets, if more people adopt from shelters, then that saves lives, and puts puppy mills out of business. (In the Missouri Ozarks where I live – puppy mills are a hot issue.) And someone else quickly noted –  even in the dog world, this isn’t true. It’s a lot more complicated than that. I’d agree.

Another explained – I’m an adoptee and childfree by choice. It’s astounding how many people throw adoption round as a solution to infertility. There needs to be so much more education done around why this is wrong and support given to people to make their own choices…eg not everyone has to want or have children.

Another one found the argument confusing –  how do anti-natalism and adoption go hand in hand with the argument that you shouldn’t pro create. You should take someone else’s baby instead ? How does that solve the problem ? How is that any more ethical ?

Someone else explained – Anti Natalists are against people giving birth or choosing to make a baby in general. This does come across sometimes as not wanting children at all, but it doesn’t always go hand in hand. It reaches into adoption because it doesn’t automatically mean they dislike children or don’t want them, but rather that they tend to think it’s unethical to create life in a distressful world/ the earth is dying/there’s too many kids without parents/ why create something that will suffer/overpopulation/ other reasons I can’t remember at the moment, so they adopt rather than creating their own, if they do want to become parents.

Here’s the truth – adoption isn’t the answer for anti-natalism. Adoption is trauma regardless the intent. So if they’re about being ethical, I think they should do a little little more research on adoption trauma before they push that agenda.

Another noted – Usually people who are childfree by choice are very pro-abortion.  The foundation of the philosophy is that humans already born take precedence over the unborn or not yet conceived. That there is a finite amount of space/resources and we are close to exceeding or have already, thus births/continuous growth should be avoided.

The bottom line was – If you think it’s horrible to procreate, then don’t. But don’t traumatize children and families, so you can still fulfill YOUR dream of a family. If you really strongly believe it’s awful to have biological kids, no one is forcing you. But don’t look for a way out – that’s just as selfish, if not more so.

Adoption Vows

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So here was one suggestion –

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

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

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

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

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