Surprising Reunions

Holly Shearer and Benjamin Hulleberg

Benjamin’s birth mother, Holly, was only 15 when she gave birth to him. When she was 6 months into her pregnancy, she began to search for adoptive parents for her baby. She feared that she would not be able to provide adequately for him.

Benjamin was given up to Angela and Brian Hulleberg on the day he was born, which just happened to be Thanksgiving Day in 2001. His adoption was never hidden from him and his adoptive parents talked to him about his biological mother.

Like many adoptees, including my own adoptee mom, Benjamin had always had a deep desire to meet his birth mother. He searched for her for many years. He’d written letters to adoption agencies of Utah, had his DNA tested and registered with the adoption registry. Nothing came of his efforts.

Like many birth mothers, Holly cared deeply about the baby she had given up for adoption and did a google search which found him on Facebook. 2 days before his 20th birthday, she took a risk to message him on Facebook – “You don’t know me but 20 years ago I made the hardest decision of my life and placed my beautiful little baby up for adoption with a beautiful family.”

Like many birth mothers, she was concerned about disrupting her son’s life, yet she simply wanted him to know that she had thought about him every day of his life. So she admitted that she finally found the courage to send him a message. She simply wanted to wish him a happy birthday.

When Benjamin saw the message, of course he wanted to meet her right away. So, they planned to have dinner and agreed that both of their families should be there to support them. On National Adoption Day, his wish became a reality. He discovered he had 2 half-siblings and that he was actually working at the same hospital that his birth mother worked at.

His mother is a medical assistant at the heart center at HCA Healthcare’s St. Mark’s Hospital. Hulleberg volunteered at the hospital’s neonatal intensive care unit. She notes that “Every morning, I would come in through the women’s pavilion to come into work. So, I passed right by the NICU every single day. We parked in the same garage, could have been on the same floor, had no idea that we were so close.”

After their reunion, Benjamin moved in with his mother, Holly. He also shares a coffee break with her each day before his shift in the NICU. He will leave soon to attend school in another Utah town.

~ today’s story courtesy of The Huffington Post.

Ethical Challenges in Adoption

So often in coming out of the fog of rainbows and unicorns fantasy adoption narratives, many domestic infant adoptive parents will say things like: “I didn’t know better, now I know,” “I was so uneducated before I adopted,” or “No one ever told me about adoption and trauma.”

Seriously that is not ok. You do not get a free pass for being ignorant and expecting others to teach you. I imagine you research the heck out of some of these things: vacations, restaurants, politics, how to do this or how to do that. Many of you probably spend hours on Pinterest pinning away.

How easy is it to learn about adoption trauma or the issues related to adoption ? Just google “Is adoption bad”, “issues in adoption”. In five minutes, you will learn about the 7 core issues adoptees face, you will learn all about adoption trauma, you will learn about the socio-economic disparity of expecting families considering adoption. Honestly, that simple research should lead you to spend more hours researching more in-depth and then, any person with any decent heart would not consider adopting any more.

I tried that google exercise to come up with something to write about today – yep, very quickly a couple of sites were chosen to share from.

At The Imprint, I found – Ethical Challenges Remain in The World of Private Adoptions by Daniel Pollack and Steven Baranowski from March 2021. From delving into the world of Georgia Tann and the Memphis Branch of the Tennessee Children’s Home Society in connection with my mom’s adoption, I already knew a lot about the early days of adoption. Dangerous informal child care arrangements in the early to mid 1900s have been replaced by a patchwork of state and federal laws, regulations and child care practices meant to serve the best interests of everyone associated with adoption, but we continue to allow for ethically concerning “wrongful” adoptions.  

Over the last two decades, the National Association of Social Workers developed a Code of Ethics and child welfare practices have evolved and stronger assessment practices related to approval of adoptive parents have been established. Despite these advances, social workers have found themselves observing or being caught up in ethically challenging adoption practices that have continued to lead to unethical family disruptions and poorly implemented adoption policies, all of which have created more “wrongful adoptions” and a continued mistrust of the profession. 

Disrupting family structures for the so-called “best interest” of the child is the most ethically challenging aspect of adoption and child welfare practices. The rescuing of “orphan” children from “Third World” countries has led to an increase in human trafficking and is the most blatant form of family disruptions for the sake of making money through the guise of a legal adoption. 

All social workers are expected to promote social justice, the dignity of the person and to call out dishonesty and fraud. Ethical social work practice demands social workers focus on the rights of children and families to determine their own future, while advocating for transparent legislative oversight, protections for “whistleblowers” and increased education and social justice activism to eliminate wrongful practices. Another important aspect is the typically rushed adoption placement practice that occurs in many private infant adoptions.

There is more available from the article above at the link shared. The other site I found was at Mom Junction and was titled 7 Common Problems & Challenges Of Adoption written by Debolina Raja as recently as May 24 2022 (just days ago). The image illustrating this blog came from there.

Here’s the list (you can read more about each one at the link) –

  1. Financial Challenges
  2. Legal Challenges
  3. Intercountry Adoption
  4. Health Challenges
  5. Emotional Challenges
  6. Cultural Challenges
  7. Ethical Challenges

Try the google experiment – you just may learn something you didn’t know before. And always, research exhaustively. Something as important as this should not be decided based upon emotions or a desire to “do good” in the world.

Looking Back Before Moving Forward

It’s typically a time of the year to reflect on everything that has happened during the last year. It’s always grounding to look back and reminisce on every moment that has stood out. Our local newspaper does this every year – the first 6 months in the issue before New Years and the last 6 month in the first issue published after New Years. It doesn’t matter whether our moments have been positive, negative, happy, sad, or a mix. Every moment we live through shapes us into the individuals that we are today.

I will probably continue to try and write a new blog every day. I learn so much doing this as I don’t constrain myself to repeating my own family’s story over and over again because that really would get boring not only for me but for any readers of my blog. I often share other stories related to adoption that I come across – usually excerpts with a link to the full article. Often I make personal comments within my blog that an article triggers me to think of.

So, yes it’s also a time to look towards the future. Maybe you’ve heard the saying, “New year, new me!” but I don’t perceive anything really new about me or anything truly new under the sun that might be shared in this blog. I never know however when someone may discover an old one in a google search or come across my blog in some random way, so I don’t really expect there will be any earth shattering changes in the content that I write about. Just pounding on many of the same points over and over again, to maybe reach someone who has become receptive to the way I am viewing adoption now – thanks to so much emotional labor shared on social media by adoptees and former foster care youth. I have NO New Year’s resolutions related to my own work here, which my daughter has referred to as my seeming mission. My goal remains trying to come up with something I have not written or shared before and to do so almost every day (I do occasionally miss one). I expect that I will just keep going because I am not ready to give it up yet.

Some foster children or newly adopted ones have been through a lot of trauma. It is reasonable to understand that the holidays may have a negative connotation for them, or they have nothing to relate enjoying a holiday to. One woman writes – I know for my adopted siblings, they were able to look at the first new year that they spent with us as a clean slate. They had lived a life that no child should live before and during foster care. Since we were planning to adopt them before my parents went to meet them, this was the first time that they had a sense of stability. I understand that this is a hard concept to grasp, especially for those who didn’t grow up in the system. Imagine not knowing where your next meal is coming from, who you’re going to be with, where you’re going to be, and if this foster family loves you and willingly keeps you. These thoughts are constantly nagging in the back of their heads, but now it’s like a breath of fresh air.

And so, to you who are foster parents, it may be difficult to not use language regarding the future of your foster kids. It is completely full of unknowns and can be scary for these kids. Put emphasis on the future they can expect with YOU. It may be helpful to reassure them that you will be there for them – while they’re in your home and that you will make sure that they are taken care of.

Acknowledging that some parts of today’s blog were assisted by – How to Celebrate New Years As a New Adoptive/Foster Family? by Emily Perez a stay-at-home mom with a BS in Elementary Education from Eastern Oregon University. When she was younger, her parents did foster care and adopted 5 children from all walks of life to become her siblings.

A Reunion That Came Almost Too Late

David Rosenberg and Margaret Katz

50 years after the unwed teenage mother gave birth in a maternity home and lost her son to adoption through the Louise Wise agency, mother and son finally were reunited not long before David died of thyroid cancer. She was a victim of the baby scoop era. Their story really isn’t all that remarkable to anyone who has been deeply researching all things adoption for any length of time.

However, thanks to a new book – American Baby: A Mother, A Child, And The Shadow History Of Adoption by journalist Gabrielle Glaser recently published, their story joins legions of others who have endured similar trajectories. And like many others, the revelations they were hoping for came by way of inexpensive, publicly available DNA testing. In this case, 23 and Me.

The journalist was working on an article about kidney transplants in 2007 when she met David Rosenberg. He admitted to her that that one reason he’d agreed to media coverage was his dream that “somewhere on the vast internet,” a young Jewish woman who’d given up a baby for adoption in 1961 would see his picture, “his black eyes, his thick, strong hands, cleft chin, and broad smile” — and recognize her son. Even so, it would be another 7 years before his dream came true.

There was a woman, Margaret Katz, who had a matching dream of finding the son she lost in 1961, when she was a 16 year old and rather than let her marry her high school sweetheart, her parents sent her away to a maternity home on Staten Island. These stories hit “close” to home for me personally. My mom was that 16 year old unwed mother. Her high school sweetheart was my dad. They have both passed away. I sincerely believe that if my dad’s humble adoptive parents had not intervened to encourage him to forgo his dreams of a college diploma (which he had only just embarked upon) and marry her, I would have been adopted similarly. In learning about the stories of both of my parents, both of whom were adopted, the surprising realization for me has been the miracle I was not given up, that my mom wasn’t sent away by her banker dad and socialite mother to have and give me up.

Many people have heard about the Georgia Tann scandal involving the Tennessee Children’s Home in Memphis Tennessee. She was involved in my mom’s adoption. Some people may have been aware that The Salvation Army was known for its own homes for unwed mothers. My dad was born at their Door of Hope in Ocean Beach, a suburb of San Diego, California. Some people are aware of the role that Catholic Charities has played in the adoption – for profit – industry. Some may have watched the old movie, Blossoms in the Dust, about Edna Gladney who also became renown for facilitating adoptions.

In the case of David and Margaret and the new book, it is the Louise Wise agency – which I have had less awareness of except – oh yes, there were the relatively recent revelations known as “Three Identical Strangers,” about triplets separated at birth as part of a nature vs nurture study. Louise Wise is notorious for the medical and psychological analyses, hare-brained experiments on newborns, that she is pilloried for today. In the meantime, having separated the baby from the mother (who wasn’t even allowed to hold him after his birth), these infants were kept in foster care for months, while the agency extracted money from hopeful adoptive parents, who had to pay to remain on waiting lists. 

Many adoption agencies lied, as I now know Georgia Tann did in the case of my mother. They would often obscure the race of a baby. (Since most white couples wanted white babies, biracial children often languished in foster care till adulthood.) They lied about how they came by a baby (if they had snatched the baby from a Native American reservation, for instance). They also embellished the biographies of the baby’s birth parents. And this is what happened in my own mother’s case – where her poverty stricken parents were presented as unfortunate college students who got caught by pregnancy for having sex before marriage (all of that untrue and they were married but separated).

In the case of this new book’s story, Louise Wise wrote that Margaret was a gifted scholar who wanted to continue her studies at a prestigious science school (untrue), and that George was a fair-skinned, freckled college student (he was swarthy and still in high school). Couples who couldn’t conceive were so desperate for a child that they didn’t ask questions.  Also true of my own mother’s financially comfortable parents when they adopted her, only to later discover what they were told and some of the information in the surrender papers was contradictory. By then she had been in their home for a couple of years and they were not going to give her up, though they lacked complete peace of mind about her pre-adoption circumstances.

I don’t know if I will actually read this new book. I’m certain it is a good one and it is easy to find rather detailed reviews simply by doing a Google search. I’ve just read so many and I have more or less moved on from that intensive research period I went through myself, as I learned my own parents pre-adoption stories.