Child Collectors

Jeane and Paul Briggs have 34 children – 29 of whom were adopted from other countries including Mexico, Ghana and Ukraine. 

Today, I saw the term “child collectors”. This is applies to people who adopt a lot of kids. It is not all that uncommon to see 10 adopted children in one family and sometimes it is because they are siblings. We have collected antique tractors and have met collectors who just couldn’t stop collecting. I wanted an image for that term and went looking in google images for “Large Families of Adopted Children” and found this one.

Their story was hosted by the BBC – “The family with 34 children – and counting.” There is a part of me that recoils. It seems obscene. But now that I have gotten here, I’ll look into it some more. It seems more like a group home or orphanage than a family situation to my own heart. The couple has 5 biological children in addition to the 29 they have adopted.

The Briggs family lives in West Virginia. Their odyssey began with a badly beaten, blind, 2 year old child in a Mexican orphanage. That child is now 31 years old and has thrived.  He has a girlfriend and  is a naturally talented musician who can play the piano and guitar and composes his own music. Okay so far.

In December 2014, when this story was written, the couple was anticipating the arrival of two more children that they were in the process of adopting, baby boys from Ghana. The three month old babies were abandoned in the bush.

There is only one word that comes to mind because “church” is mentioned in relation to Jeane and what motivated her to adopt the first one – saviorism. There is a missionary agenda here to convert more souls in the service of the church’s reason for existing.

Over the past 29 years, as more children have arrived, the Briggs’s house has been adapted for their expanding family. It now has nine bedrooms – two of which resemble dormitories – and at over 5,000 square feet, the building is more than twice its original size. The family’s grocery bill averages $1,000/week (back in 2014) but thanks Paul’s well-paid job and Jeane’s careful budgeting, they have been able to meet their expenses.

And no surprise, Jeane has been home-schooling the children for nearly 30 years. This is not uncommon among Evangelical Christians. My sons have been educated at home but we don’t do it for religious reasons. Every homeschooling family we’ve met regionally does it for religious reasons. Thanks to the strength of the Christian persuasion in Missouri politics, we are not troubled about the choice we made for our own sons. We have our own reasons. We are reasonably well educated and informed people who work at home, older parents, and are happy to have our children with us 24/7. This was a decided advantage for my family during the pandemic lockdowns.

Some of the Briggs children still have first families that they are encouraged to keep in contact with. Sometimes of the children speak to relatives on the phone and Jeane will send pictures to let those back home know the children are doing well. She says, “They may have our last name but if there is a relative, then we are glad that child has two families who love them. My husband and I don’t need to be the first Mom and Dad to them.”

From a young age, Jeane was concerned with the bigger issues affecting society and was particularly interested in orphans and adoption. Even then, she knew she wanted a large family – although she never expected it would be this big. She said, “Even as a child, I knew I would adopt and have a large family. Faith has been the biggest motivation… every child should have a loving family.” I rest my case about how religion drives adoption. Certainly, many of the Briggs children came from difficult backgrounds and I do agree that EVERY child should have a loving family.

Jeane and Paul Briggs

Epigenetics At Work

Adoption does not just negatively affect the adoptee emotionally. Adoption affects their children … for life! You know, the hopeful adoptive parent’s and adoptive parent’s future grandchildren! It has nothing to do with how great an adoptive parent you are to that child. Separation trauma is imprinted in our brains and that experience changes our DNA.

So if that trauma from being separated from your mother, then later in life resulted in you having anxiety, bouts of depression, anger issues or any other mental health challenge, rest assured you likely passed these traits onto your kids.

Adoptive parents and hopeful adoptive parents: This is NOT ok. It is NOT ok to screw up future generations, just because you want to build your family but can’t you can’t conceive naturally, are infertile. That is some serious selfish crap.

Your choices affect not only your adopted kids, but their children – your grandchildren, even your great grandchildren. These issues are not coming from their biological genetic family – as so many adoptive parents prefer to project the causes onto other people. They are coming directly from the act of adoption. You, the adoptive parents, contributed to this in a very big way. You bear responsibility.

Sit with that.

Rant aside – here’s an example –

My grandfather was “adopted” but I put it in quotation marks because he didn’t know that he was adopted until after his adoptive parents passed and my father was a young adult. Our family does *not* talk about it. But my brother and cousin and I all have a difficult time with believing in relationship permanence. We constantly expect relationships to just pull a 180 on us, despite not being able to point to any particular extreme example of this in our own lives. Alternatively, my grandmother and uncles grew up in a group home. She later went on to teach there. When I think of my “heritage” that’s usually the first place that comes to mind. Those were the people at my family reunions who could tell me what my grandmother and great uncles were like and if I was like them. There’s no one to do that for my grandad because his entire community and a family betrayed him. When people ask me about the origins of my last name, I don’t know what to say because “I don’t know, they were some random awful people that found my grandfather and then lied to him for his whole life” is not the answer people are wanting to hear.

Another person had this comment –

Adoption trauma snakes its way through both the biological families and the adoptive families! ADDRESSING this truth is minimized and rarely talked about – except in adoption loss circles! I’ve been in reunion for 18 years – lived adoption loss for 50 years! I know what I am describing!!!!!The loss of a newborn baby to an agency, which then hands the baby to complete strangers is heinous! Heinous! The families affected by the loss of myself as a newborn babe are broken. Words to process the loss are hard to find. Generational affects are serious – tragic.

A more graphic description – I feel the darkness of adoption loss, coercion and money exchange for a newborn babe creates a ”creepy crawly rash of the mind” inside any person involved in the failure to protect the sanctity of the mother/child primal bond. To deal with that ugly rash – to hide it – to pretend it’s not there – to fully look at and accept what the loss of a child’s mother means to satisfy the need to feel normal (gotta have a babeeeee) would take more courage than most people can muster. Falling on the floor courage – the darkness is heavy. The rash can not be seen. The truth cannot surface. To witness the fall to the floor? Can’t unsee it – ever! Life changing. Instead….pretending adoption is just grand – best – needed – soothes that itchy rash but cannot heal the source of it.

Another story – my parent was adopted in a step-parent adoption (yet raised by biological mom), and their adoptive parent did absolutely everything to keep the other biological parent and half-siblings connected… and before this was a societal discussion. It could certainly be described as the closest to “ideal” an adoption can get. Although, there was literal abandonment on several occasions by my biological grandfather — who was adopted in a closed infant adoption. (My parent was their first child, and first biological connection.) By the time I was born, I grew up with biological and adoptive grandparents in equal measure. I just had two sets of grandparents. But I always felt something was off. I always felt “different” from my cousins (from my parent’s half-siblings), like something was wrong, but everything was fine….? It’s hard to describe even now. Learning about the effects has allowed me to understand my parent’s experience so much better and see parts of them more clearly than I did before. I showed me the ways that adoption trauma had snaked through my family and impacted my life and nervous system even though I had no first hand experience with it. And I can see the impacts even down to my daughter (who is 3 generations removed from the original trauma).The impact of generational trauma should not be underestimated!

Foster Girl

Foster care is a cause that affects you whether you realize it or not. Your tax dollars fund the care of these throwaway children in your community, and you pay for their outcomes as adults who experience homelessness, incarceration and another generational cycle of welfare.  The majority of outcomes are tragic for kinless, abused, or neglected teens that age out of the system and transition into the real world inadequately prepared.

Georgette Todd has written a book that chronicles her difficult childhood that included sexual abuse and drug use.  It could not have been easy to dig deep into all of her experiences.  Due to her effort to educate herself and make it into college, she has learned to write well.  After earning BA and MA degrees, she worked at an adoption agency.  She eventually ended up providing the youth perspective for the Alameda County Child Welfare Dept in a program called the Youth Advocacy Program. She was in charge of presenting the emancipated foster youth perspective and recommendations about department policies and practices.

Todd outlines the basic premises of the foster care system approach.  The US foster care system is far from perfect. There needs to be a systematic way to save children from abusive and neglectful homes.  The purpose of the system is to place an abused or neglected child with a safe, loving relative that lives in the child’s original community.  If proximity is not available, then the foster child will live wherever the biological relative resides. Until then, children are placed into receiving homes, emergency foster homes, or whatever facility is available.  If the social worker cannot find a biological relative to care for the child, then efforts to secure a more permanent placement take priority. Permanence can mean adoption or long-term foster care in a group home or house setting.

These are the key goals of foster care but these plans don’t always pan out. Bureaucracies don’t always work.  Unfortunately, many foster children end up in understaffed group homes and inadequate facilities. They also go into crowded juvenile halls or wind up going out on the street hustling for survival.

I selected Todd’s book because I belong to a private Facebook group called Adoption: Facing Realities.  The members are adoptees, former foster youth, expectant mothers, original parents who permanently lost custody of their child and adoptive (including those who hope to) parents.  Some find the perspectives in this group difficult.  The mission of this group is to help expectant mothers believe in their ability to raise their own children, and not to chose a permanent solution to a temporary problem.

Though adoption figures prominently in my reason for joining this Facebook group, I’ve become more aware of foster care because of this group.  And I realized I really had no real life background experience with which to understand foster care.  Though Georgette Todd’s book is only one experience among thousands, I did gain the perspective on the system by reading her full childhood experience of it that I was seeking.  The book may not be a good choice for victims of sexual abuse and former foster youth may not need to read it for the reasons I have.  If a former foster youth wishes to compare experiences, then that may be a reason.

Some related links –

Georgette has a website – www.georgettetodd.com.  She was a participant in a 30 minute documentary about the foster care experience which you can watch on youtube here – https://youtu.be/hS5JVSTf4LA.

I am not inclined to do Facebook birthday fundraisers but for this year only, I am doing one to support the work of Connect Our Kids, which I learned about at the end of Georgette Todd’s book.  They are applying technology to help social workers located extended family for displaced children that may be able to care for them.  Kinship is often, but not always, a better option for many children.  Modern families are far flung and often lose track of one another.  I set a modest fundraising goal of $200 and donated the first $25 myself.  Here’s the link, if you would like to help the cause – https://www.facebook.com/donate/310497696609444/