National Adoption Month and Teens

It’s that time of year again. Yes, November. National Adoption Awareness Month.

From Child Welfare dot gov – National Adoption Month is an initiative of the Children’s Bureau that seeks to increase national awareness of adoption issues, bring attention to the need for adoptive families for teens in the US foster care system, and emphasize the value of youth engagement. We have focused our efforts on adoption for teens because we know that teens in foster care wait longer for permanency and are at higher risk of aging out than younger children. Teens need love, support, and a sense of belonging that families can provide. Securing lifelong connections for these teens, both legally and emotionally, is a critical component in determining their future achievement, health, and well-being.

This year’s National Adoption Month theme is “Conversations Matter.” Incorporating youth engagement into daily child welfare practice can start with a simple conversation. Listen to what the young person has to say, what their goals are, and how they feel about adoption. Create an environment where they can be honest and ask questions. Youth are the experts of their own lives, so let them partner with you in permanency planning and make decisions about their life.

In 2019, there were over 122,000 children and youth in foster care waiting to be adopted who are at risk of aging out without a permanent family connection. Approximately one in five children in the U.S. foster care system waiting to be adopted are teens. Teens, ages 15-18, wait significantly longer for permanency when compared to their peers. Only 5% of all children adopted in 2019 were 15-18 years old. There is a high risk of homelessness and human trafficking for teenagers who age out of foster care.

More statistics from 2019 (the most recent year data is available) – of the 122,000 children and youth waiting to be adopted: 52% are male, 48% are female, 22% are African American, 22% are Hispanic, 44% are white, while the average age is 8 years old – 11 percent are between 15 and 18 years old.

The History of National Adoption Month –

In 1976, Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis announced an Adoption Week to promote awareness of the need for adoptive families for children in foster care.

In 1984, President Reagan proclaimed the first National Adoption Week. In 1995, President Clinton expanded the awareness week to the entire month of November.

Too Old ?

It is still Foster Care Awareness Month and today, the questions was asked – Should someone in their 50s be able to adopt infants and toddlers from foster care ?

I encounter this as an older mom from time to time. I responded – Recently, visiting my primary care doctor, my youngest son came up and she asked – how old is he ? I said 16-1/2. She did the math quickly – you had him at 50 ? I said, yep. I know this is about adoption and foster care but honestly, it really depends on so many factors. My grandmothers both lost their YOUNG mothers when one of them was 3 mos old and the other one when she was 11 yrs old. The length on any life is simply not guaranteed. I do think health matters. I was put through a whole battery of tests including a heart stress test before being allowed to conceive my last son at such an advanced age. Agencies could require additional health assessments for older persons.

Just before I responded, I was happy to see someone else reply – I was 50 when I had a newborn placed with me for a weekend due to an abuse allegation on a foster parent. I adopted him at 53.

One wrote – While I don’t agree with anyone over 55 adopting (I don’t agree with adopting at all) my state allows people to foster and adopt well into 65.

And of course, it is very common these days to see grandparents raising their grandchildren. I know at least one in that category. So this answer did not surprise me – I fostered my 3 grandchildren (4 & under) at age 53 and adopted them at 56…no way I was letting them go to strangers.

And this view from experience – My parents were that old and I did fine. Only disappointment was that all of my older siblings were my biological mom’s age or older. At 28, all my siblings are old enough to be my kids grandparents. Because they are in their late 40s, early 50s now. Other than that, I still did everything – with sports, dance, went on vacations. They kept up. With me and my little sister who they adopted when she was 1. And I was 6 at the time. Maybe they should have just stopped with me. But I wanted a little sister. So, when she was literally dropped at our door and the mother terminated her rights, they adopted my little sister too.

A concern was expressed but this smacks of ableism to me – I see it every day at work, as soon as our older ladies step in with the kids (especially the toddlers), the children do not get the kind of engagement they need from the caregiver. Toddlers and kids need someone who can physically be involved in their play and in their development. From my experience, older women and men are not usually able to do that for them. That’s not to say the kids don’t love the older ladies, but they know they can’t ask them to play or help because of their limitations. I’m very old school (you know, “get over it and go play”.)

I remember my mom always sent us outside to play – without her !! Out of hair and need for giving us attention – though we knew she loved us. It was just how she was (she had me at age 16 and my youngest sister at 22, so she wasn’t old). I would add until very recently, I will be 67 later this month, there were no physical limitations on the “play” part and we did “play” with our kids. I’ll admit my knees have crapped out a bit, so I can’t do the long hikes anymore. My husband just turned 69 this year and he runs every day – so the physical stuff he can still do with his sons – and he is always willing to have fun. The older one is now 20 and not so much into “play”, actually for that matter the 16-1/2 yr old isn’t either. They are pretty independent of us for entertainment. My husband does like to joke with the youngest one that he’ll be changing his dad’s diapers some day. It really isn’t funny – experienced this stuff with my in-law’s before they died and with my dad after my mom died. It happens. It’s reality.

One commented – How embarrassing would it be at your high school graduation having to explain to your friends that the old lady with a walker is your mom? Yet, I think, would they say this about a person in a wheelchair. In this week’s Time magazine is a feature on Rebekah Taussig – a disabled mom who has paralyzed legs. And she writes about such everyday things as learning to lift him (her baby born during the pandemic) from the floor to her lap, or in and out of his crib, or up and over the baby gate on her own.

I suppose appearances matter a lot when your life is determined by your peers. Maybe we’ve avoided a lot of that comparison angst because our sons are educated at home because we have a home based business and are here all the time anyway. They have grown up with mature conversations and exposure to people of all ages – from babies to people much older than us up in their 80s or 90s.

Of course, I liked this response too –

I’m 50 and have such an issue with this. I’m going to ask that you give your age with your response. I’m tired of people implying that I am too old to do anything. I ran a half marathon in February, I work a full time job and a part time job and just hiked for 4 days straight – over 20,000 steps a day. How dare you all restrict women and what they can do at any age! I am a teacher and an owner of child care centers. I have more patience and experience and knowledge than the vast majority of 20-30 year olds.

I had my daughter when I was 19. I find this too. I may have behaved more like a child with her than I have with my sons but I have gained so much from years of living that is also an advantage over how I was when I was that young.

Another one wrote – My grandma (just found out, not even biological, through 23 & Me) started raising me when she was 60 and I had the best life and upbringing I could have ever asked for. She never missed a beat and was way cooler than all of my friend’s parents. To this day she’s my best friend.

I think I’ll just end it here. There is no one size fits all on this kind of issue. One argument the person who asked the original question made – in response to the above was – Adoptees already have so much stacked against them, that older parents just add more layers. Fair but . . . . again, no one size fits all . . . . even with the experience an adoptee has in their circumstances. I’ll make my anti-ageism stand here.

Parenting And Maturity

I’ve been known to say that I think Nature got it wrong to make us so fertile in youth and have that period of reproduction end so early in life.  True, the body ages and there are impacts to that.

Yet, I find that men who are ready to become parents do a better job.  Even when we are ready, as I was at 18, we may not really be mature enough to understand the difficulties of life well enough to avoid unfortunate outcomes.

When I became a mother at 19, I could lay down on the floor and color with crayons in a coloring book with my daughter.  I also did foolish things like partying with her in tow and we are both fortunate she survived my immaturity.

When my husband and I had sons late in life (he was 48 and 52, I was 47 and 50), we definitely had the maturity to put our children’s interest ahead of selfish preferences on our part.  I have seen that my husband has been an excellent father and will drop whatever instantly when one of his sons asks for his attention.

Me, not so much.  I’ll also admit I have had less patience with what seems utterly un-necessary than I did when I was so young.  I have more wisdom too – for which I am grateful.  I do think the hardest thing for me as an older parent has been learning to let go of that instant urge that mothers develop in answering their infants cries and let my sons “wait” a little bit as they get older for gratification of their demands.

Health considerations certainly were not given enough weight when we decided to have children late in life.  It was a shock to realize I will be 70 when my youngest son turns 20.  And my body is changing in the ways that aging brings, though I do my best to maintain the best health I am capable of.

For my second husband, he waited until we had been married 10 years to decide he wanted to have children.  By then, we needed a lot of help and thankfully medical advances gave us enough to succeed.  My husband needed to feel financially secure before he could commit to parenting.  It was in 2001 and 2004 that our sons were born and our business was thriving then.  Along came 2008 and the financial collapse and we’ve yet to recover.  We have tightened our belts as much as we can as we have had to.  We do worry about our future ability to adequately support this still young family (our sons as 15-1/2 and 19).

I suppose we have good management skills and we do about as well as most people in the parenting skills department.

Crucial – An Accurate Medical History

Like many adoptees who search for their origins, my mom told me that she needed to know her medical history in order for a mysterious condition to be diagnosed.  She was rejected by the state of Tennessee when she tried but learned her mother was dead – which devastated her.  This spoke to me that there was more to her yearning than knowing what this condition was.  In fact, at some point, she said to me “As a mother, I would want to know what became of my child.”  The state could not determine if her father was alive or not and that was their excuse for denying her.  He was 20 years older than my grandmother, so my mom was pretty certain that he was also dead.  It turns out, she was correct, he had been dead for 30 years at the time of her inquiry.

She was eventually diagnosed as having Vestibular Migraines.  She said it was possible that it could be genetic.  She described it as a feeling that if you were leaning against a wall somehow the wall support is not there. Like whatever holds you upright disappears and that it is a balance problem that causes dizziness.  Fortunately, I do not seem to have inherited it though I occasionally experience what my Ophthalmologist has said are Ocular Migraines.

One problem adoptees face, if not even told they were adopted, is medical history information that isn’t actually theirs. We knew both of my parents were adopted but I only knew THEIR medical history, which was at least “something” but nothing about their parents, because they died knowing next of nothing about their own original parents.

Once I learned who all 4 of my original grandparents were and something about their causes of death (for most of them, at least) or related health issues (my paternal grandmother had some breast cancer removed but died of a heart failure), the importance of caring for my heart is clear (my mom died of a massive heart attack in her Jacuzzi tub – my dad’s heart appears to have simply stopped and he stopped breathing, no one knows which came first) .

My paternal grandmother’s breast cancer might be related to the smidgeon of Ashkenazi Jew my DNA revealed and the mammogram technician told me it matters, even though small, and to keep getting scans.

It isn’t right for adoptees to have to make crucial decisions for themselves affected by a lack of factual information.

Losing A Mom

Many of us have lost our mothers.  Whether we had her for a short time, almost no time at all, like my paternal grandmother who lost her own mother at age 3 mos.  Or whether we had her for a bit longer, like my maternal grandmother who lost her own mother at age 11.  Or whether we had her for much longer.  I lost my mother in 2015 at the age of 61.

My mom carried a deep unhealed wound that was caused by the unintended (unintended by her own mother) separation from her mother when she was exploited due to financial desperation.  When my mom tried in the early 1990s to get her origins information and reach out for contact with her original parents, she was told her mother had already died and that devastated her.

There was an emptiness that my mom carried her whole life and it was real and not imagined.  She was alone in a real sense with the issues that her life presented her with and we all are in reality.

Death is inevitable.  I accepted that almost 20 years ago when I learned I was positive for hep C but would never be treated for that.  Even though I knew nothing about my original grandparents and my own parents were still alive, my OB said he was more worried about my heart than my liver.  It seems he was intuitive.

Having now located who all 4 of my original grandparents were, I also know they all died of heart related causes.  Both of my own parents also died of heart related causes.  So I have to take my own health seriously in the aspects related to that.

Even so, no one can save my life.   We are all born to die and the timing of our death is never known until it is upon us.  What matters to me is the quality of the lifetime that I have available to me.  I do my best to honor that gift.

Finding Out About One’s Self

My mom’s search for her natural mother could be explained this way – it had something to do with finding out about herself, and it had something to do with trying to explain to herself what had happened to her.  I’m certain at some deep level she just wanted to know why.

My mother believed she had been inappropriately adopted. She made a need for her medical history the excuse for her search and certainly she had some chronic health issues, including one very mysterious and unexplained issue.  It is also possible another mysterious unexplained reason was why she had been separated from her mother. Only her mother could tell her the truth about that.  It was not to be.  Her mother had already died when the state of Tennessee denied her attempt to be given her adoption records.

Fast forward almost 30 years, my mom has died but now I am able to receive those records that had been denied her.  Through reading between the lines of all the considerable amount of information the state of Tennessee released to me – my mother was not wrong.

She had been inappropriately adopted, just not in the manner she had tried to explain it all to her own self (that her supposed illiterate parents signed papers without knowing what they actually were – surrender papers – at the hospital in Virginia).  The actual truth that became abundantly clear was that my grandmother had become trapped and then exploited by Georgia Tann – the notorious baby seller.

My grandmother never had another child.  I believe she was devastated to have lost the child that might have kept her marriage to my mom’s father intact.  I believe my grandmother died of a broken heart.

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.

Motherhood – Post Adoption

An infertile couple unable to conceive are generally focused on their own needs.  Some have a rescue complex.  They hide their own issues behind a desire to save some poor child from a fate worse than death.

What is rarely talked about are the long-term mental and physical effects upon the original mother from surrendering her baby to others for adoption.

It would only be natural to expect a woman who has carried a baby in her womb for nine whole months to experience some short-term grief.

The reality is that there is often a long-term lasting impact.  How long you ask – 4 years, 25 years, forever ?  Just as every person is different, every mother who loses a child will have differing abilities to put the loss behind her and go on with her life.  Never does she ever truly forget.

So, a relinquishing mother may go on, will certainly have some kind of life but she is generally forced to live a code of silence that carries with it a toxic aftermath of effects upon her physical and mental health continuing throughout her life.

Some mothers feel compelled to search for their child.  These women may be prone to a lowered self-esteem, anxiety and may worry about the well-being of their child.  These women may require more doctor visits and most will attribute their physical and mental problems over the years to the loss of their child to adoption.

Many of these women had parental pressure to surrender their child to adoption.  Certainly, one of my sisters did.  One of my grandmothers may have.  The indications are there – she was married but separated from her husband for some unknown reason.  She was sent away from Tennessee to Virginia to have that baby.  I doubt she was supposed to bring my mother back to Tennessee with her but she did.

I would say that ALWAYS, these women had little or no emotional support during the pregnancy and after the relinquishment.  There would have been few, more likely no, opportunities to talk about their feelings related to the surrender.  There is overall a lack of social support for their depression.

In letters written by natural mothers post-adoption, there is an intensity of feeling and a need to describe the emotional pain they continue to carry within them.

Even when comfortable with their decision to relinquish, as my youngest sister definitely was, very proactive, very concerned about the outcome for her baby – I do not doubt that she still felt a loss, some pain and mourning (even if not consciously aware it was that) and based upon a letter she sent to her son during his teen years, she did have a continuing sense of caring for that long vanished child.

Many wounded mothers live then for decades with shame and a societally enforced silence over their “secret” children because no one really wants to hear about it after a short period of time.  For the mother, there is no end to it except her eventual death.