It’s Called Being A Parent

In my household, we have always had a family bed. Actually, it is two king-size platform beds placed side by side. We have a rather unconventional lifestyle. Our sons are self-educated with massive support from us at home. Our internet is satellite and the best speed and availability is during the “bonus” time overnight. So, sometimes and not every night, the boys are awake while the parents sleep. Things seem to be “normalizing” a bit more for us as they mature but they are often asleep in the daytime. BTW we had them evaluated and both perform educationally at a level higher than their peers – so we’ve not ruined them.

The youngest sleeps to my right at the outside edge of the sleeping space. I sleep towards the middle. My oldest son to my left and my husband on the far left edge. Though I absolutely am terrorized when I hear the sound of throw-up coming and do not relish our bed, my pjs and everything else being covered in it – I am still grateful that our sons have never suffered illness out of our awareness or even nightmares for that matter. I fully realize we are a bit unusual in that regard but it is how we live in a one-room cabin of an old farmhouse where the upstairs space is neither heated nor cooled and therefore not really livable anyway. I also admit that if I am very ill, I become entirely dependent on care from my husband as though I were a helpless child. I am unable to care properly for my own self, lack the motivation to do so. This is the way families ought to be for one another.

I readily recognize that being a foster parent is a choice and for some – a means of adding revenue in the form of stipends – which are meant to be used for the expenses related to their foster care youth but are not always used for such. Therefore, I also recognize that many lack the commitment to these children that a parent usually (and I realize not always) has for their own biological children.

Therefore, I appreciated this response from someone, after seeing the image at the top of this blog –

So, my kids have all contracted the stomach bug twice in the last month and have all vomited on my couch, bed, clothes, bathroom, in my car and in between the stomach bugs have had a new virus or infection every week. Then on top of that my 6 year old has nightmares and anxiety. I’m 20 weeks pregnant and have not slept in a month. But am I thinking of dumping them somewhere else because of their audacity to get sick every week, vomit and pee anywhere other than the toilet, or interrupt my sleep? NO. It’s called being a PARENT. It fu*king sucks sometimes, yes, but life goes on!! If someone can’t handle another kid living in their home and being part of their family, and experiencing kid/life stuff on top of their trauma (that they have ZERO control over), then they should NOT foster. PERIOD. Makes me so angry. Also the husband “not being able to help” – get outta here. I’m a severe emetophobe but even I step up when someone needs help and it involves puke. I want to die in the moment, but there’s just no excuse, it’s called being an adult.

Placating Adoptive Mother Emotions

It is just a difficult path to trod. Today’s story –

My son’s birthday is coming up soon. The last time I posted publicly about my kids was the anniversary of the final visit, and their adoptive mother got upset that I said anything. She enlisted my younger child for her defense. They asked me to not post anything ever again, because the adoptive mother doesn’t want to see it. Yet she continues to stalk me to see what I’m posting. I suspect that if I let a birthday slide by without saying anything, she’d use it as evidence that I’d completely forgotten about my kids. I’m not sure what the adoptive mother wants me to feel – am I supposed to regret having kids at all? Am I supposed to blame myself for surviving abuse? I know that, of course, I wish I’d taken the kids and gotten away from him before Child Protective Services got involved. Acknowledging that at this point is not going to make the adoptive mother any happier. I suspect that she wants from me is to admit that I’m just a horrible person and be grateful to her for saving my kids from me. I want to do what’s right for my kids long-term, and if the adoptive mother needs to control what I feel and say about the adoption, how much freedom is she giving them? Is there anything I could post that might get the adoptive mother to react like a reasonable human and not like some an obsessed control freak? PS it’s the older child’s 19th birthday. The younger one who is 16 has basically taken responsibility for handling the adoptive mother’s emotional state, because the adoptive mother throws temper tantrums to get her way and must be appeased.

The first responder said – I would acknowledge his birthday. He’s 18 – so old enough to tell you himself if he doesn’t want you to post anything. He’s also old enough to no longer be her property. Just as a side note have you tried reaching out to him to see if he would like contact directly with you now that he’s old enough?

I can relate to the difficulties. My daughter went to live with her dad when she was 3 years old. He remarried, so there was a step-mother, a step-sister and a half-sister in her family. I gave her a calling card, so that when it was safe (meaning it wouldn’t cause an upset) for her to call me, she could choose when. Sometimes, I had to wait a long time for those calls but at least she knew I wanted to hear from her. In an adoption situation, I don’t know if something like that would be possible but there is always reversing charges. What I cared about the most, was my daughter’s comfort and quality of life – not my own.

Social media didn’t exist when my daughter was young. I can easily understand the next responder’s comment – This is one reason why I keep my profile completely locked down with no public posts. Nobody gets to tell me how to feel about MY kids.

Someone else noted this obvious truth – you did give birth to your children and have every right to acknowledge their birthday. A birthday not only celebrates the day a child became an independent person but also the mother who gestated that child to birth. Many times, when I am celebrating one of my children’s birthdays on my Facebook page, friends will also acknowledge it is my celebration of an event as well.

Sadly, this perspective contains a frequent truth – some adoptive parents are control freaks. They would like to erase the fact that the adopted children are not biologically related to them, the children are possessed like property that the adoptive parents bought to furnish their life. The natural mother should post whatever she wants… one day her children may see it and realize they were loved all along! It will mean so much to them to know that. I know that understanding would have meant a lot to my own adoptee parents (both were).

And when all else fails – There are features that allow you to block specific people from posts. It’s strategic avoidance of the real problem, but sometimes that’s the best you can do. Anyway, as long is the posts aren’t abusive or causing damage to anyone, then she really should have zero say about what you post to your wall. Her discomfort is her own. You don’t need to carry that for her.

And the perspective from an adoptive parent – I’m so sorry that not only did she express unhappiness with you saying something, but that she enlisted the children into her unhappiness with you. That’s just, WRONG. It sounds like she is very insecure in her position as parent, and wanting you to remove yourself from yours to give her more room. You don’t have to do that. I believe that what is right for your children long term, is for them to KNOW that they were always on your mind and in your heart. I personally think that it is fine for you to make a post in regards to your children’s birthdays. Growing and birthing a human being is a MAJOR thing that happens to us as the person doing it, not just to the baby. I’m guessing that there are other people who follow you on Facebook who know about your children, maybe were even a part of their lives… Just because someone else is legally their parent now, does not change the fact that there were people in the children’s lives BEFORE. People who’s hearts and memories and emotions did not just disappear because of a court order. If possible, tighten up your security. If you’re friends with her on Facebook, exclude her from your posts if you feel the need. But please feel free to acknowledge your children, your love, and your loss however you feel you need to.

Spiritual Godmothers

When I was a child, we had godmothers. It was actually a religious thing, associated with the infant baptisms that were part of being raised Episcopalian. I never really knew my godparents. I got a gift or two early in my life but when I was old enough to actually know I received it and from whom.

However, today being Mother’s Day, it occurred to me that adoptive mothers are like godmothers who are present all the time. One could also put step-mothers in that category if the were the “good” kind and not the evil kind. For some people, aunts or even mother-in-laws are like godmothers (mine certainly was and treated me like a daughter the many years, decades really, we were together).

While the wound that adoptees suffer in being separated from their gestational mother is serious and primal, and while much not appreciative nor grateful can be said about any woman who takes a child in that they did not give birth to, I think that on a day like today, when mothering in general is celebrated, it is fair to take a step back from reform interests, just for today to acknowledge “god” mothers. These are mothers sent to us by the spiritual heart of Life itself to assist us in one way or another. Foster mothers fit into this category as well.

The all-pervading, all embracing, unchanging, and unceasing Love that evolves, supports, nurtures, protects, and provides space for its children to reach maturity. Some religions have made the effort to move away from concepts of a male god or they conceive a wholeness of the duality mother/father god. During my later adult years, for some extended period of time I entered into a practice called the Gaia Minute. In doing this practice, twice a day, I came to think of the Earth herself as my mother, the Sun as my father. Larger than the human entities that provided for us during our childhoods and for some time beyond that, indeed while we were made of these, this continues to be true throughout our human incarnation.

Sadly, some children lose their mother so early, they have no clear memories of her physically. That certainly happened to my paternal grandmother, who’s own mother died when she was only 3 mos old. That certainly happens to adoptees who are given to adoptive parents within hours or days of birth.

The maternal nurturing energy of the feminine is not bound by birth, nor even by gender (my husband is surprisingly nurturing as a human being). Our spiritual godmothers, however we obtain them, whenever we obtain them, help birth our soul’s journey by their grace. They encouraged us when we were down, they were they for us when our heart and soul ached (my own human mother could sense me in distress when I was in a different room).

The Divine Feminine of mothering energy is there to remind us that we are never alone in this thing called Life. Happy Mother’s Day to each and every person who has ever fulfilled that calling to serve another human being with the energy of Love, compassion, nurturing, safety, provision and presence.

There was something complete and nebulous

Which existed before the Heaven and Earth,

Silent, invisible

Unchanging, standing as One,

Unceasing, ever-revolving,

Able to be the Mother of the World.

~ Tao Te Ching

The Fog

In adoptee centric communities, one quickly learns about “the fog”. This is the feel good narrative that adoption agencies and adoptive parents “feed” their adopted child. Many adoptees never come out of the fog. Most do not come out until maturity, maybe when they give birth to a biological child genetically related to them and begin searching the adoption related literature, a prominent one is The Primal Wound by Nancy Verrier. This is the preverbal, subconscious trauma experienced by a baby when they are taken from the mother who gestated them and then gave birth. It matters not a lot whether this separation occurs immediately after birth or months later. My parents were 6 mos and 8 mos old at the time they were separated from their mothers – so preverbal. The trauma is real and has ongoing effects.

So, I was attracted to an article in The Guardian titled Brain fog: how trauma, uncertainty and isolation have affected our minds and memory in the Health & wellbeing section by Moya Sarner. A feeling of brain fog has become more common as a result of the collective trauma of the COVID pandemic. It is described as a feeling of being unable to concentrate. There’s this sense of debilitation or of losing ordinary facility with everyday life.

It could be helpful for an adoptee to understand that this feeling isn’t unusual or weird. There isn’t something wrong with you. It’s a completely normal reaction to a seriously traumatic experience. This can affect you ability to problem-solve, your capacity to be creative in the face of life’s challenges. There can be a lot of different factors that taken together and interacting with each other, can cause these impairments, attentional deficits and other processing difficulties. Humans have effectively evolved to stop paying attention when nothing changes, but to pay particular attention when things do change.

For an adoptee, it is life changes such has giving birth that can begin the process of waking up from the fog. The adoptive parents dying, so freeing the adopted child from a need to remain loyal to the people who cared and nurtured them growing up that may kindle a need for their own personal truth. Who were the people that gave them life ? Are they still living ? What is the background story ? Are there other genetic relations ? What can they learn about their familial medical history ? What is their cultural identity ? Waking up to the reality of who the adopted person actually is.

Brain fog is a common experience but it’s very complex. It is the cognitive equivalent of feeling emotionally distressed; it’s almost the way the brain expresses sadness, beyond the emotion. One needs to think about the mind, the brain, the immune and the hormonal systems to understand the various mental and physical processes that might underlie this consequence of stress.  

When our mind appraises a situation as stressful, our brain immediately transmits the message to our immune and endocrine systems. These systems respond in exactly the same way they did in early humans – with what may feel like an irrational fear.  The heart beats faster so we can run away, inflammation is initiated by the immune system and the hormone cortisol is released. A dose of cortisol will lower a person’s attention, concentration and memory for their immediate environment. 

An experience of the fog is one of the most disturbing aspects of the unconscious. Recognizing the fog is our body and our brain telling us something, a signal – an alarm bell. We should stop and ask ourselves, why am I feeling this way ? What is the trigger ? What is the source ?  The idea is that we have a force inside us that is propelling us towards life. What has been hidden from us is now pushing us into a discovery. To make connections with our familial tribe and seek to expand the meaning of our very own life with the truth. 

The mental weight of our unknowns becomes harder to drag around. We have – at some moment in our lifetime – a will to know something about ourselves and our lives, even when that knowledge is profoundly painful. Paradoxically, there is also a powerful will not to know, a wish to defend against this awareness so that we can continue to live cosseted by lies. An adoptee might chose to live in the misty, murky fog rather than to face, to suffer, the painful truth and horror of their origin situation because the truth of the experience of how and why they were separated from their natural mother is too hard to bear.

We all experience grief, times in our lives where we feel like we can’t function at all. If you find yourself here, may it be mercifully temporary and may you recover from the shocks of reality and move forward, feeling a new wholeness in an expanded identity of yourself.

It Matters What We Are Called By

The name of a thing does not matter as much as the quality of the thing.
~ Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet

A person’s name is the greatest connection to their own identity and individuality. Some might say it is the most important word in the world to that person. … When someone remembers our name after meeting us, we feel respected and more important. It makes a positive and lasting impression on us.

I love hearing my sons say “Mom” and my grandchildren say “Grandma”. My oldest son, now 20 years old, sometimes says Steve or Debbie when referring to us but I see this as a maturity thing. Though most of us will still say Mom or Dad even when we are in our 60s, if we are so lucky to have them still living. Back in my early 20s, my young daughter (preschool age) did also sometimes call me Debbie. The children hear other people refer to us by our given names and that is a factual reality, we do carry the names we are given, unless we change them intentionally.

Adoptees are mostly never allowed to keep their birth given names after adoption. Their names are changed and their birth certificates altered. This is the erasing of an identity.

With foster care, the circumstances can be slightly different, as illustrated by today’s story.

Children ages 5 and 6 have spent 1 year with their current foster family. They have been in foster care for 2.5 years. The Termination of Parental Rights has already happened. The current foster family intends to adopt them.

Now the foster mom is crying that the kids keep calling her and her husband by their first names. They insist on calling their biological parents mom and dad. This is totally understandable as those people are their original, natural mom and dad. However, the foster mom says this hurts both of the foster parents’ feelings. Their reason for wanting to adopt is to grow their family. They want the kids to accept that, after adoption, they are the mom and dad now. They don’t want to be called by their first names going forward. They set an example by calling themselves mommy and daddy. The kids continue to persistently call them by their first names. The foster parents call the original birth parents – biodad or biomom – or even by their first names. Kids remain adamant and keep saying my “real” dad or “real” mom.

And the hurt feelings for the foster parents do not end and this matter to them because they’ve never had kids of their own before. They suffer from infertility and after years of trying, they want to become parents by adopting. They’re adopting to become “parents” not simply babysitters.

It upsets them that the original natural parents hardly made an effort to visit the kids and yet the kids still remember them and call them their parents, mom and dad. The foster parents are seeking to drive a wedge between the kids and their original natural parents by saying “A real parent takes care of you. Does not choose an addiction over you or go to prison.”

The foster parents are seeking to intentionally disrupt the children’s relationship to their original parents because it simply hurts them too much to not be called mommy and daddy by these children. The foster mom has said that it has always been her dream and desire to adopt. She is laying down the law !! She will not be called by her first name after adoption.

The foster parents had a fantasy that by now the kids would be happy to call them mommy and daddy. They believed that since these kids are so young, the kids would easily bond with them as parents by now. That after having been in foster care, these kids would be happy to receive a new mommy and daddy.

It would seem that good quality healthy people would not be obsessed with molding a child to be something they are not, when they are supposedly trying to help that child by adopting them. Why would they insist on erasing the factual family history from an innocent, already traumatized child ? Reasons why reform has become such an important concept in adoption and foster care.

The Uncertainty Inherent

Today’s story is about a birth mother who’s daughter, put up for adoption, has rejected contact with her 25 years later thanks to the Dear Therapist article in The Atlantic.

My daughter gave a child up for adoption about 25 years ago. She already had one child, and although I offered to help her raise both children, she felt it wouldn’t be fair to us or to the baby, so she gave her up to a very nice couple, whom we both interviewed and liked. The couple has kept in touch with us both over the years, sending pictures and updates on their daughter.

My daughter always felt that in time the child would want to get in touch with her, and in fact, her adoptive parents have encouraged this, but the girl has always said she didn’t want to. This is very painful for my daughter. Can you give us an idea as to why the young woman might not want to meet her birth mother, or offer any explanation that would make my daughter feel less rejected? She has even tried contacting her on Facebook, and the response was that Facebook was not an appropriate place to discuss this relationship. But no reciprocal contact has ever been made.

Blog Author’s note – It’s tough being a vulnerable, under supported, financially struggling birth mother. I get it. In my own family, the two children put up for adoption have since reconnected with this but that does not un-do all the years of living lives separated into other families. Even for my own self, I’ve re-connected with my actually genetic, biological relatives but it doesn’t make up for not knowing each other for decades. It is better to know who they are, it’s just tough building a relationship after so much time has gone by. So I am interested in this response.

Answer from the therapist –

I’m glad you’re curious about why the woman your daughter put up for adoption 25 years ago might not want to meet her birth mother. I say this because you write about your daughter’s pain and feeling of rejection, but I’m not sure that your daughter has a good sense of how her adopted child might feel—not only about this meeting, but about the circumstances that led to the adoption and her life since then.

Something to consider: Adopted children don’t get to choose whether or not they are adopted, or what family they’ll end up in. Adults make these choices for them. Given their lack of choice in what happened, making their own decisions about how to handle their experiences later on matters greatly.

Of course, different adoptees will make different decisions, for all kinds of reasons. But too often, adults try to dictate how they should feel and what they should do with regard to their birth parents. Sometimes it goes something like “You shouldn’t try to find your birth parents; after all, your mom and dad will be so hurt.” Other times it might be “Don’t search for your birth parents, because it might disrupt their lives or that of their families. They chose a closed adoption for a reason.” Or: “You should definitely search for them, because you’ll regret it later if you don’t.” Or: “How can you refuse to meet your birth parents? Don’t you realize how lucky you are that they’ve reached out and you have the opportunity to know them?” None of this, of course, respects the feelings of the person who was adopted.

Right now, there doesn’t seem to be much regard for your daughter’s biological child’s wants or needs—your perspective seems to be all about your daughter’s desire for this relationship. In fact, there’s so little regard for this young woman’s feelings that your daughter, despite knowing that her biological child has consistently said she’s not interested in meeting, reached out to her on Facebook.

As for why someone who was adopted may not want to meet her birth mother, the reasons are as varied as the individuals involved. Some adopted children feel angry or abandoned by the birth parents, especially if there are other siblings who stayed with one or both biological parents, as is the case here. (This may feel like being the “unwanted child.”) Some adoptees don’t have those feelings—they are living a perfectly happy life—but there’s fear of the emotional turmoil such a meeting might bring. It could raise new questions of what might have been; it could reveal information that the adoptee would rather not have known; it could start a relationship that doesn’t work out, resulting in a loss that could be quite painful on top of whatever feelings of loss the adoptee already has.

I’ve also heard from some adoptees who have met their biological parents that they found the experience disappointing. Despite imagining that they’d have a lot in common with their biological parents, upon meeting they felt as though these people were aliens with different interests, worldviews, personalities, and values—leaving them with a sense of emptiness. Some have told me that they would have preferred to maintain whatever fantasy they had of their biological parents rather than be faced with the much starker reality.

All of this is to say: A lot can go wrong, so it makes sense that some adoptees would choose not to be in contact with their biological parents. But whatever this young woman’s reasons, she doesn’t owe your daughter an explanation. It’s not her job to meet your daughter’s emotional needs.

Instead, gaining a better understanding of what those emotional needs are might help your daughter feel less pain about not meeting her biological daughter. I imagine that she has a lot of complicated feelings about the adoption that perhaps she doesn’t fully understand, and talking to a therapist about them might not only lessen the intensity of the longing but also help her consider what she’s asking of her biological daughter and why.

Finally, it’s worth mentioning that your daughter’s biological child may feel differently about reaching out at another juncture in her life. She may have some questions about the family’s medical history one day, or decide that she wants the experience of seeing her biological mother face-to-face. If that time does come, it will be important to focus on her needs. There’s a difference between a phone conversation and a meeting, and between a meeting and embarking on a relationship. The less this woman worries that her biological family might want more from her than she’s willing to give—which is likely how she feels now—the more open she might become one day to making contact. But even if she doesn’t, the most loving thing you can do for her is to honor her choice.

When Circumstances Change

Expectant mothers considering a surrender of their not yet born child to adoption who end up in my all things adoption group are often counseled “don’t choose a permanent solution to what is actually a temporary situation.” Case in point, in today’s story.

So a woman had a baby when she was 19 years old. She surrendered him to adoption because she felt that she could not support herself and so by extension, could not support a child either.

5 years have passed and the original mother recently graduated from college. Throughout his young life, the adoptive mother has allowed the boy and his original mother to have contact with one another.

In a definitely misguided perspective, the adoptive mother encouraged her adoptive son to think of his original mother as a cousin or a friend. The complication here is this is a kinship adoption. The original mom is the adoptive mom’s cousin. 

Well, his original mother can now support herself. At the moment, she wants MORE contact with her son and for him to stay with her a few nights a week.

The adoptive mother is a stay at home mom and she claims her concern is that his original mother would utilize day care for him and only spend time with him at night.

The original mother and adoptive mother are now at opposite ends – the adoptive mother claims that if the original mother loved him so much, she would not have given him up 5 years ago.

The original mother claims it is cruel of the adoptive mother to refuse her request for a few nights a week with her son.

When the original mother brought up her financial struggles at the time the boy was born, the adoptive mother came back with “You don’t get to abandon your child and then decide you want him back 5 years later. I am his mother now.”

The original mother believes, given time, the two of them will bond with one another again and he will begin to think of her as his mother also. It has been proven that children are able to comprehend of more than one woman as being equally both of his mothers.

Now, the adoptive mother has threatened the original mother saying – “If you continue trying to steal him from me, I will stop letting you see him at all.” The reality is – the original mother can not legally undo a finalized adoption – so it is not possible for her to physically steal the child back from the adoptive mother.

One can certainly agree with the concern about putting him in daycare but this “stealing” language is very destructive. No one “owns” their own biological child, much less someone else’s child who one has adopted. He should be allowed to bond with his mom as often as he wants. The child should set any boundaries regarding the rebuilding of a disrupted mother child relationship.

There really has to be another way to satisfy both women. The original mother could pick her son up for the evening and drop him back off with the adoptive mother before work. Rigidity often prevents viable solutions to sticky issues from being considered. Always, the child’s best interests and well-being should be what governs decisions.

The truth is, the original mother did not abandon her child but was doing her best to do what was best for her baby at the time. Unfortunately, whether conscious of it or not, every adoptee has an abandonment wound. Because their original mother did leave them. Pure and simple. Understanding adult complications is not possible until a person is mature and living the realities of life’s hardships themselves.

The honest truth is that visits for the original mother and her child will promote a connection that is critical for the child after having been relinquished. Seeing that no harm comes of it would ease the mind of the adoptive parent. This is a situation in which a professional therapist acting as an intermediary might head off some horrific results. The child will grow up eventually and will know the truth. Better to keep things harmonious during his childhood.

A Change Of Heart

Mother and Daughter

Even under the best intentions, when choosing a semi-closed adoption plan, even after years of contact – emotions can change. So it was, when the relinquished daughter turned 18 and enrolled in college, that a problem set in. It was a blind-sided moment for the birth mother. At her blog site, Her View From Home, under the subcategory, Motherhood – Adrian Collins tells the entire story of occasional in-person contacts, until the hammer came down.

Suddenly, the adoptive parents were no longer supportive of her daughter’s relationship with her birth parents. She’d been instructed to choose between her birth family and her adoptive family. There was no in-between or chance of negotiation. Of course, after so many years, on the cusp of maturity, this baffled Collins. She immediately got on the phone, pleading with them to consider all of them a vital part of their daughter’s life. They wouldn’t budge. Instead, they hurled insults at her.

They accused her of conniving to steal their daughter. They questioned her motives and tore at her character. They jabbed at her most vulnerable spots as a birth mom. And as she sat flabbergasted, all she could think was – “What have I done to deserve this?”  Then, of all things, the adoptive mother even belittled her adopted daughter. Collins admits, “my voice escalated into shouts of, Why can’t you just love her?!” 

The vindictiveness amazes me. Days later, her adoptive parents removed all financial support from their daughter and said they regretted the adoption. They turned their backs on her and disowned her. Collins felt betrayed. She had entrusted her daughter to them, and now they’d abandoned her. The pain of watching her daughter endure this loss was almost as unbearable as the day Collins had left the hospital without her. 

It was her husband (and also the girl’s original birth father) who brought up the idea of re-adoption. “We can take care of you,” he told her.  Since she was already 18, she only needed to give her consent for an adult adoption to take place. In essence, her own birth parents became their daughter’s legal parents once again. Adult adoption is somewhat common between some kinds of parents and foster or stepchildren. It is rare when this occurs between birth parents and their biological/genetic child. They didn’t pressure their daughter in the least and only assured her that their only motive for an adult adoption was to extend even more love to her.

In spite of Collins own doubts about building a strong relationship with the daughter she did not raise, she says – when she looked at her daughter just before the adoption hearing in court – she realized her heart had been fastened to her daughter’s ever since she had carried her in her womb. She had promised to give her daughter the best life possible and she was always willing to do whatever it took to make that happen. True, she wasn’t able to provide that for her daughter at birth. Now, she was happy at a chance to take care of her daughter as an adult. When their names were called to enter the courtroom, she turned to her daughter and smiled. Her daughter smiled back.

She admits – I’ve spent time in reflection about my decision to make an adoption plan. Did everything turn out as planned? Absolutely not. Would things have fared better if I’d kept my daughter in the first place? I can’t say. Sometimes we have to take steps of faith without seeing the whole picture. We can only do what we think is best at a particular time in life.

If we do the best we can, we really can’t get it wrong. That is my own belief. The All That Is uses everything that humans do to make it right – maybe it takes a long time for the right to come out – and even if I don’t live long enough to see that – I do believe it does turn out in the long run. My own “adoption reunion journey” proved as much to me. The whole situation of both of my parents being adopted wasn’t perfect from my own perspective but I would not be alive if it had not happened. I have said before, and I say it again now – it was imperfectly perfect. Sometimes, that is as good as it gets.

The Damage Done

I came of age in the early 1970s. I will admit that I have way too much life history with drug use. In fact, addiction was the primary cause of my first marriage’s failure. So many children are removed from their parents due to addiction issues. The money that should be feeding and housing and providing all the basics for their family goes into drugs. I understand. I remember food and housing insecurity because of that in my first marriage. Today’s blog was triggered by this story of a foster care child.

My 11 year old foster daughter is (understandably) having an incredibly hard time coping with feelings of abandonment by her mother. While I don’t agree with it and have advocated otherwise, she is not allowed to talk to or see her mom until she takes a drug test. Mom has refused and my foster daughter is feeling unloved and abandoned. I’m at a loss for how to help her cope. She often asks me to validate her feelings by saying things such as “If she loved me, she would just go do the drug test, right?” or “She must be on drugs. She loves them more than me, doesn’t she?”. She wants me to answer her yes or no. I don’t know how to answer to help her. I don’t want to speak negative about her parents by agreeing with her but I don’t want to make her feel like her feelings aren’t valid by saying something like “She loves you but drugs are powerful and affecting her choices.” I have reached out to mom and tried to get her to take the drug test so they can have contact and let her know what is going on with her daughter. She always says she is going to but hasn’t yet. It has been over a year now.

She ends with this request for advice – Those who have been through similar situations, how would you recommend I help this child?

The first answers are good ones. Is she in therapy? She needs somewhere to process feelings and learn about addiction. Does she have a therapist? If not, that would be very helpful. Someone who is trauma informed, addiction experience, and foster care and adoption competent would be a good thing for her. Sounds like you and her therapist need to have a discussion about addiction with her.

I didn’t know about this person but it sounds like reasonable advice – I highly recommended listening to and reading Gabor Mate and as an addiction expert and particularly his compassionate, scientifically based approach to addiction. It will help you (and your subsequently foster daughter) understand with compassion rather that judgement, anger, exasperation or frustration.

Personally, I saw this perspective immediately and am glad this was said – Her mom probably can’t pass a test and doesn’t want to make things worse. I would start by explaining that. We wouldn’t make an illiterate person pass a reading test for a basic human right…sad. Being a child of an addict there is a lot of pain and hard days for sure but she should be able to see her mom. All the therapy suggestions are on point and hopefully the therapist can also advocate.

I had not heard of this concept (except from link below) but it also seems right to my own heart – I would advocate for safe use with the social worker on the case about safe use, and creating a safety plan. Passing a urine analysis doesn’t equal safety and not passing a urine analysis doesn’t equal unsafe. I don’t think “she loves you but drugs are powerful….” would invalidate her feelings. That statement and her feelings can both be valid at the same time.

Traditionally, the substance use field has focused simply on substance use and ways to measure, prevent and treat negative consequences. This has led to a continuum of laws, policies and services that runs from restricting supply to reducing demand and, for some, continuing on to harm reduction.

Various versions of this simple continuum have been used over time, all of them beginning with a focus on a disease or harm that must be avoided. While this may seem completely sensible at first glance, it makes less sense when considering that many people use psychoactive substances to promote physical, mental, emotional, social and/or spiritual well-being. In other words, people use substances to promote health, yet substance use services focus on how drug use detracts from health.

Health promotion begins from a fundamentally different focus. Rather than primarily seeking to protect people from disease or harm, it seeks to enable people to increase control over their health whether they are using substances or not.

Since many people use drugs often or in part to promote health and well-being, health promotion along these lines involves helping people manage their substance use in a way that maximizes benefit and minimizes harm. (Indeed, this is how we address other risky behaviors in our everyday lives, including driving and participating in sports.) It means giving attention to the full picture—the substances, the environments in which they are used and in which people live, and the individuals who use those substances and shape the environments.

Someone else shares their personal experience – My kids (adoptees) parents have issues they go through and are not always on the up and up but we make time together happen. It’s always (right now) supervised etc. However soon my daughter will be 16 and she will likely want to drop by their house when she’s driving etc and I have helped her understand enough on ways to stay safe emotionally and legally by going to see her family and having open discussion with her on addiction. Some may not agree but they eventually grow up. I prefer to help her work through it now than stumble more later. She has a therapist who is mainly focused on addictions as well.

One more from personal experience – I would probably say screw the social worker’s orders and let them have a visit. My adopted daughters’ mom had the same type of demand and I followed the rules. Their mom died, and it had been so long since they’d seen her in person. I frequently regret not breaking the rules. Life’s too fucking short and unpredictable. Using drugs doesn’t automatically equate to being unsafe. It’s going to be way harder for this mom to get clean and sober if she’s not allowed to see her child.

Addiction is a VERY complex issue. My heart breaks for the young girl.

Oversharing In The Classroom

I am frequently surprised how common some connection to adoption is. If you were an adoptee, how would YOU have felt if your teacher in school openly shared with the classroom information about her “adoption journey” as it is ongoing? How would hearing details about “matching” and “failed adoptions have affected you!? How would a “slideshow” announcing the birth of teacher’s adopted child affect you?

These questions were put to my all things adoption group – and adoptees and former foster youth were asked to be the only responders (and not parents who had given a child up for adoption, adoptive parents or foster caregivers).

Some replies –

I would have been so uncomfortable but wouldn’t have known how to voice that as a student. Even now as an adult who is coming into my power, I still shake like a leaf when I speak my truth about the trauma of adoption.

My 5th grade teacher adopted a boy they were fostering. It wasn’t infant adoption with that whole journey, but we all certainly knew this boy. He was always in her classroom during lunch or after school. As I was only 10, I guess it solidified a lot of the propaganda I was fed my whole life. I liked it because I felt like I related to it? I didn’t know any other adoptees at the time. But I was a child! As an adult out of the fog, looking back, I feel very uncomfortable about it. I’m not sure how else to say it.

I would have felt very awkward. It seems so very personal to share with people at school. Especially children. They aren’t in a position to understand or put into context what any of that means. I would also feel that it was attention seeking behavior. It’s just someone playing at being a hero. No thanks.

Would have made me f**king uncomfortable as a kid, and it makes me furious as an adult. Don’t freaking normalize the act of switching babies from one family to another. We need kids growing up with a better understanding of how damaging our current way of dealing with family disfunction is. If this was one of my kids teachers I would demand it stop.

I would still keep my own adoption a secret. And I would feel terrorized.

I was very much “in the fog” for my entire childhood and most of adulthood so I wouldn’t have noticed anything problematic about it. I wanted to be like other kids so much that I probably would have been kind of glad to see someone else in my daily life was affected by adoption too, as it would mean I would be less singled out as having an alternative family structure.

I have to say I find the failed adoption thing the weirdest part, then and now. I was always assured that adoption was permanent and they wouldn’t have it any other way so I’m sure that probably would have made me feel …uncomfortable? Normalizing the process of ….deciding you don’t want that child after all. That is what they mean by failed adoption, right?

Someone else thought that last one wasn’t what was meant in this particular situation (though sadly such a think as second chance adoptions actually do happen in reality). So the counter response was – I have to imagine by failed adoption they mean the baby’s natural parents decided not to go through with the adoption. Which is always disturbing. Hopeful adoptive parents act like that was something bad that someone did to them, or they were “tricked” or that someone took their baby away.

I would have been so upset and not even known why because that’s pretty much how triggering worked when I was a kid. I can look back and connect all the dots now, but not then. I would have been a mess. It would have manifested into days and maybe weeks of negative behavior to myself and to others.

This makes my stomach churn now. I can imagine it would have affected me similarly at the time but I wouldn’t have known exactly why.

I remember being 11 or 12 years old, when the a teacher started talking to me about Child Protective Services and my potential removal. I know it’s not the same but I heavily didn’t want to associate home life and school life. Because it’s their personal thing, OK mention it once I hear you, but it would have me outright avoiding their class, probably with some defiance, if it were repetitive. I don’t know if I would have even had the language then to express my feelings.

If you doubt adoptees suffer trauma, consider what the above adoptees have said consistently.