A Tough Way To Go

From direct experience (not my own) –

He was in the foster care system from age 3-18, with a failed adoption from the ages of 4-8. This is how broken the foster care system is and how adoption is not always rainbows and butterflies. Excerpts from his story – For a portion of my life my identity was ripped from me, changed, and those who were looking for me could not find me. I was in plain sight living under a different name. After 20 years of silence, I am finally ready to tell my story.

Trigger Warning – What you’re about to read is graphic, disturbing and may be triggering.

I was adopted – Twice. In my personal opinion, I lived a better life with my second adoptive parents than I would have ever lived without them. Yes, I am thankful for the opportunities I do have because of my adoptive parents. Yes, I have chosen to see the good in my life and be grateful for everything I do have. But this is the mature, 27 year old man speaking, not the boy who endured so much trauma that causes the 27 year old man to still go to therapy on a weekly basis. Today, I am what most would consider a successful man.

I was adopted the first time at the age of 4 to what the world thought was a loving home. From the ages of 4-8, behind closed doors I was brutally beaten daily. Some nights I would be locked outside at night in the cold rainy Washington state weather nights in nothing except my underwear. I would be stabbed by forks at the dinner table to the point I was bleeding because I would gag on and throw up my food, then be forced to eat my throw up. I would be told to stick out my tongue, just for her fist to slam up under my jaw, forcing my teeth to slam together and viciously bite my tongue. I would be tucked in at night not with a warm hug or a loving kiss, but rather a hand over my face suffocating me until I stopped moving. Her eyes turned into a cold, chilling midnight black, and she would grit her teeth together and say “I will not stop until your body is done moving. Once you stop moving, I will stop.” I would be grabbed by my neck and choked and slammed to the wall with my feet dangling, my entire 30lb body off the ground and glued to the wall from my neck. She has this super strength, black eyes, and could hold me off the ground by my neck, not letting go until she was satisfied knowing she held the life of the little boy between her palms, against the wall.

I would cry when it was time to line up for the bus at the end of the day in kindergarten while all the other kids would be jumping with joy to be picked up by their parents. I would cry because of the home I knew I was going to. Kids would ask me why I was crying. It’s the end of school and I should be excited. But I wasn’t excited, I was jealous because I knew the first graders got to stay the whole day, but I only stayed half the day, and I was going back to a place worse than hell. I would be asked by not only teachers, but doctors as to why I had bruises all over my body, just to tell them they were from my siblings to avoid my abusive adopted mom from ever finding out I told anyone because I knew if I told anyone I would be brutally beaten. I can go on and on, but I’ll end it here for now because as I type this I am getting dizzy, sick and shaking.

I also had to hear the muffled cries of my brother as he would be choked, beaten and abused while fear and adrenaline would shoot through my veins as I listened to the muffled cries of my twin as I watched his body stop squirming, and almost peacefully slowly stop moving knowing I was next. I quickly learned that once the hand covered my mouth and nose, the quicker I would lay limp, the quicker she would be satisfied and leave the room. I would run away at the sound of punches, slaps, screams and terrifying, gasping cries of my sister knowing my 30lb self had no ability to protect her.

My biological mother gave me up to this family because she trusted them. At first she didn’t give me up. At the age of 3 we were taken from her because she was an alcoholic. We were placed in this home but still visited our mother often. My mother would end up signing away her rights so the family could adopt us. My mother died never knowing the truth about what she signed her rights away for and where she sent her three young children. My mother thought I was going to a home that could provide more love than she could, even though she was an Angel and nothing but comfort to me. I didn’t know what money was, nor did I care she didn’t have any. I didn’t know what drugs or alcohol was, nor did I care that she used/drank them. All I knew was what the warm motherly feeling of love, compassion and dedication was, and that is what I felt in my mothers arms, and only in my mothers arms.

I have struggled with abandonment issues and identity issues my entire life. As a young man I cheated on the mother of my daughter because if I got a glimpse of love or attention from a woman, I did not know how to turn it down. I yearned for love and affection. I dealt with losing my sister. No, she didn’t die, I was ripped away from her after the first adoption failed because the next home simply didn’t want 3 children. I would live in the same town as my sister, the only piece of my mother I had left, just to be denied the ability to see her for years at a time. I have matured immensely and have learned from my mistakes, but the trauma is still rooted deep within. I have used my childhood as motivation to stay strong and push foward to obtain a simple, successful, happy life. That’s all I’ve wanted and that’s all I work towards every day, and to make sure my children have the most loving, stable home I can possibly provide for them.

Even when the hardest part of my childhood was over and I was adopted for a second time, this time to the most amazing, most loving family I could dream of who did everything to love and protect me, I had identity issues. Not with sexual orientation, but with who I was genetically. Where I came from ancestrally. I knew nothing about ME but I lived inside me every day. I never understood why I wasn’t enough for my biological mother and father to change so they could take me back. Why was I never good enough? That’s what I asked myself every day. I asked myself this every time I was told to pack my bags and given a trash bag. I would be moving to yet another foster home. I was told I had no biological family, but I did. Dozens of biological family members existed in the very state and county I lived in, and they were looking for me. I love my second adoptive parents very much, and I am the man I am today because of them. My parents mean absolutely everything to me.

A song I associated myself with, and feel with every fiber in my body is “Concrete Angel” by Martina McBride. As a young boy, I would listen to it and it would resonate with me as if the song was specifically written about me, and just for me. There’s no reason why an 8 year old boy should hear that song and feel such a strong connection to it and understand it so perfectly, but I did. No one knew what was happening, and if I told people who knew the family, they wouldn’t believe me. Even one of my adoptive sisters who lived in the home during the abuse denies it and claims it never happened, despite it being my whole world every day living in abuse, because only my brother, sister and I were abused. But it was hidden so well, that some of my abuser’s own biological children weren’t aware – although I know one was, and unfortunately, she inherited the abuse after the adoption failed.

A Lot Of Anger

Today’s story – She is 13 years old. She has reactive attachment disorder (RAD) and takes it out on the whole family. She is my cousin’s child, so also my cousin. She is placed here along with her 2 other sisters. She is triggered by her younger sister’s happiness in being here and how we are one big happy family but she doesn’t feel a part of that.

An interesting suggestion was this one – Therapeutic Boxing. This is a style of depth psychotherapy using boxing skills to bring subconscious and unconscious material to the conscious mind, an unconventional style of mindfulness to look beneath the surface of behaviors. Also contact sports to help channel the anger into a positive. Some recommendations included kickboxing and Krav Maga (an Israeli martial art developed for the defense forces, it is derived from a combination of techniques used in aikido, judo, karate, boxing, savate and wrestling. It is known for its focus on real-world situations and its extreme efficiency) and rugby.

With adoptees – it is a given to seek out an adoption trauma informed therapist. Managing how an adoptee navigates trauma is a life-long road with peaks and valleys. Another type – Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) – a type of talk therapy for people who experience emotions very intensely. Evidence suggests that DBT can be useful in treating mood disorders and suicidal ideation, as well as for changing behavioral patterns such as self-harm and substance use. There is also Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) – a structured, goal-oriented type of talk therapy. There are also rage rooms, also known as smash rooms or anger rooms, where people can vent their rage by destroying objects. Results according to experts appear mixed. One suggested that her oldest (age 10) loves to break large blocks of ice. There’s a lot of sensory input with that activity and it works wonders! One had a high school art teacher that always had old clay projects she could smash into the dumpster. She found that a very satisfying and helpful release. Another suggests group therapy because having other people who can relate makes some feel less alone with their situation. There are so many forms, yet another is Dyadic Developmental Psychotherapy (DDP). Some target difficulties in attachment and some difficulties in intersubjectivity, finding it hard to give and take in relationships.

There are activities one can apply to develop coping skills and emotional regulation skills. Some examples include – Relaxation techniques: deep breathing, meditation, progressive muscle technique. Also taking a quiet bath in the dark, being alone but intentional about where and how one spends that time, eliminating all other distractions. Exercise; dancing, talking a walk, lifting weights. Talking with someone you trust. Engaging in art; drawing, coloring, painting, photography, playing a musical instrument.  Journal, then later burn it into ashes. Also, scream into a pillow. 

For the time being validate her anger. Acknowledge that you couldn’t even imagine what she is going through and apologize to her. Tell her that she’s welcome to be a part of that family bond, whenever she’s ready, and to take her time. And tell her until then, you can be a friend – if she let’s you. Some adoptees find only adulthood brings the freedom they need to cease being so angry.

It’s Complicated

I didn’t hate motherhood but circumstances robbed me of it with my first child. She ended up being raised by her dad and a step-mother, after I left her temporarily in the care of her paternal grandmother. This morning I was reading an edited extract from Undo Motherhood by Diana Karklin. Stories from women all over the planet about how motherhood was not a welcomed event in their lives.

At the time I left my daughter, it didn’t feel like it was because I didn’t love being her mother, I always did love that but was I committed to it ? Reading these stories today, I wonder at my lack of maturity and sense of responsibility at the time. I think I always expected to do something like my own mother did – get married and immediately have children, while going to work everyday to contribute to the family income. I was also into “having a good time” and all that meant as someone in their early 20s – whether in a marriage or not.

Even so, it’s strange that I married. During my senior year in high school, that had not been my plan. I was going to share an apartment with my best friend. The first time I went out with the man who I would marry and have a child with, I told my mom when I came back from that date that it was never going to work out. Then, he showed me a ring and asked me to marry him and so, I did.

I still think marriage isn’t a good bargain for a woman, even though I then married a second time and had two sons with the man who is my husband today. If anything happens that takes him from me and leaves me yet living, I cannot imagine marrying again. We have now been married a long time and so, this time it worked out but with a bump or two along the way – yet the marriage has been able to endure.

Reading the article in The Guardian today – “The women who wish they weren’t mothers: ‘An unwanted pregnancy lasts a lifetime’ “ – has given me pause in reflecting on my own life. Also today, in the Science of Mind magazine which shares the philosophy of a man named Ernest Holmes who created a practice based upon the philosophies of the world and developments in science, I was also given more pause to reflect on romantic love.

The author, Rev Dr Jim Lockard, reflected on what it means to be human and to have a spiritual nature. Our biological selves seek to procreate, as does all life. Our emotional selves seek connection and to give and receive love with a special other to experience a deep feeling of fulfillment. Our intellectual selves seek to find a partner to share our human experiences and to create a family structure. Our spiritual selves seek to link to another to experience the joining of spiritual identities in relationship.

Clearly on many levels, having children fulfills a lot of those aspects and qualities of life, as much or sometimes more than a romantic partner can. Just as The Guardian piece made clear – it is often our cultures that have set rules and expectations about our adult lives. Even as the rigidity of narrow gender definitions have been rapidly changing, with the overturn of Roe v Wade, many women feel they are being pushed back into another time that they thought was in the past. They may be forced into giving birth, due to whatever reason and circumstance, even though they aren’t craving to fulfill the duties of motherhood. Children do best when they are intended and wanted. When they are not – wounding and trauma are the result. Just as an unwanted pregnancy lasts a lifetime, regardless of how long that initial romantic relationship endures, or even how that one night stand or rape has become imprinted on a woman’s soul, what happens to that child lasts a lifetime as well.

The nature of falling in love is a mixture of biological urges, emotional longings, rational explanations and spiritual connections. To fall in love is to exist in instability and the projection of our unconscious expectations onto another person. Our sense of rational choice is diminished. Many women wake up one day to realize that they fell in love with someone their ego was imagining and not a reality the other person was able to actually be – long term. A man is often free to walk away, leaving a woman forced to carry the burden of their children for at least 2 decades – truly for both the mother’s and the children’s lifetimes. Whether a father does or not is never guaranteed.

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.