Youth Villages

My husband called my attention to an article at NPR.org – “18 can mean an abrupt exit from foster care. For some, it’s no longer a solo journey.” I already knew somewhat about aging out of foster care and the effects of that.

What attracted my attention was this – Helping young people see that they can have a stable future is the goal of the LifeSet program. Developed in 1999 by the Memphis nonprofit Youth Villages, it is being used today in 18 states and Washington, DC. I appreciate this from their Mission and Values statements – “When at all possible, children belong with their families. We help families provide the support and structure that all children need.”

Also this – We develop innovative programs that serve children and families facing the most challenging circumstances. Our entrepreneurial spirit leads us to test the limits of existing services and create new opportunities. We provide care and treatment for children in an open, safe environment. We ensure that young people are physically and emotionally safe. We help children and families develop skills to live successfully by focusing on areas that have a long-term impact on the family.

LifeSet puts transition-age youth in the driver’s seat of their lives with a trained specialist by their side to help them identify and achieve goals. It is is an individualized, evidence-informed community-based program that is highly intensive. LifeSet specialists meet with participants face to face at least once each week. They text, email and call young people regularly throughout the week, when needed. Specialists stabilize even the toughest situations and help young people build healthy relationships, obtain safe housing, education and employment. LifeSet is one of the nation’s first — and now one of the largest — evidence-informed programs helping young people who age out of foster care. More than 20,000 young people have helped through LifeSet across the country since the program began in 1999.

Being Infertile While Black

I actually learned about the book in my image while reading another woman’s story of the disappointments and heartbreak of going through failure after failure after failure in assisted reproduction cycles. The essay’s author mentions Emily Bernard’s book Black is the Body, in which she describes her own reproductive struggles, and how she felt like a failure for not being able to conceive. No matter how much she tried, she could not conceive (she ended up adopting). And though my blog today is not about that book, so often, one thing leads to another and there I find adoption. Infertility is a common thread that very often leads to adoption. In my all things adoption group they often counsel women to confront their grief related to infertility before adopting. An adopted child will never be the child you could not conceive naturally and not coming to grips with that will bring a problematic relationship with your adopted child who regardless may never feel like they were good enough to meet your expectations even if you did not go through infertility first.

You can read Edna Bonhomme‘s entire essay in The Guardian about her experience of infertility in search of Black Motherhood. “For women from Black, working-class families like mine, to have children – countering the forces that tried to destroy us – can be a powerful political act.” That perspective really made sense to me but was one I would have never considered, if I had not read Edna’s essay. I will share some other excerpts I jotted down.

“Infertility damages mental health in many ways, and the clinical depression and anxiety disorders that occur after failed IVF attempts can have long term negative consequences. Some people offered unwanted counsel: ‘Why don’t you adopt?’ I had to accept that some people will never get pregnant, no matter how hard they try. (As a writer) It is more challenging to tell a story about fertility treatment that ends in childlessness.”

“One friend and confidante, who struggled for nearly 10 years to conceive, told me how she had been ready to adopt right before she became pregnant. I have to rationalize that my body, like all bodies, is complex, and there is no simple answer for why I cannot get pregnant. In the closing lines of a story such as this, one might assume the denouement brings a child: it doesn’t. Unfortunately, it ends here.”

I had expected this essay to end in an adoption but another thing I often read in my all things adoption group is not everyone has to have children. It would appear that is where Edna ended up – in an acceptance of nature as it is for her Black body.

Challenge The Now

When we realize that adoption is born from a separation between a mother and child, we will see that it is traumatizing to all the people involved. Adoption Trauma serves as a term that explains how there are multiple losses, how the process itself is traumatic, and the impact on the mental wellbeing of the person being adopted, those who are choosing to adopt, and those who are separated. You can download an Adoption Trauma Factsheet at this site – https://www.transformadoption.com/. Share the factsheet, help raise awareness, educate your community, and support your loved ones.

When a person is adopted their life path is irrevocably altered. It is unnatural and traumatizing for them. The task is to learn how to manage this trauma so the adoptee may find their true identity. Corrupt adoption practices include fabricating adoption documents, coercive recruitment campaigns and systemic oppression of the truth. It is time to challenge the now and help adopted people learn their true identities so they may find their true purpose in life.

It is time to uncover the truth about yourself as impacted by adoption, learn where your origins began, and reveal your adoption story. In my case, both of my parents were adopted. They died knowing next to nothing about all of these aspects of their identity. I have been able to uncover a lot of it for myself, my sister and our own children. Creating a sense of our true identities now. An adoptee who is able to do this feels safer within their own self. Each of us educates ourselves as much as our personal interest and needs dictate. We seek to build a larger awareness of the truths of this practice that profits massively the adoption industry.

People who are adopted domestically in the United States have been advocating to get their original birth certificates, which have historically been sealed and amended. Efforts are being made state by state to overturn previous laws during a time adoptions were conducted in secrecy. It is vital to one’s health to have connections with one’s families of origin and also to know one’s familial medical history.

It is up to all of us to transform adoption. Now is the time we can re-define who adoptees are individually and collectively. They should not be second class citizens. They deserve their full basic human rights.

We are all pioneers in this effort seeking to transform adoption practices together.

Adoptee Anger

Adoptee anger by Kyleigh Elisa

What one adoptee has to say about her own from Kyleigh shares about Adoptee Anger posted in Intercountry Adoptee Voices. Kyleigh was adopted from Colombia and brought to the USA.

I am angry for sure. I feel like my anger ebbs and flows. Like, some days I’m just ready to burst and others, it’s a slow burn deep down.

When I was first given permission to be angry about my adoption about a decade ago by a therapist, it was like a volcano that erupted inside of me and I couldn’t stop it for months. Back then it was more about always feeling unacceptable. Feeling like I hated how I was different in a sea of white people. That no-one close ever really acknowledged the pain inside me due to adoption. That I was made to feel like I was an exotic commodity, while also being told, “No, you’re just like us. You’re just our Kyleigh”. I feel like that was some kind of unintentional gaslighting trying to make me feel accepted, but it had the opposite effect.

Since then I let my anger out more regularly and I don’t drink to dull the pain like I used to. I am definitely still angry though and I hate being adopted. I hate colonialism. I hate white supremacy. I hate the patriarchy. I am afraid of religious organizations that allow people to justify it all. I believe all these things contribute to why we are all adopted.

Billowing anger by Kyleigh Elisa

I just start thinking about it all and the anger billows. It’s a thought path I have to force myself to interrupt because it does not help me. While I think it’s good to be aware that stuff exists, I also cannot allow it to deteriorate my mental health. So I research and try to give back to our community and participate in adoptee organizations – this reminds me that I’m not alone.

Remembering I’m not alone helps a lot. Taking gradual steps to reclaim pieces of my culture that were taken from me helps too. It’s scary while I try to get back what was lost, and that’s upsetting at times, but in the end I reap the rewards accepting each little piece back to me, as it’s mine to rightfully hold.

Surrogates – Mother Infant Separation

I have wondered about this myself. A women in my all things adoption group asks the question for me and gets lots of answers.

I was adopted and I have trauma from my biological mom as well as some from the foster care system and then after getting adopted as well. I have seen a lot of people in this group mention the trauma a newborn baby automatically has when taken from the mother to be placed with a different family. I am wondering about surrogates then? If a new born baby is instantly traumatized due to the mother putting the child up for adoption, would that not be the same for a woman that is being a surrogate for another – couple or single individual ? For women who are unable to conceive, the choice seems to be either to adopt or have a surrogate. For women who can’t conceive, should they not also be allowed to be mothers ?

First response – No one dies from remaining childless. It’s selfish to intentionally create a child born into trauma. It sometimes takes as many as 3 women to make a baby. 1. One to pay for that because a woman she cares about wants a baby. 2. The biological donors and 3. The surrogate. What a boggling circumstance for the resulting child to wrap their mind around. People should just accept their infertility. The reality is that most of these women only want babies. Truth is that babies aren’t “in need” of someone else to mother them. They are in high demand and sought after by many.

Next perspective – No one is “owed” a baby or parenthood. It’s not a fatal condition if one never becomes a parent. However, if people want to be parents, there are legally free children in the foster care system. Children who need parents – though the best outcome is that they are never adopted but cared for under permanent guardianship – people to act in the role that parents would. Truth is – no one “needs” an infant.

Finally, onto the actual question – “There’s also a lot that’s ethically wrong with surrogacy beyond the babies trauma, which I think is the biggest issue. Jennifer Lahl has written and speaks out against it.” So I went looking and have linked her name to an article. She writes – “Gestational surrogacy involves impregnating a surrogate mother by implanting embryos created from the eggs of the intended mother or egg donor, and the sperm of the intended father or sperm donor. Women and newborns often do not survive gestational pregnancies, and those who do are often affected physically and psychologically.” I’m not certain about the do not survive part but that is what she wrote. You can read the rest of her article at the link in her name here.

And then a counter argument and I’m not saying this one isn’t as biased as the one above. “Couple Speaks Out Against Jennifer Lahl” courtesy of The Surrogacy Law Center. “Lahl explores the issue of third-party reproduction, focusing on several women whose experiences point to what she sees as flaws in the surrogacy process. She argues that surrogacy has become a baby-buying operation that allows wealthy couples to exploit vulnerable women, often those of lesser means.” ~ Susan Donaldson James of ABC News

Jenn and Brad Nixon of Chesterfield County in VA did their best to defeat infertility for 7 years. The Nixon’s chose to use a surrogate, or gestational carrier, after they learned Jenn’s heart problems would make it dangerous for her to get pregnant. Infertility is a disease affecting more than 7 million Americans. While Lahl highlights how affluent couples are using and exploiting surrogate services, objections to her perspective are raised by couples who have experienced infertility and are not in a wealthy income bracket.

Yet while much has been said here and maybe the answer is buried in almost 170 comments and linked responses to them, my heart already knows. Separating an infant from a gestational carrier is no different than separating an infant any time from the mother in who’s womb that baby developed. The least damaging case I know of was of a mother carrying a baby for her daughter. There will still be separation but the grandmother can be expected to remain in the baby’s life throughout at least their childhood and that might mitigate the effects significantly.

That story (which I once wrote about in this blog) is about a 51-year-old grandmother from Illinois who gave birth to her own granddaughter through surrogacy, when her daughter couldn’t conceive. Julie Loving, 51, was the gestational carrier for her daughter, Breanna Lockwood, who delivered a baby girl named Briar Juliette Lockwood. This has inspired a few other instances of grandparent surrogacy, I see.

Julie Loving with Breanna Lockwood and baby

And just adding this perspective because I think it is realistic – I don’t think the whole world must outlaw something because it creates trauma. There are traumatic things happening everywhere. BUT we can help children grow to be happier people – IF we acknowledge that trauma, respect it, be open to talking about it and hopefully maybe healing it. (And being open to the fact that it may never heal). Not all people will eventually be in touch with their trauma. Some will be and some can heal. Some will be and CAN’T heal. Life is a gamble. You will set yourself up for trouble – if you can’t even talk about it or acknowledge it exists.

Family Preservation

I am a huge fan of prioritizing family preservation. Today’s blog is courtesy of a comment by Ferera Swan along with the graphic image I share.

Sometimes there’s an assumption that advocating for family preservation means “forcing a mother to parent” when that’s not what it means at all. Family preservation means keeping a baby in their families of origin even when a mother is unable or unwilling to parent.

There is plenty of available research and shared lived experiences to support that permanently separating a baby from their mother causes lifelong trauma. Extending that separation to maternal and paternal family members compounds that trauma. Adoptees also often grow up without genetic mirroring and in racial/ethnic isolation, fundamental factors that contribute to mental/emotional health and development.

Biological relationships are the birthright of every human being and should be prioritized and preserved over the interests of others.

Mother/child separation, if necessary for whatever reason, should never be a permanent decision made for the child (unless made by the child) and reunification should always be the first priority.

In the event a mother does not wish to parent, all efforts to keep the child within their families of origin should be made.

Adoptees are at least 4x more likely to attempt suicide than those who remain with their biological families. Please listen.

#adopteevoices #adopteerights 

You Don’t Want To Parent, What To Do ?

An acquaintance is pregnant and you know they absolutely don’t want to parent that child after it is born but abortion is not option for your acquaintance. As an adoption trauma informed person, what do you suggest to this person ?

Note – decisions about pregnancy can be really complex. All-Options Talkline may be a resource – (888) 493-0092.

Deciding to not parent seems easy because of what our society has ingrained in us, but the reality is birth mothers hurt deeply their whole lives from making that decision, whether they are conscious of it or not. The same with the child, it sounds so easy to adopt out a baby because “they won’t even know” but in fact they have trauma their whole life, whether they are conscious of it or not.

For those pro-Adoption people who are also Pro-Life and believe that outlawing abortion will yield more babies for you to adopt – I have some bad news. According to The Turnaway Study, 91% women who were denied wanted abortions didn’t choose adoption. The vast majority parented their child. 

And the fact is – abortion is safer than common procedures like tonsillectomy and wisdom tooth removal. And it’s certainly much safer than going through childbirth. Far more adoptees than one would think will say “I would rather have been aborted than adopted.” 90% of American women who have abortions have them in the first trimester. I am one of those. I had an abortion in the later 1970s – after already having given birth to a daughter. At the time, she was being raised by her father and a step-mother.

In the study there was an association between abortion and mental health. But it was exactly opposite to what has been said in the popular media. It’s not that receiving an abortion was associated with worse mental health, but in the short run, being denied the abortion was – so higher anxiety, lower self-esteem, lower life satisfaction. For up until the first six months, the women who were denied fared worse. They were forced to come to terms with the fact that they were about to have a baby that they had previously felt that they weren’t able to take care of. 

What are the actual implications of giving up a living, breathing child to adoption ? Adoption is not death, but it is LOSS. The grief and trauma are life long. Birthparents cannot ever escape it. Naming that child? Loving that child? Losing that child? Living the rest of their life without their child? From a birth mother – My son is 11 years old and I have never heard him speak. I don’t know what his voice sounds like. I barely know anything about him, and it all comes through a filter. Is what his APs say actually true? I don’t know. I genuinely have no way to know if my son is being loved and cared for the way he deserves. It’s honestly terrifying. It is definitely more difficult to know the child is still out there. It’s an ambiguous grief that’s hard to understand or explain.

So the answer could be kinship! Why doesn’t anyone ever think, oh yeah, this child has family on the paternal and maternal side? At least, adoptees can then stay in their genetic family. Most adult adoptees will tell you it is better than being given to strangers to be raised. It also allows the mother time to change her perspective on parenting, have lifestyle or relationship changes while remaining in her child’s life.

In fact, I talked to an adoptee recently who didn’t know she was adopted until she was in her 30s. Attempting reunions with her birth parents yielded a mother who wasn’t interested in trying to forge a relationship but on the father’s side – it turned out that there was a paternal grandparent who did want to parent her but the birth mother had blocked it.

At least family members on either side are genetic mirrors for the child to grow up around as well as the ability to hear family stories as they are passed down. History and heritage – both matter. I know. I didn’t have either until after my adoptee parents had died and I began the search to know who my original grandparents were. Not only did I learn about my cultural heritage but I’ve been given priceless family history stories and digital photos that add value to my new sense of wholeness. That real sense of wholeness was not acquired until I was over 60 years old.

Parallel Universes

I only just learned about this book by David Bohl. I have not read it. He is an adoptee. I found an story he tells about being an adoptee and I share from that story today. He talks about the moment he learned shame in connection to his adoption, as well as the confusion and hurt that followed. A hurt that could not and should not be ignored, because ignoring it just fuels the fire of shame…and for him, alcoholism, until he found the origin story that helped him become whole. 

He says, I’ve been two people my entire life. I don’t have a dissociative personality disorder—I’m just a regular guy whose reality is that I am a relinquishee and adoptee, and a person in long-term recovery from alcoholism. In the past my perception was so warped I had to occupy a few Parallel Universes: worlds that collided with each other, but that were also able to contain a person made out of two people. Until I made those worlds connect and interlock, living a split existence almost killed me: I was terrified of confronting my reality; its darkness. 

He shares an old Cherokee fable called “Tale of Two Wolves.” A battle between two ‘wolves’ inside us. One is evil. It is anger, envy, jealousy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego. The other is good. It is joy, peace love, hope serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion and faith.” The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather, “Which wolf wins?“ The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one that you feed.” 

Bohl disagrees. He says, It is possible to free yourself from the bad wolf—such as the evil of trauma—but starving it won’t work. Your darkness is part of you. Even if you manage to starve the wolf, there will still be a skeleton left behind. A skeleton is not closure—there’s no such thing as closure: we only have context and from context comes wisdom. For me, starving the bad wolf would mean I’d ignore my past, my authentic self, which means I’d ignore reality and the fact that I am a human being who had been relinquished and traumatized by it. I would ignore the fact that I was also drinking myself to death.

He shares, When I was six years old, I told two friends that I was adopted. It was never a secret in my family, and it felt normal, although I understood that it made me unique. I’d look at my family members—most of them olive-skinned, dark-haired – and I’d look at myself in the mirror with my freckled face and red hair. But our difference didn’t bother me. It didn’t bother me until the day I confessed my adoption to two friends. Their shock was so palatable that I urged them to my house so that my mother would confirm the secret I just shared with them. At first, I thought their shock came from being impressed—as if I told them I could fly—but as my adoptive mother cheerfully explained that it was indeed true, I saw shadows of pity, even revulsion, cross my friends’ faces. In that moment I learned about shame. I needed to hide and never reveal my true self. Revealing true self was dangerous. 

The revelation of my adoption introduced capital-S Shame into my life—a thing so huge it overshadowed everything. The world became a giant microscope and I felt observed, scrutinized because I was different. I felt like a freak. As an adult, he became an alcoholic. He had ignored the fact that he had been relinquished. He didn’t want to know about his origins. For Bohl, once he confronted that reality, he could no longer drink in peace. It was the beginning of his recovery.

His story gives me pause. After my dad (an adoptee) died, my sister and I discovered a “confession” of sorts that he wrote for a religious retreat that he and my mom attended. It was about the time he was arrested for drunk driving and bargained with God to let him escape the worst impacts (loss of family and employment). Then, he admits that he broke his bargain, for the most part though he returned to church with my mom after their children had flown the nest to keep her company and I know from personal experience that he continued to go to church during the 4 months he lived after her death until he joined her there in whatever place the soul goes.

This story touches me not only because I discovered his DWI arrest but also because he never seemed interested in his origins. His adoptive parents were his parents and he wished to know no more than that. More’s the pity. He had a half-sister living only 90 miles from him when he died who could have told him about his mother. His father never knew he had a son. His father died in 1968 but they were so much alike – both loved fishing and the ocean – that they would have been great buddies had they known of one another. Was my father ashamed of having been given up and adopted ? I don’t know, he never expressed any feelings about it with me. When my mom, also an adoptee, wanted to search for her mother, he cautioned her against it, saying she might be opening up a can of worms. So, she confided in me but that is the only indication of my dad’s feelings about his adoption that I ever received.

Back to the interview with Bohl, which takes a heartbreaking turn – he says, I got sober at the age of 45 after a seizure that forced me to dig up the records of my birth—I had to know my medical history. And then there she was: Miss Karen Bender, who died at the age of 56. She was a red-headed coed, a flight attendant, a mother to three daughters and two sons—one, me, relinquished—and, eventually, a half-ghost drinking herself to death in a heap of old blankets in a rented storage. Her lonely heart gave out in a homeless shelter. She died alone, isolated like a sick animal, hiding from the world. Not wanting to bother anyone. No one around to see her final departure. Her shame. 

He ends his story with this – she was a tragic wolf. But instead of starving the memory of her, I dug deeper and it helped me to become a survivor whose heart started to heal once I got context and clarity about where I came from and who I was. And even then, I sometimes still felt like an outsider. Yet I wanted to live the kind of life that didn’t depend on adapting. I understood reality and the two wolves that informed it. I had my own family, I was learning my origins. There was darkness in my past but there was also healing that stemmed from it. There was joy, too, and freedom— I was connecting with people in genuine way; no longer through the haze of shame and unhealthy coping mechanisms.  The Reality that I found triumphs over Shame, its capital S getting smaller and smaller as I now live as a man who is whole. 

David Bohl was adopted at birth by a prosperous family. Throughout his earlier years, he tried to keep up a good front and surpass the expectations of his adoptive parents, as he tried desperately to fit in. Bohl was raised with no religious teachings. David later struggled with traditional recovery fellowships; and so, instead sought out secular supports, where he finally fit in. This support allowed him to learn the stark facts about mental health and addiction, as well as the monumental issues many “reliquishees” need to overcome to find peace and the quality of life they deserve. Today, David is an independent addiction consultant

Being A Supportive Spouse To An Adoptee

The person described in today’s story could have been my father. The difference is that he married another adoptee. Both of my parents grew up knowing they were adopted all along. They had this in common but their perspectives on having been adopted were very different. My mom yearned to know the truth of her adoption. My dad acted content with his lot in life. I suppose that these two adoptees found each other, fell in love and had the support of one another until death did part them, kept the loneliness at bay. Still, my mom did communicate to me her feelings about having been adopted because my dad was not able to empathize with her feelings.

Today’s story –

My husband is adopted. He was adopted at birth and has always known he was adopted. That’s about as much communication as he has ever had with his parents about it. His mom told me once “I just let him know he could ask me whatever he wanted to know and that was that.” Since he’s not a very big talker, he’s never really spoke much at all about his adoption with his parents. I’ve always come from the place of it being his life experience and however he wants to go through life with it, is how I will support him.

We have 4 kids. He’s an amazing dad and husband. I often wonder if I’m being a good enough wife in supporting him. I’ve read about how much trauma even the “good” adoptions have and my heart just dies inside for my husband. He has no desire to look for his biological family and says “I have a mom and dad.” I completely support him in that. Is there anything more I can do? Of course it would be easier to just keep going on with my life and not put any thought towards his mental health, since he’s always seems fine. He’s such a people pleaser (especially for his parents, which I’ve now learned is typical with adoptees). I never want him to put on a happy face for us, if he is hurting inside and I could see him doing this.

Is it actually possible to not care at all or to not feel feelings at all about being adopted? To have a happy childhood and feel no trauma and grow up and never have any of it affect your life? Because so much of what I’ve read says otherwise.

The first response was (I get this about men as well) – It’s totally possible he had a great childhood and doesn’t have any trauma, and it’s also possible he is hiding it inside, since men are socially conditioned to be that way. It’s a tough call. I can tell you it’s possible because that’s me. I have no adoption associated trauma. I’m in therapy; my therapist has tried to “get it out of me” and I’m always open to having the discussion but she closed that door once she concluded there wasn’t any trauma to work on. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ I can see you truly care about and love your husband and want what’s best for him but forcing the issue may make him drive it deeper into the closet. This is a really tough and delicate situation.

And I do agree with this perspective (BTW my parents were about 8 months old and had spent time with their original mothers before they were adopted back in the 1930s) – You can experience trauma as a newborn and not remember it. It’s not always something you feel. It can just be something that affected you and you’re not conscious of it.

This could be true of my dad as well – he could have dealt with it a long time ago and just doesn’t feel the need to bring up the past. He may be in a healthy place and bringing up that trauma back up would retraumatize him because he thought he had come to peace with it. (My dad used to caution my mom against opening up a can of worms with her own yearning.)

From a voice of experience – I am the spouse of a domestic infant adoptee. I don’t think it’s your place to push, just be supportive. My husband was “fine” until he was not. It was a very, very slow process and I saw things a long time before he discovered them on his own, things like how his behaviors, such as people pleasing and his emotional response to perceived abandonment, the way his adoptive parents treated him, etc. He slowly came out of a fog, and it has been a long and painful process. That being said, not everyone has the same experience. Additionally, if he is in a fog, its something he has to process on his own. I think it could be extremely and emotionally damaging for you to spin this into any sort of realizations (if they exist) that he isn’t emotionally or psychologically ready for. Just love him, don’t push, and support him.