Never Too Young To Grieve

Today’s blog is courtesy of a Facebook post by Stacey Jackson Gagnon.

Have you seen a newborn grieve loss?

How about a 6 month old?

I didn’t recognize grief. Through all the years and all the foster babies that came through my home, I didn’t see it.

I never realized that a mother is not interchangeable; you cannot just change a known mother with an unknown one.

I guess I thought these babies were coming from such horrible circumstances, that they wouldn’t understand the loss; because in my mind, my home was a gain. They were gaining safety, love, attention,…I now understand that foster care and adoption begin with loss; the loss of the known.

I used to think that a foster baby coming into my home would not remember.

I was wrong.

While in the womb the child knows not any difference between mother and self; they are one. They are tasting, smelling, touching, hearing and seeing within the womb.

Upon birth, a separation occurs and what had once been a unified, indistinguishable source of life, is now separated. And suddenly there are things that prohibit the attention and care that had once been always present and never-ending. So the baby learns to express a need for this attention and care; they learn to cry. And the mother responds, and she is known…the baby knows her smell, her sound, her touch, her taste. All is remembered and well.

But then imagine, this mother is suddenly gone. It is now someone else’s face and eyes; someone else’s touch, smell and routine. The mother is gone and replaced by someone who is unknown.

All is not well. Where has the known mother gone? Why has she left me with this unknown?

I was the unknown mother and I didn’t recognize the grief.

I wish I had understood that every foster baby coming into my home was experiencing grief. No matter the circumstance of their removal, they were experiencing loss.

Grief is a normal response to the greatest loss.

I was an unknown mother. Every baby I held still remembered the known mother. Grief was not assuaged by my home, my family, my deeds, or my words…it was instead held in the space of shared daily moments.

And slowly over time I became known too. Babies remember.

Please Be Mindful

Please be mindful of what you say about an adoptee’s birth parents and extended birth family – regardless the circumstances or how you personally feel. Remember that this person shares genes and inheritable aspects with that family of origin.

From an adoptee – As a child I internalized the messages about how I was so much better off adopted, that I was convinced my mother must have been a very evil person. I thought perhaps a witch or a prostitute and would tell everyone this. I was secretly petrified I would be just like her. (Note: she’s not, she was a vulnerable woman who was not supported to keep me.)

Of course, it is known that children have no filters or sense of decorum and will often repeat the perspectives of adults around them – thus comes this sad recollection. One of my earliest memories is from when I was 5 years old and a classmate told me I was adopted because my biological mom didn’t love me. It was so hurtful and it took me a long time to get past it.

The same advice applies to one parent or family bashing the other parent or family. Regardless of whether these are biological, foster families, adoptive family. All of these are part of a child’s history and life experience and when you do this, you are saying in effect that a part of the child is equally bad.

Not In Touch With The Reality

The incoming stimulus checks are on a lot of people’s mind these days. Included in this contingent are hopeful adoptive parents who plan to increase their adoption fund with the check. At the same time, there will be a lot of struggling families including single moms who be putting their stimulus towards keeping their own children so that they aren’t taken away by social services due to poverty. And poverty issues are huge now as we begin to see some glimmers of hope at the end of the long dark COVID tunnel.

Saying things to hopeful adoptive parents like “if hopeful adopters got all their money back, when an unwed mother changed her mind, then we really WOULD be buying and selling babies…” must be repressed to avoid hot tempers.

My heart would love to say – “I would love to give beyond imagined generosity in support of vulnerable women in crisis.” Yeah, I wish that was in my own financial power. No one on social media would react to that one but in adoption focused groups, every comment about how amazing adoption is gets tons of love. BTW adoption is more honestly filled with trauma and wounds of abandonment and rejection but no hopeful adoptive parent wants to perceive that part.

Take a woman who could NEVER do foster care because her biological daughter would be traumatized if they had to send her “sibling” back to be reunified…and yet, that is precisely the official goal of foster care – to give parents some breathing space to address serious issues that interfere with their ability to parent well.

Just today, I learned about a man named Dave Ramsey – he has a blog post, How To Adopt Without Debt. Every other post in adoption related threads is about how he supports families but then, the members of such groups use that advice to encourage hopeful adoptive parents to spend money that will tear someone else’s family apart. Why are they so myopic? BTW, a caution that he does not have a very good reputation regarding his own behaviors, so be aware the advice might not be good advice.

Is it because hopeful adoptive parents simply don’t see their desire to adopt as tearing someone else’s family apart? Are they that blinded by their side of a desire to have a child? Is it that the narrative in adoption support communities is erroneously that these children are always unwanted? Are they judging unwed mothers, or mothers in poverty, from a superiority stance?

The only hope for reform is speaking plainly and honestly about all of these related issues.

Intentionally Creating an Adoptee

So the topic came up about how a birth mother loses her baby – intentionally surrendering the baby at the hospital to pre-selected adoptive parents who are hovering there through labor, delivery and immediately after the birth – or because the baby has been taken away by child protective services.

The topic first came up from a woman who falls in the latter category and feels despised by just about everyone as a despicable failure.

In this adoption group I belong to, I’ve come to know that the predominant opinion is that adoption in general is a bad thing. That young mothers are convinced by parents, religious authorities and society in general that they are incapable of parenting a baby they have conceived and carried to term. This has created a hugely profitable industry supporting the separating of a baby from its original mother and handing it over to a couple that can afford to pay tens of thousands of dollars for the privilege of calling the original mother’s baby her own.

So the first response, to the sad feelings of the mom who lost her baby due to the intervention of child protective services, comes from an adoptee thus –

I’m way more judgmental of women that carry children to full term knowing that they have no intention of parenting. Like the minute they have the baby it goes to the adoptive parents without a blink. In my mind…they are purposefully creating an Adoptee. I find that despicable. (This is of course a very broad statement that does not apply to every single one.) Mother’s that lose their children to the system did not plan on creating an Adoptee. They had every intention of raising their children. Then something happened between the time of birth and the time of separation. Regardless of the reason for removal…it was never their intention for their children to be parented by strangers. (Again…a very broad statement that does not apply to every case).

Another woman, a mom who lost her child writes –

There’s a stigma that if your rights have been terminated through the system then as a mom, it puts a red X on us. Here’s just a few examples of things that have been said to me – “You obviously didn’t try hard enough.” “If it was my kid, I’d fight til the death.” “You must have done something just really terrible.” A lot of people in society, especially adoptive parents only see a different side of the system. They don’t see how people get there or the months of fighting for your child just to be fought at every turn. It seems as though everything is weaponized against you, not just during, but for years afterwards.

Yet another mother who lost her child adds –

Watching somebody else raise our kids is always hard. Watching somebody who was deemed “better than us” do it is harder. And when that person is abusing them while the child you were PERMITTED to raise is thriving (for the most part) is harder. As mothers of welfare loss, we have to live with the fact our children are in a system known for its abuses. I’m lucky to have contact with mine.

The problem is that society is conditioned to believe that Child Protective Services is infallible and only takes kids when something is severely wrong and their parents give up, correcting that narrative is very hard. Realize just how broken the system is. Most of the time these women forcefully lose their children only due to poverty.

And finally, this perspective from a woman who once wanted to adopt –

Society as a whole has to make these first moms villains to feel better about the systems. Infant adoption is justified by calling birth moms brave, selfless, any other positive attribute you can think of. But since mother’s who lose their children to welfare didn’t just willingly hand over their kids to some family who wanted their kid so badly they are neither of those things. A narrative that these mothers have done horrible things to their children is pushed to continue to justify removal. Until you meet them, join Facebook groups, or otherwise learn the truth you are often under the impression that they simply aren’t safe. In short, they’re “bad” because they “didn’t want the best for their children,” whereas mothers who place are saints.

So, it is true that there’s a huge stigma if a parent lost their child to the foster care system. That parent is judged as having been terrible. People think they didn’t deserve their own kids. That the parent must have harmed them. Termination of Parental Rights and Adoption is justified by demonizing people. Society as a whole doesn’t see anything they don’t want to see. They aren’t willing to see the poverty, lack of resources or that these parents are pushing mightily against a system that’s determined to take their children, often supplying strangers with financial stipends, rather than trying to help the parent achieve their potential with financial support, therapy and basic living resources.

Saying The Right Thing

Who knew ?

Everything about adoption is complex and uniquely individual.  For over 60 years, I had no idea.

I gave birth to two sons – one at age 47 and one at age 50.  I don’t let the misperceptions that I am my son’s grandmother bother me too much.  Afterall, I am a grandmother, just not these boys grandmother.  I have two grandchildren, a boy and a girl.

Draw a circle. This is the center ring. In it, put the name of the person at the center of the current trauma.  Now draw a larger circle around the first one. In that ring put the name of the person next closest to the trauma.  Repeat the process as many times as you need to. In each larger ring put the next closest people. Parents and children before more distant relatives. Intimate friends in smaller rings, less intimate friends in larger ones.

Here are the rules. The person in the center ring can say anything she wants to anyone, anywhere. She can rant and complain and whine and moan and curse the heavens and say, “Life is unfair” and “Why me?” That’s the one payoff for being in the center ring.  This is the way we give an adoptee voice without judgement or push-back.

Everyone else can say those things too, but only to people in larger rings.

When you are talking to a person in a ring smaller than yours, someone closer to the center of the crisis, the goal is to help. Listening is often more helpful than talking.

If you’re going to open your mouth, ask yourself if what you are about to say is likely to provide comfort and support. If it isn’t, don’t say it. Don’t, for example, give advice. People who are suffering from trauma don’t need advice. They need comfort and support. So say, “I’m sorry.” or “This must really be hard for you.” or “I am ready to hear you without interruption.” Don’t say, “I know someone who was adopted and they are very happy they were.” or “You should be grateful to your adoptive parents.” And don’t say, “Your original mother must have been a monster.”

If you want to scream or cry or complain, if you want to tell someone how shocked you are or how icky you feel, or whine about how it reminds you of all the terrible things that have happened to someone you know lately, that’s fine. It’s a perfectly normal response. Just do it to someone in a bigger ring.