The Hardest Thing

To give birth under an assumed name and then walk away leaving the baby behind. Clearly it was the plan before the baby was born. The mother has yet to be identified or found. Child Protective Services has now placed the baby girl in a foster home. After being there for a year, they will want this couple to adopt the baby girl.

The only thing the mother left behind was a box with a toy and a note that says “the hardest thing I have ever went through, is missing you”. If the mother were to be found and come back for her baby, of course, reunification of the mother and infant would be the obvious goal.

But if the mother does not return, how will her adoptive parents explain to the little girl what happened ? The current foster mom definitely will not say – “she loved you so much, she gave you away”.

Suggestions –

Find a therapist to help you navigate what will be a lifelong process. Words matter and age appropriate are critical. You have a big job ahead of you – do all you can to do it well.

DNA testing as soon as possible to identify members of the natural family and get in contact with them. It’s unlikely to find nothing. Many people take DNA tests. Even a cousin can point you in the right direction.

In answer to the question of what to tell others about the child, some practical advice – A child in your care ? A kid who lives with you ? That’s what she is right now. Asking what to tell her if or when you adopt her is putting the cart before the horse. You should be doing everything you can to prevent that from happening, including a permanent legal guardianship. Did you see the recent case in Michigan where a mother didn’t tell the father that she placed the baby? You need to slow this process way down, so you can be sure this child doesn’t have family out there who want to take care of her.

The Dept of Social Services is going to be working to find the mom. There are many reasons she may have felt she had to do this. Maybe she’s in an abusive relationship or fears harm to the baby. It is not uncommon for some mothers to fear they can’t care for a baby. Good to hope they do find her and are able to help her.

At this point, no one actually knows the mother’s story. That matters.

As for the child’s story – always tell her the truth. You don’t know why the mother chose what she did. So if the child asks – you say, I don’t know. “I don’t know honey, sometimes people make decisions and we don’t know why.” “You are safe and cared for and loved and we will support you no matter what.” Follow up with a trauma informed therapist and let take the therapist take it from there. Explain that she can talk with you about it. Never sugar coat or tell her things you don’t know. Tell her what you know. Facts. You can do it age appropriately. It is her story. This is the reality.

Begin a Lifebook for her, so that she doesn’t have to ask. Work with a trauma informed therapist on how to word her story in a way that she can understand at various ages (perhaps include photos of the hospital room and certainly of the note and toy, the box they were in) and keep the story about her (not about you or your thoughts or feelings).  Practicing the story before the kid is old enough to ask will help avoid it becoming a big secret or something scary.

Read The Primal Wound by Nancy Newton Verrier. It is perspective changing.

Abandoned Babies

Will there be more with Roe v Wade being overturned ?

A story making national news recently is about a baby found, wrapped in a towel in a stroller outside of an apartment complex, by a Coeur d’Alene Idaho resident when they left for work around 6 am.

A woman, identified as an adoptee named Webster, in this youtube news story, is quoted saying “We are living in a time where people feel like they are alone and they don’t have a support system or a net under them.”

If you are considering abandoning your baby, you likely are experiencing many different thoughts and emotions as well as being faced with one of the toughest decisions of your life. You might have one or more of these factors occurring in your life –

  • Have a history of substance use and are afraid to share that information
  • Not have proper documentation to live in the United States and fear being deported  
  • Be living with a mental illness or facing postpartum depression  
  • Be afraid of the baby’s father or worried about what your loved ones might say   

If you are desperate for help, you may see no other option but to abandon your baby. Perhaps, you even wonder what happens to abandoned babies after they’re found?    

There are really only three ways a woman can abandon her baby:  

  • A prospective birth mother can work with an adoption agency to make an adoption plan for her baby. This is one legal way a woman can release her baby from her responsibility to care for it.
  • With Safe Haven laws, women have the option to safely, legally, and anonymously leave their baby, unharmed, at a safe haven location — like a hospital, fire station, or a church.   
  • Even so, some women, feeling completely overwhelmed and unaware of the first two options, will take drastic measures, such as the case with this abandoned baby, leaving them in an unsafe condition.  

The way a baby is surrendered will affect what happens to the infant afterwards. Babies who are abandoned in an unsafe location often have tragic outcomes because help comes too late. Babies that are found safely, after they’ve been abandoned or surrendered to a safe haven location, become a ward of the state.

Safe Haven babies are typically checked out by a doctor and, if necessary, given medical care. Afterward, the state’s social services department is contacted. Once that happens, the baby will be placed into foster care and become a ward of the state. In some situations, a private adoption agency might be contacted.  

When a woman does not contact an adoption agency for assistance or use the Safe Haven law locations, if she can be located and identified, criminal charges will be filed against her. That is why the police in Coeur d’Alene Idaho are actively seeking information about who the woman may have been.

Adoption-Related Complex Trauma

Also called Cumulative Trauma – The research is definitive. Adopted kids are not only traumatized by the original separation from their parents, they may also have been traumatized by the events that led to them being put up for adoption. In addition to that, foster care itself is considered an adverse childhood experience.

I recently wrote a blog titled “It’s Simply NOT the Same.” Though the traumas may originate similarly, the outcomes are not the same because just like any other person, no two adoptees are exactly alike. That should not prevent any of us from trying to understand that adoptees carry wounds, even if the adoptee is unaware that the wounds are deep within them.

It is not uncommon for an adopted person and/or the adoptive family to seek mental health services due to the effect of the adoptee experiencing traumatic events. Unfortunately, for psychology and psychiatry clinicians, adoption related training is rare. In my all things adoption group, the advice is often to seek out an adoption competent therapist for good reason.

“What does an adopted baby know ? She knows her mother, she knows her loss, sadness and hurt, she knows that those who hold her today may be gone tomorrow and that she will be the only one left to pick up the pieces that no one seems to think are broken.”
~ Karl Stenske, 2012

The reasons a child is put up for adoption or relinquished are many – an unwanted or unplanned pregnancy, often compounded or driven by a lack of financial resources (poverty) or no familial support to care for a child. Becoming a single parent may simply seem too daunting to an unwed expectant mother. Sadly, for some, a chronic/terminal illness or certain diseases may lead the mother to believe she cannot provide proper care for her baby. Certainly, prolonged substance addiction and/or severe mental health issues (which may be related to addiction) can cause parental rights to be forcefully terminated by child welfare authorities. Adoptees who come out of the child welfare system (legal termination of parental rights by a court of law) cannot legally be returned to their birth families due to safety or other reasons that are considered serious.

Adoption is not always a success. Disruptions and dissolutions do sometimes occur.

Disruptions can happen after the adoption has been finalized when the adoptive parents then experience difficulties with their adopted child. The adoptive parents may have difficulty finding support and the resources they require to deal with the issues that come up.

Risk factors leading to a higher rate of disruptions are: older age when adopted, existing emotional and behavioral issues, having a strong attachment to their birth mother, having been a victim of pre-adoption sexual abuse, suffering from a lack of social support from relatives causing the adoption to occur, unrealistic expectations surrounding the adoption and the child on the part of hopeful adoptive parents, and a lack of adequate preparation and ongoing support for the adoptive family prior to and after the placement.

A devastating occurrence is a dissolution or breakdown. This applies to an adoption in which the legal relationship between the adoptive parents and the adoptive child is severed, either voluntary or involuntarily. Usually this will result in the entry or re-entry of the child into the foster care system, or less commonly a second chance adoption, or even the private transfer of the child from the adoptive parents to a non-vetted receiving parent.

Adoption has been subject to both positive and negative assumptions related to the practice and this is of no surprise to anyone who has studied the practice of adoption for a period of time.

There are 6 main assumptions about the practice of adoption –

[1] Adoption is a joyous event for all involved – known as the Unicorns and Rainbows Fantasy in adoption centric communities; [2] adoption parallels genetic birth experience and a biological family life – which close observation and mixed families (who have both biological and adopted children often belie); [3] once adopted, all of the child’s problems disappear and there will be no additional challenges – rarely true – and often attachment or bonding fail to occur; [4] creating a family through adoption is “false,” only biological families are “real” – this goes too far in making a case because many adults create chosen families – the truth is as regards children, family is those persons we grow up with – believing we are related to them – in my case, both of my parents were adopted and all of my “relations” growing up were non-genetic and non-biological but I have a life history with them and continue to have contact with aunts, an uncle and cousins I obtained through my parents’ adoptions; [5] the adoptive life is better than the biological life the child had or would have had – never a known assumption – more accurately, the adoptee’s life is different than that child would have had, if they had not been adopted; and, [6] closed adoptions are in the best interest of the child – this one was promoted with the intention of shielding adoptive parents from original parents who regretted the surrender, from the child who might yearn for their original family and often in some cases to shield a person operating unscrupulously, such as the baby thief Georgia Tann who sold ill-gotten children. Popular media has reinforced both the positive and the negative messages about adoption and many myths and stereotypes regarding adoptive families and birth parents are believed in society as a whole.

The term “adoption-related complex trauma” is rarely used in discussing symptoms and behaviors. It is more common to see terms such as “developmental trauma” or “complex trauma” to describe the psychological effects found within the adopted population.

The terms complex trauma and complex post-traumatic stress disorder have been used to describe the experience of multiple and/or chronic and prolonged, developmentally adverse traumatic events, most often of an personal nature such as sexual, physical, verbal abuse or of a societal nature such as war or community violence. These exposures often have occurred within the child’s caregiving environment and may include physical, emotional and/or other forms of neglect and maltreatment that begin early in childhood. In the case of infant adoptions, the trauma is non-verbal but stored in the body of that baby – not conscious but recorded.

Some of this content has been sourced from a long dissertation titled Treatment Considerations For Adoption-related Complex Trauma. Anyone interested is encouraged to read more at the link.