Adoption Is Hard

As a society, we fail single mothers and we fail struggling families. We don’t provide the resources that would prevent the surrender of a child to adoption that we could. It’s amazing that it is next to impossible to google any articles on this issue. Most are advising hopeful adoptive families how not to experience a disrupted adoption experience. Almost everywhere I looked, the articles were pro-adoption.

The closest I found to a genuine admission “adoption is hard” was in this article that is not from an entirely un-biased entity (Catholic Charities) but it does describe accurately some of the obstacles adoptees encounter in trying to uncover their original identities.

My adoptive parents were “forward thinking” for their time and always told me that I was adopted. There was no surprise there. I was not the kid that asked a lot of questions and was content in what I knew – my birth mother was 16 and my birth father was a little older. In graduate school I decided it might be interesting to search for my birth family so I made some initial inquiries and found out in Pennsylvania it was not an easy process, for my type of adoption, to initiate a search – ADOPTION IS HARD. I let it go at the time and moved on. 

In 2016, I really wanted to know where I came from. Where did I get my green eyes, my nose, what was my ethnic heritage, did I have any similar traits to my birth mother ? So I began with the attorney who facilitated my adoption. He claimed to have no recollection of the adoption – ADOPTION IS HARD. Next I went to the courts (still called orphan court in Pennsylvania) and was told they had no records based on the little information I had – ADOPTION IS HARD. 

Like my own adoptee mother, this woman decided to try Ancestry DNA – and besides now knowing my ethnic heritage – struck out again – ADOPTION IS HARD. Pretty much matches my own mother’s experience there (though I have made much more progress since my mother’s death using Ancestry).

Yet, something a bit magical did happen for this woman. One night a Facebook message popped up on her phone. The moment she read that a woman had an Ancestry DNA match that listed me as a “close relative.” She had been searching for her sister who had been adopted for years. Turns out that this time the answer was a YES. She was that sister.

Then she began talking with her sister, her birth mother, two other sisters, and a brother (yes there are 4 siblings). Life got real. ADOPTION GOT HARD. You learn things that are HARD. You learn that your birth father wanted you to be aborted. You learn that your birth mother stood up to her own family in order to carry you to term. You learn that your birth mother, on the day you turned 18, contacted the same attorney you had, to leave her information with him “in case” she ever contacted him (yeah, clearly he lied to her in 2016). You learn once again that ADOPTION IS HARD.

She goes on to say – as she was writing, 4 months had passed since the day her world changed. “I can say that it has mostly been for the better. But it has not come without it’s hardships. My body is manifesting externally what I am processing internally in physical ways which has sent me on many trips to the doctors and multiple tests. On the flip side it is good, I am slowly getting to know the family that shares my blood. I love seeing what we have in common while also learning about our uniqueness.”

I write this blog to share the stories I encounter and continue to try to put into perspective my own parents’ adoptions. I have a desire to educate others affected by adoption about the realities. Whether these are adoptive families, people who have friends or family who have been adopted, or other adoptees, my message is ADOPTION IS HARD. It comes with trauma. Adoption comes with loss. Adoptees are the one group of the triad who have no say about adoption, the decision is made for them. Birth parents and adoptive parents alike need to respect that and understand that. This is about their lives, and their stories. 

I know it isn’t possible for me to speak for every adoptee out there. Each has their own unique story and journey. No one should ever forget that each adoptee’s story began with loss and eventually that loss is going to emerge. I know it did for my mom because she shared this with me as my also adopted dad wasn’t supportive of her efforts.

Stuff Happens And It Goes Horribly Wrong

Today’s story is so long, I will NOT try to convey it all. If I do this well, I can summarize it to make the relevant point.

There is a mom with 2 children at home ages 9 and 3. There is a 15 month old boy at the center of a custody battle. He was NOT removed by child welfare authorities. The circumstances of the pregnancy are complicated. This child’s father is a married man with a wife and newborn (she was pregnant at the same time this woman was). Paternity was assessed during the pregnancy which led to her separation from the older children’s father.

All of this turmoil, left the expectant mother vulnerable to a coercive adoption agency that stands to make $35,000 if the adoption can be finalized. The biological father will not relinquish, which is the obstacle for the hopeful adoptive parents who have had custody of the boy almost continuously since birth.

Though heroic for a husband faced with these circumstances, he came to the hospital when she went into labor.  The baby arrived at a time that there was NO hospital staff in the room. Her husband caught baby, otherwise he would have ended up on the floor.  Her daughter was instantly in love with the baby and wanted to hold him every second. The biological father, while remaining with his wife and newborn, offered to financially support the mother.

She is dealing with so many emotional issues, she has been on anti-depressants the whole pregnancy. Her therapist asked her what is she going to do about her situation ? She tells him she is thinking about adoption because she doesn’t feel she can raise another baby without help. He wants her to call and talk to 2 agencies before their next session. She admits that she was clueless and had NOOOO idea about adoption or agency red flags etc.

So she meets with a social worker (who actually was the Director of the agency). For the first time, she felt like she was able to share her story without the other person judging her or making her feel worse for what she had done. Talking to her felt like such a relief. So, they agree that she’ll contact their available families and see if any are comfortable with her situation. At the time, there were only 2 families waiting and 1 was not comfortable with her situation.

So, she looks at the profile of this couple, and she sees how important family is to them. She cries reading about their issues and many attempts to carry a pregnancy, even with adopted eggs. It makes her even feel so guilty. Here she is with an unplanned pregnancy, and not even science can help this couple. 3 weeks later, they meet for the first time over dinner.  Long story shorter, that couple leaves the hospital with her baby and she goes home without him.

However . . . bear with me, I am trying to get to the heart of this story as it stands now.

She made it very clear that first night that she was going to be very involved in her son’s life. Openness was a must and the couple agreed to it. I cannot relate how many “open” adoptions go bad once the adoption is finalized. No expectant mother relinquishing custody of her newborn should ever rely upon it. It is never legally enforceable and the adoption parents will have all of the leverage. They treated her like an outsider, like she was no more than a surrogate.

When her son was 1 week old, the social worker insisted that the hopeful adoptive parents allow her to visit. By that weekend, she told her social worker that she wanted to regain custody of her son and she didn’t want to proceed with the adoption. The hopeful adoptive parents begged her not to take him away but later that day, she picked her son up from the agency and brought him home.  Her son’s biological father was saying he would leave his wife and come back
to help her raise the baby. Then admitted he couldn’t do it. Conflicted parents all the way around.

She was coerced into signing the termination of parental rights by the hopeful adoptive parents, when she decided again to give up the idea she could raise the baby based on her current circumstances. Yet, there was a sticking point when a letter from her psychiatrist was required to prove that she was mentally capable of understanding the adoption plan. The psychiatrist refused – twice. So often an agency will exploit the post-partum period of a new mother. She wants her baby back now and she is fighting to achieve that. The biological father won’t consent, so that is in her favor. She’s concerned about causing trauma for her son by uprooting him.

The most reassuring, personal experience response was this – “As a child that was with the same caregiver from birth to 2 years and then moved.  That experience was not horribly traumatic for me. The trauma for me was losing my mother in the first place. I don’t call what I had a transition because it was less than a handful of quick visits. I have zero recollection of the family I spent those 2 years with. The bond is not your child to the hopeful adoptive parents, it is the hopeful adoptive parents who are bonded to your child.  Please don’t let anyone’s words about trauma change your course. There may be a slight adjustment period – or none – since your son will be back with the person who’s loss initially was experienced as trauma. Mother/child separation is the true wound. My suggestion is listen to those that have lived it, not those speculating about its effects.”

So this has been today’s cautionary tale.  The all things adoption group I belong to always counsels expectant mothers to try raising their newborn babies for an extended period of time. The hormones and emotions are wacked out and many a natural mother regrets for the rest of her life giving her baby up too quickly. It is a permanent solution to what is often a temporary problem.

 

The all things adoption group I belong to always counsels expectant mother to try raising their newborn babies for an extended period of time. The hormones and emotions are wacked out and many a natural mother regrets giving her baby up too quickly for the rest of h

Even When Trying To Do The Right Thing

Adoption can be a tricky needle to thread, even when one is trying their best to do the right thing. Today, I bring you the story of an adoptive mother who is trying her best to do what’s best for the children she is raising.

My husband and are the adoptive parents of two children (domestic), placed with us at birth after their original moms chose us from our profiles. The adoptions were supposed to be “semi-open,” in that we exchanged letters and other communications through the agency only, and didn’t share our last names or the towns in which we live. This was the policy of the agency, and it was the moms who chose the agency.

I naively assumed this process was driven by the mom’s wishes (we did not “choose” the agency… our first placement was very sudden and via a connection that our home study social worker had at the agency).

After the first year with our eldest child, communicating through the agency, we took the lead from his mom and stopped using the agency as middle man (and also shared last names and the specific location where we live). We now correspond regularly and directly with her, and take her lead for the amount of contact she wants. We would do more, but also we respect her choice regarding how much contact we have. If and when our son has more questions or wants more contact, we will facilitate that.

For our younger son, the agency told us after 6 months to stop sending letters and pictures for his mom because she had moved and they did not have a forwarding address for her. I assumed this was her choice too, so while it made me sad for our son, I stopped sending the letters. Now I am not so sure about any of this. I have a handful of reasons to believe that the agency was very badly administered and evidence that, at best, they were sloppy with record keeping and filing. I do not trust that it was his mom who declined contact. What I am sure of is – it’s my responsibility to know as much about our child’s first family as possible, and to share what I know as/when our child asks for it.

And here’s the sticky part where I don’t know how to balance what is ethical and what is best for our child: While I was not supposed to know his mom’s last name, I learned it in the first week of our child’s life (there was an extended hospital stay, and the hospital revealed it… I didn’t go looking for the last name). When the agency told me to stop sending letters, I easily found our child’s mom and extended family on social media. I feel like the agency should have done this, and not simply accepted the lack of a forwarding address as an indication from the mom that she didn’t want the level of contact stipulated in the adoption agreement. But they did not, and thus I have been checking in on her through social media all these years, collecting whatever information I can for our child. I am now wondering if, because of my suspicions that the agency was negligent, I should reach out to his mom directly and ask her if she wants any contact with us or updates.

What I don’t want to do is violate her privacy or wishes… but also I want as much information for our child as I can gather. Of the two children I’m parenting, he is the one with the most questions about/interest in his first family, and while I care about his mom and her wishes, I don’t feel I actually KNOW them. And, of course, our son is my priority. He’s approaching the age where his questions are becoming much more specific, and I want answers for him.

I guess what I’m saying is that I want to get a clear picture of his mom’s true wishes (not her wishes as filtered through the agency’s policy and negligent administration) before he gets to the age where he can find her on his own. While I know I can’t protect him from the traumas of adoption, I can support him, and I don’t think putting him in the position of being blindsided by whatever he finds would be the best way to support him.

The first response to this story came from a woman who surrendered her child to adoption and I do agree with her simple answer – Reach out to her. At this point you have nothing to lose.

There are many many answers and most are encouraging the attempt to make contact. I’ll just share this one from an adoptive parent –  I think you can make contact to verify her wishes, but when she tells you what she wants, respect that. And understand that your son may be blindsided regardless of what you learn now—like everyone, the wishes and life situation of his mom may change by the time he’s older and wants to know more.

Follow your instincts and respect whatever you learn. At least you can say you made the effort and if the effort closes the door, you can then put the question into the mom’s box to answer – when that day comes.

Adoption Or Foster Care

I’ve been reading a book about one girl’s experiences in foster care to better inform myself about a system I have no experience with.  Adoption ?  Though not adopted myself nor have I given up a child to adoption, I have LOTS of experience – both parents were adoptees and both sisters gave up a child to adoption.  I also spend significant time each day within a private Facebook group that includes original parents, adoptees and former foster youth, and adoptive (or hopeful) parents.  I learn a lot there that broadens my perspectives.

Some of the major differences I am understanding – foster care does not alter the child’s identity (doesn’t change their name or birth certificate).  Foster care is less permanent or certain.  The goal in a lot of foster care is eventual reunification of the family unit.  The quality of foster care varies but a bad placement can be gotten out of.  Not all foster parents treat the foster child well nor do they really care about what is happening to the child.  Some actually do it for the money (NOT saying most or all do it for that reason).

Adoption is a PERMANENT solution to what is a temporary problem when talking about an unwed mother or a poverty situation.  Adoption does provide a more certain home environment than foster care does but the double edge sword is that if it is an awful placement, most of the time the child is simply trapped there (I’ve read enough nightmare stories to believe this).  That said, there are also “second chance” adoptions where the adoptive parents want to be rid of a troublesome child.  This is very sad for the child as it sends a debilitating message about the worth of that child.

Most of the time, adoptive parents change the child’s name and to some extent their cultural identity if it is a transracial adoption.  Some adoptive parents hide the date and/or location of the child’s birth to place an obstacle in the way of the parent/child unit reuniting.  Genetic family bonds are broken or permanently lost.  Even when such direct family is recovered later in life, so much life experience and inter-relationship is lost that it is nearly impossible to rebuild.  I understand this as I have been able to learn what my own parents could not – who my original grandparents were.  Along with learning that, I have acquired new family relationships with genetically related aunts and cousins.

I acknowledge that not all children are going to be parented by the people who gave birth to them.  This is a reality.  I would also argue that as a society we do NOT do enough to keep families intact and could do much better.  I would further add that MONEY plays a HUGE role in perpetuating the separation of mothers from their children.  That money could be better spent with less traumatic outcomes on the natural family and its supports.

Denying The Father

I came across a question posted by a pregnant woman.  The baby she is carrying will be a daughter.  She asked, “Is it unethical to leave a potentially dangerous father off of a newborn’s birth certificate ?”

The immediate response was honest – Every person has a right to know their true identity.  In fact, among adoptees this is a significant and primary issue.

Someone suggested the expectant mother put him on the birth certificate but terminate his rights.  This expectant mother offered – He’s never done anything to me so far except be an asshole but he has a felony charge that is relevant to the situation.  I spoke to a lawyer and he said he’d give it a 50/50 chance that a judge would allow termination of rights without a stepfather around to adopt. And the father would have to willingly be there and declare he wants to terminate rights.

Doesn’t seem fair but this is the reality we as women often have to cope with.

Then came this caution – The reality is, if he’s on the birth certificate and you file for public assistance, he’ll be charged child support.  That system is crappy and may share your address. Don’t let people pressure you into any move with your abuser you’re not comfortable with.

Someone offered what seems to be a rational alternative – She can always establish paternity later. All she has to do is file for child support and give his name and the state will take care of finding him and doing paternity test. You can’t take him off birth certificate once he’s on but you can establish paternity and get child support without him on birth certificate.

And I do believe this is an important consideration – Not putting his name on the birth certificate makes it harder for him to just take her. That would be proof that the child is indeed his daughter and does have legal rights, unless you go through the court to have it documented in the way you wish. Not putting his name he would have to go through court for paternity and visitation.

It does appear that the father is aware.  In fact, the expectant mother says he wants to co-parent and she wants only full custody and that any visitation be supervised.

My sympathy and compassion go to the expectant mother wanting to protect her daughter.  She says she does intend for her child to know ALL of her family.  At this time, this is not an adoption issue but it is a family separation issue.

It’s Time To End It

Half of these United States still keep adoption records permanently sealed unless the affected person can obtain a court order.  As I tried to learn who my original grandparents were, I ran up against sealed records in Virginia, Arizona and California.  If my mom’s adoption had not been part of a baby stealing and selling scandal, I would not have gotten her adoption record from Tennessee.

It is time for the states to throw open the locked doors.

With inexpensive DNA testing and matching sites like Ancestry and 23 and Me, it is possible to do an end-run around the effort to keep the truth from people affected by these practices.

Given the wealth of information I received from Tennessee, there is likely to be equally important personal life details in the records of these states that still withhold information from persons who have been affected.

In my case, I am a direct descendant.  Both of my adoptee parents are deceased as are their original parents and adoptive parents.  Other than laziness, I really don’t get the value of preventing me from knowing information about my family that most people not affected by the practice easily know.

With Virginia, I had hoped to know if my mom was born in a hospital or at home and what time she was born.  With Arizona, I wanted to know if they still had records of the home visits by a probation officer prior to her adoption being finalized.  With California, I wanted to be able to see my dad’s original birth certificate.  At the time, I didn’t know if his mother, who was unwed, had named his father.