Invalidating Adoptee Perceptions

Adoptive parents and even hopeful adoptive parents often say:

“I know many adoptees that don’t feel like their adoption was a bad thing, they are glad they were adopted” or “they don’t have trauma, they are fine” or “adoptees whose lives are fine are not online talking against adoption.”

One of the last emails I got from my adoptee mom before she died, she actually said “glad I was,” meaning adopted. She was lamenting how she just couldn’t finish doing the family trees on Ancestry because she knew the information just wasn’t real – for her or my dad (who was also adopted). So it was not that I believed she actually was “glad” she had been adopted but what else could she say at that point ? Neither my mom nor my dad really knew anything beyond a few names – at most – about their original parents.

I didn’t invalidate her feelings – my dad never expressed his own feelings about adoption to me. After both of my parents died, within one year, I knew who all 4 of my original grandparents were, something about their stories and had some contact with some biological, genetic relations.

So those who are not adoptees, who say these kinds of things probably just miss the signs that are there but not verbalized. I know my mom dearly wanted to make contact with her first mother but the state of Tennessee denied her access (which they then gave me in 2017 – wow it doesn’t seem like 5 years already that I have felt finally “complete”). If she had been so happy about being adopted, she would not have tried so hard to accomplish a reunion.

The thinking described above is problematic because it assumes that adoptees always feel comfortable sharing their true feelings about adoption with adoptive parents. That is rarely the case.

One adoptee admits –  I spent 50 years saying I was fine adopted, never an issue and believed it. I knew I responded to things differently than others, but never equated it to being adopted. It’s very difficult for adoptees to verbalize true emotions. The changes in our brain at separation try to protect us from rejections. It’s all subconscious. I had no idea my lifetime narrative was to protect myself, until I did deep work in therapy that focused on opening those areas of the brain to process the trauma. Life changing. The processing is very hard and easily something you’d try to avoid. Once you do it though, at least for me, it was life changing. I was 50. I get so angry I didn’t do it sooner. I didn’t know I should and clearly neither did my adoptive parents because I always appeared fine to them.

They don’t have the support to speak freely about their own feelings. Instead, they say everything is fine because the trust is broken. Maybe they tried to express these feelings in the past and were rejected or judged. The fear of rejection is so ingrained. It’s just not something most would attempt to do. The adoptee may feel too fearful to tell their adoptive parent or foster parent how they truly feel. They may have received a message that feeling any other way than glad is wrong.

One adoptee says – From the outside my life looks quite successful and there are lots of people who know I’m adopted. I’m absolutely certain that there are those who would point to me as a ‘happy adoptee’. No, you idiot, I don’t know you that well or trust you enough to share my pain and trauma.

To say of any adoptee – “They don’t have trauma, they’re fine.” It’s just so very invalidating. Every adoptee will automatically have trauma, no matter how they were adopted. To me, it’s the equivalent of a racist person saying they have black friends. Just because you have black friends doesn’t mean your ideals are not racist or harmful. Adoptees can grow up having a good life while growing up but they all come into adoption with trauma.

Nancy Verrier writes in The Primal Wound: “As adults, we believe what we want to believe, and we want to believe that a child who is not causing any trouble is well-adjusted. It is important to not be lulled into believing that this child suffers no pain-that ‘my child is not having those problems.’ Adjustment often means shutting down, creating a ‘false self.'”

Which leads another adoptee to say – This was true for me well into adulthood. It was not until I was about 40 that I started processing my adoption and how adoption trauma affected my whole life. Even now, I talk about my adoption trauma to some people, but not others. If hopeful adoptive parents think that adoption trauma only happens to those “with a bad experience,” they will continue on with pursuing adoption; and then, not be able to see and address the trauma in the child for whom they are caring.

Adoptees often talk about how they feel the need to be people pleasers in order to be accepted (my mom certainly was that way and she passed that trait down to her children). An adoptee is likely to tell their adoptive parents whatever they think those parents want to hear.

Which leads a foster parent to admit that they had experienced this first-hand. She says, When we started fostering, one of my adult adoptee friends was all rainbows and unicorns about it. As our relationship grew deeper and she heard more about how I was supporting the kids’ ability to know their families and saw how we worked for family preservation, instead of keeping the kids with us, she began to tell me her complicated feelings about her own adoption, and how she felt like she couldn’t have those conversations with her adopted family.

In the interest of fairness to people who have already adopted and may think that many of my blogs are too negative. Few people with any depth of knowledge on adoption think all adoption is wrong. I now present this point of view from an adoptive parent –

I work with adoptive families. I make an effort to learn from people who have experienced adoption trauma. I do this so that I can try to help my own kids, and other adoptive families who have already adopted, to see the signs of trauma and do their best to help manage this. Do the best they can for their kids. What is upsetting for me is when the comments say “adoption is a horrible thing”. I have seen some comments that literally say ALL adoptions are awful and should never be done. Using the analogy of dating apps, saying no one should ever use a dating app because someone ended up raped, would be similar. That anyone you meet from a dating app is actually terrible. Anyone who gets married from meeting someone there is in a fog . . .

Note from the blog author – many will say of adoptees who think their adoption was good and only good that they are still in “the fog” and have not woken up – but I laugh at this because I met my husband of over 33 years through an eligibles ad in an entertainment weekly, back in the day before heavy internet usage – my mom was horrified but my parents ended up being grateful we found each other.

continuing from the paragraph before . . . That such persons will eventually realize that they are miserable. I truly hurt for the adoptees who have parents who don’t acknowledge them or have been cruel to them. It is awful and has changed my mind about many aspects of the adoption process in this country. However being an adoptive parent in itself is not a bad thing. I have seen little acknowledgment that there are birth parents who are not going to parent. And some have no family support. Is it better to put those kids into an orphanage than to adopt them into a family who loves them and tries to give them a wonderful family and childhood?

I don’t think so and here’s why. My daughter’s birth parents were on the road when she was born. They had no idea where they would be living. Her birth mom has lived in many states since then. Anyone who adopted her would have been out of state within a week after she was born. But I was told that I screwed up by adopting out of state and I should have moved (multiple times, I guess) to be near her birth mom. Not everything is black and white.

I would love to see adoptees who have had terrible effects from trauma or adoptive families who are unwilling to listen to use their experiences to help other adoptive families learn how to act, be the way they would have wanted their adoptive parents to act. I believe this would be more productive than just telling them they are awful people for wanting to raise a child. My daughter has literally yelled at me for trying to understand the perspectives of adoptees who acknowledge their trauma. I have tried to encourage her to explore the same places that I have, to see if her adoption has had negative effects on her. I really would want to help her work through that. She has seen some of those places. Her opinion is that they are toxic. I continue to expose myself because it’s important for me to know the other side, so I will be able to recognize if my kids are struggling with adoption trauma – even if they don’t see it.

I am only suggesting that it would be a lot more effective, if everything weren’t so black and white in adoptee spaces. I’m still trying to learn what I can but I do think some people can manage trauma of any kind (adoption or otherwise) with little negative effect, especially if they have loving support. I hope that’s what we are all striving for.

And all of that above received this reply, which honestly is my own opinion too, at this point – I do believe there should be no adoptions. None. Zero. I want universal healthcare, good sex education, universal basic income, easy and free abortions. And any child born to parents who are not safe should be cared for by guardians, not adoptive parents. The harm done by having your life legally altered and severed is unnecessarily extreme.

Finally just to drive home the point to end this lengthy blog –

MOST adoptees had absolutely *wonderful* adoptive parents, and that *it didn’t matter* how good their adoptive parents were, or how much of a “positive adoption experience” the adoptee had; every adoptee still has trauma. Their DNA was still literally altered by early childhood trauma. Their identity was altered without their consent. Most adoptees have been denied the very basic right of having access to their own original birth certificate.

Yes, there are some children who cannot remain with their parents. *Most of the time* those that absolutely *cannot* be with their parents (which is so unbelievably rare), have at least *one* member of their biological family that could raise them. And in the *exceptionally rare* scenario where none of that is possible, adoption STILL isn’t necessary.

If you cannot love a child, care for a child, make that child a part of your home and your family, provide financial physical and emotional support for that child, without having legal *ownership* over that child, then you have absolutely *no right* caring for that child. Full stop. There is no “not all” or “what if” that can change the fact that adoption *is not necessary* to provide care to a child.

Adoption is unethical. There is absolutely *no changing that*. Caring for a child who has no home or safe family is not a bad thing, and literally *nobody* in their right mind would say that (but consider – whether or not there *could* be a safe family for that child, if their original parents were simply provided with good support). And that is NOT all that adoption is.

Many with a depth of knowledge about adoption, would allow that adoption *only* happen for older children (and by older I mean 16+, and even that I honestly hesitate to be okay with, as it’s perfectly possible to adopt an adult). And *only if* that child is ASKING to be adopted, without being prompted in *any way* by either the foster parents or the system itself. And *only if* the child fully 100% understands what adoption means, and has been told explicitly what they will lose by being adopted. *Only then* is adoption even possibly acceptable.

Everyone, please, just stop assuming an adoptee “had a bad experience,” if they speak out against adoption. Many adoptees would be frankly pissed off that you would imply that their *wonderful* and *caring* adoptive parents were bad parents.

I will continue to believe what I now do.

The Era Of Sealed Records Continues

It is not some long ago issue. For many adoptees, their personal history, their adoption file and their original birth certificates are withheld from them even today in maybe half these United States. It is true that there has been progress made in some states. I believe New York was the most recent.

So today, I read the heartbreaking account below of yet another adoptee struggling with this, just as my mom did (however, she was denied because her mom was dead and her father’s status could not be determined – thankfully, I received her full file in 2017 from the state of Tennessee – if only she could have had the peace of mind her file would have brought her but she was also dead by the time I was able to obtain it on her behalf as her descendent).

Here’s that other adoptees’ sad tale –

I had to friend request my biological mother again. We were friends before when we first connected, but I unfriended her after writing her a long message unleashing my pent-up anger and hurt over my adoption. Anyway, the state of Florida says that if I want a copy of my original birth certificate, I need this woman to write a note permitting the courts to unseal my records. So, I have to expose myself to more trauma and talk to someone I don’t want to talk to, so I can have the factual account of my birth. I am so tired of laws that hurt adoptees and protect biological parents. It’s bullshit.

One response was this – It’s a human rights violation, considering these people signed away any legal rights they had to us, so they are legal strangers to us. They have as much to do with us as a neighbor, a store clerk or a real estate agent. Yet we are still beholden to them, when laws that separated us, make us ask their permission in the ultimate of hypocrisy.

Another adoptee shares –

I was born in the “blackout” period for Massachusetts adoptees. I think it was from 1974 through 2008. If you were born in that time frame, you need to convince a judge there is a “good reason” to give you your original vital records information. I don’t know what that is but I really don’t want my adoptive parents finding out I’m even poking yet, I’d rather have them on my side first.

And yet another from my own home state – I was adopted in Missouri. I had to have written permission from one of my adoptive parents to get my information. My adoptive dad wrote the letter for me. If he had died before the letter was written, I would not have been able to get any information.

And I agree with this adoptive parent – I have always felt that the Amended Birth Certificate was a lie and an awful thing to do to a child who has every right to that document. Blog writer’s note – For both of my parents, their birth certificates were total fabrications. How can it be a good thing to grow a life upon a lie ?

No adult should have to get any other adult’s permission to obtain their own records.

Someone else writes – I’m confused about how this protects natural parents. It seems like it’s just a difficult-to-impossible side quest to make it less likely that any adoptee will find their natural family, all to benefit adopters who fear reunion, in the guise of “protecting the birth mother’s privacy”.

Exactly !! The stated reason for the secrecy has always been to protect the privacy of the original parents but that rings hollow and it has been abundantly proven that the reason is to protect the adoptive parents from dealing with adoptee/original parent intrusions.

The Disappointments

I can only be grateful at the good fortune I have experienced in becoming whole. Whole in the sense that after over 60 years of life, I finally know who my original grandparents were and have some contact with their genetic descendants.

It doesn’t go that well for everyone touched by adoption. It certainly did not go that way for my own mom. She so yearned to let her own original mom know that she was okay, to connect with her. When she tried to get her adoption file from the state of Tennessee, she was denied on a technicality based upon a lack of effort on their part to determine the status of her father (who had been dead for 30 years by that time). My mom was heartbroken to learn her original mother had died. Finally, in 2017, I paid the fee I was asked to pay and got the entire file. It is a shame my mom was denied this for it would have brought her so much peace.

So today, there is this story from an adoptee – She had received her original birth certificate and was applying to receive her entire case file. It seems there is a no contact order from her original mom. The adoptee intends to respect that wish. The original mother was informed that her child was looking for her. She was asked if she wanted to provide any additional information. The answer was, no, not at this time, keep the file open. But 5 years later, the original mother placed a no contact on the file. This is, of course, a huge disappointment.

Another with such a disappointment – 20 yrs ago my biological mom did the same thing when I wanted my file. I recently found her via Ancestry. I have had communications with 2 of the 6 half siblings but not her. She will be 90 next month. I continue to pray she has a change of heart. Having a connection with her siblings is wonderful but only my biological mom can truly provide me with the information that my heart years for regarding the 1st chapter of my life.

In my case, my biological mom’s “secret” was exposed to my half siblings about 20 yrs ago. Turns out her sister had had a little too much to drink and told her nieces and nephew (who are my half siblings) at a family gathering, about me (secrets do have this tendency to out themselves). The half siblings never mentioned it to my biological mom because they were uncertain her husband knew of my existence. They knew nothing else though, not even my sex. They did not want to cause her marital problems. Her spouse passed away around the time I found her via Ancestry. That was almost 2 yrs ago now. I have met one of my half siblings in person. There are a total of 5 daughters and one son that are my half siblings. A couple of the girls are supposedly working on our mom to let go of the shame of being an unwed mother. I have no real way of knowing if that is true or if they are protecting her due to her age, trying to be respectful of this situation. I know the son is adamantly against troubling her with it. He lives with her, which makes it even tougher to have a breakthrough. Thus I may never know…

Another person shared this – “My grandfather is a vile person, however we found my mom’s adopted sibling three years ago and mom has now met every family member but him. I would personally reach out to others. I’ve loved getting to know my aunt.” I can relate to this. Getting to know my truly biological/genetic family has meant every thing to having a fully formed sense of self. I believe my maternal grandmother’s father was cruel – not to take in my grandmother and mom – which forced her exploitation by Georgia Tann. I wonder often, did he ever regret that ? I’ll never know but I have been told that just as I expected – he was a hard man.

Here is another “no contact” but finding other relatives story – My husband is also adopted (I’m adopted). He found his mom and she asked him to never contact her again. He was devastated. But he reached out and found his uncle, who absolutely does want a relationship. He’s found other family members, as well. I’m sad about it, too. His adoptive mom died when he was a teenager, so I never got to meet her. I’d like to meet his biological mom. She has a grandson now. But she doesn’t want to meet him either. That’s her choice. There really is not much we can do about that.

Finally, this sad outcome – My mom will never talk to me because her sense of reality is horribly off. My half brother and aunt do talk to me though! It’s the greatest gift I could have hoped for – after she started pretending I was dead.

Adoptees should have the human right to know about their own self. This really should supersede an original parent’s desire for no contact. She can have privacy (no contact) but should not be allowed anonymity. As an adoptee, you are entitled to know about your genetic makeup and medical history. We all should be.

Sadly, Many women live and die without ever shedding any of the oppression of the patriarchy. As you can imagine they’re more likely to be married to men who are committed to it, abusive, and demeaning. You don’t have to abide and can do anything you like – I would just suggest to a disappointed adoptee – it’s not a rejection of you – even if it feels that way.

However, knowing it in your mind and feeling it in your heart can be 2 very different things. I believe with all my heart, if these afflicted persons could overcome those feelings, they would personally be better off.

Adoption Issues On Facebook

Ten years ago, there was an article in The Guardian which the title “Facebook has changed adoption for ever.” The sub-title was “Social network sites like Facebook are changing what happens after adoption. At the click of a button, birth parents can contact their children – and vice versa – with far-reaching consequences.” I would add inexpensive DNA testing via Ancestry and 23 and Me have done as much.

The lead-in on that article noted – “Adoption is undergoing a revolution. Until recently, it has been a closely managed process, with social workers going to enormous lengths to protect children placed with adoptive families from inappropriate contact with birth relatives.” That was always the argument but never the truth. The truth was that social workers and adoption agencies were protecting the adoptive parents from the intrusion of the natural bond between the original parent and their child. There certainly have been “. . . cases of adopted young people being contacted by birth parents through Facebook. There are even more instances in which the approach is initiated by adopted young people themselves, who are curious about their birth families.” You can read that rest of that decade old perspective at the link above.

Now today, another one. This one published in Wired titled Adoption Moved to Facebook and a War Began and raising the hackles of some in my most important (though I do belong to several) adoption related support group at Facebook. The sub-title notes – As the adoption industry migrates to social media, regretful adoptees and birth mothers are confronting prospective parents with their personal pain—and anger. I do see these in my support group. In fact, adoptees are the “privileged” voices there.

This is true to the best of my own knowledge on the subject – “The adoption industry has never been very well regulated, and there is a history of certain firms engaging in unethical practices. But when agencies were the primary facilitators of adoption, they could at least perform basic vetting of birth mothers and adoptive parents and manage complex legal processes. The open marketplace of the web removed that layer of oversight.” Wired refers to people in adoption support groups as anti-adoption but then goes on to note that these are older women who, as “unwed mothers” in the 1950s and ’60s, were forced to give babies up for adoption; women whose churches still pressure them to give up children born outside of marriage; adoptees who want to overturn laws in 40 states that deny them unrestricted access to their original birth certificates. These are legitimate experiences and desires that do not in themselves constitute being anti-adoption.

However, as understanding of the deep sub- and un- conscious trauma that adoptees experience and the lifelong regret that mothers who surrendered their children to adoption as a permanent solution to a temporary situation are increasing shared openly or privately in groups that maintain anonymity, as my dominant choice does, there is a desire to limit the number of adoptions that do take place. There are recommendations for kinship guardianship whenever possible, for true efforts on the part of foster parents to assist the original parents in successfully navigating the child welfare requirements for reunification with their own children and that at the least, when adoption seems somehow the only alternative left – allowing the child to retain their original identity by NOT changing their name nor creating a new “false” birth certificate the creates the impression that the adoptive parents gave birth to that child.

These are reasonable attempts at reform.

In the movement Wired identifies are a wide range of perspectives. Some recognize the value of adoption in certain circumstances and have specific goals, like improving federal oversight, eliminating practices that are coercive to birth mothers, or giving them more time to reverse a decision to give up a child. Others see adoption as wrong most of the time – in my group it is NOT as Wired indicates “in all cases” – but there is a recognition that the natural bond between a biological mother and her child is a reality. Some are finding community and expressing feelings of anger and pain for the first time; birth mothers describe pressure, regret, and lifelong mourning for the children they gave up, while adoptees talk about their sense of estrangement and about not knowing their medical history. Certainly, poverty plays a role in children being removed from their parents and placed for adoption.

Wired does proach the topic of the Termination of Parental Rights (TPR). The article notes that TPR has been called the “civil death penalty,” because of its severity and finality. It is overwhelmingly levied against poor families. Some children are taken away from parents who abuse them horribly—and others who should be removed are not and die at the hands of abusers. Nationally, the majority of children are removed from their homes by child protective services not for abuse but neglect, which can be a more subjective state. Neglect can mean a child was left in a hot car for hours or that a child’s parent is an addict. Or it can mean that a child was alone at home while their mother worked an overnight shift or went to the store, or that there’s not enough food in the fridge. In other words, poverty can create conditions that lead to neglect, and the exigencies of poverty can also be interpreted as neglect.

My own adoption support group advocates, and some experts in child-welfare reform do as well, for helping families get what they need—rehab, food stamps, child care subsidies. We agree that should be prioritized over permanently removing children from their parents. In a 2019 paper, “A Cure Worse Than the Disease? The Impact of Removal on Children and Their Families,” Vivek Sankaran, a professor at the University of Michigan Law School, and his coauthors note that removing children from their homes is traumatic for both parents and children, and that standards for removal vary from state to state. In some states there must be evidence that a child is in immediate danger; in others, suspicion of neglect is sufficient cause. Some states allow a parent to appeal the removal within 24 hours; in others a parent may have to wait 10 days. As a result, the authors note, states and even individual counties have widely varying rates of removing children.

“If we eliminated poverty in this country, that would be the best abuse- and neglect-prevention program,” according to Elizabeth Bartholet, director of the Child Advocacy Program at Harvard Law School.

It is true that the internet, along with widely available genetic testing, has dismantled the possibility of a truly closed adoption.  However, the truth about open adoptions is the adoptive family an easily end the relationship. Open adoptions exist at the discretion of the adopting family. They are not legally enforceable in all states, and where they are enforceable the cost of a lawyer can be prohibitive for a birth mother.

My adoption support group often recommends the Saving Our Sisters (SOS) organization to expectant mothers considering a surrender of their baby. This group seeks to persuade birth mothers that financial strain shouldn’t prevent them from keeping their children. When a woman who is having second thoughts reaches out to SOS online, the group tries to find a “sister on the ground” nearby to bring her diapers, a month’s rent, or a baby swing. In 6 years time, they helped 90 mothers and their children remain together, rather than be lost to adoption.

 

No Communication ? Then Terminate

I did not know this was possible.  So, there is this case of a child in foster care.  The Dept of Children and Families is recommending that the child continue on in their care and flippantly adds in that the parents can lose their rights based on their level of communication with one another. That’s the DCFs basis for “terminating parental rights.”

Therefore, a grandparent is seeking a kinship adoption with plans to allow the parent who has been stable and involved in the child’s life from day one to raise that child.  It gets complicated.

Certainly, offering the child a stable, safe, loving home is preferable to the instability of foster care.  A kinship adoption keeps the child with their natural family. In this case, an original birth certificate can be obtained so that when the child is older, it will be accessible to them. Advocates suggest asking that the birth certificate not to be amended. The official world may think you are insane because changing an adoptee’s name is the more common approach.

For the grandparent that is willing, always it is better for a child, long term, to be somewhere stable and away from the family court system. However, as a family member, be very careful if your plan is to adopt “on paper” but give the children to a parent who’s rights are terminated.  In court, you will have to commit to raising them.  If you do otherwise, and it becomes known, you could lose custody as well.

It is also true that with kinship placement adoptions, the courts will be more lenient on contact with a terminated parent, than they would be in another type of adoption. After all, it is unrealistic to expect family members not to have contact with one another and the purpose of a kinship adoption is to keep the child in contact with their natural family.  This is simply a different kind of adoption compared to the child going to strangers.

In complicated situations such as this example, it is best to obtain an attorney.  If they are willing, have the parents sign guardianship or voluntary termination so you as the grandparent can take custody of your grandchild.   It isn’t uncommon for foster families to fight the change, when adoption is so close.  They will cite the child’s attachment to them.  Also DCF will challenge you as to why you didn’t ask for the placement of your grandchild, at the time the child was removed from their parent(s).

By establishing that you would be willing to take guardianship or even adopt, if needed – the social worker can change the plan for this child to “adoption or concurrent work towards a reunification with adoption possible if necessary, before an actual termination occurs.

Bottom line – all children need to stay with family whenever possible.