Maternal Abandonment

I haven’t read the book, Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens, but now I want to. A movie based on the book is coming to theaters this summer. In looking into the book, I find that the mother abandoned her children. In 1952, six-year-old Catherine Danielle Clark (nicknamed “Kya”) watches her mother abandon her and her family. While Kya waits in vain for her mother’s return, she witnesses her older siblings, Missy, Murph, Mandy, and eventually Jodie, all leave as well, due to their father’s drinking and physical abuse.

The story follows two timelines that slowly intertwine. The first timeline describes the life and adventures of a young girl named Kya as she grows up isolated in the marsh of North Carolina from 1952 to 1969. The second timeline follows an investigation into the apparent murder of Chase Andrews, a local celebrity of Barkley Cove, a fictional coastal town of North Carolina. Stories of children raising themselves with wildlife for companions have always fascinated me.

This story touches a sensitive place in me. While it was never my intention to abandon my daughter, could it be perceived that way ? Could she have experienced my “disappearance” as abandonment ? She was only 3 years old at the time and the realities were not something I could easily explain to her. Her dad and I had divorced. He had informed me that he would never pay child support because I would just party with the money (as though child care and pediatrician bills and all the normal daily expenses didn’t add up, leaving nothing leftover to even think of doing something like that). Therefore, I didn’t ask the court for any child support during the divorce hearing (which my husband did not attend) but the judge awarded me $25 in case I wanted to come back and ask for more. I never did but I did look for “better” (ie male dominated) employment that would pay enough to support the two of us.

It was always my intention to come back for my daughter with a bit of money saved, earned from driving an 18-wheel truck with my romantic partner of that time. A financial foundation for our mutual support. I left her with my former mother-in-law, who eventually gave her back to her dad. He remarried a woman with a child and eventually they had a child together. Since I could not give her a stable family life as a single impoverished woman, I let it be. I stayed in contact with my daughter and had short visits with her during her summers out of school. Still, it has always troubled me . . .

I feel fortunate that she doesn’t hate me for it and that we do have a good relationship as mature women raising children (she gave me a grandson, then I had a son, then she gave me a granddaughter, and then I had another son). I’ll never fully get over my own shame at not having done “better” by her.

What Biology Prefers

In my all things adoption group – the post acknowledges what I also believe is a fact –

Biology programs us to prefer the children we gave birth to. You can try to be “fair” but I firmly believe biology and the subconscious takes over. This is how it’s supposed to be. It’s natural instincts. What does it say about biological connection when one says they love a stranger’s natural child the same or just as much? How do biological children in the home feel about this? Is it really possible? What are your thoughts?

I remember reading once that children often physically resemble their fathers so that the man will accept responsibility and care for the family. Of course, it doesn’t universally turn out that way. Yesterday, I was looking at an old picture of my husband’s father’s parents and marveled at how much he looked like both of them in a photo nearby. My sons each have some resemblance and some of the best qualities of their father. I carried my sons during pregnancy and nursed them at my breast for over a year. While they know the truth of their egg donor conceptions, which we have never hidden from them and even facilitated their ability to contact this woman by connecting them to the donor on 23 and Me, they would seem, to my own heart, to be as bonded to me as they ever could be. I am “Mom” to them and no one could be more their mom. I may not have been able to pass my genes on to them (though my grown daughter and grandchildren do that for me) but I am their mother biologically and I do believe that makes a difference. Honesty helps as well.

One commenter posted an article at science.org titled “Do parents favor their biological children over their adopted ones?” subtitled – Study tests the “wicked stepmother” hypothesis. My daughter remains quite fond of her deceased step-mother and yet, I also know that my paternal grandmother, who’s own mother died when she was only 3 mos old, did suffer an absolutely wicked stepmother. The article notes that “Wicked stepmothers would seem to be favored by evolutionary theory. The best way to ensure the propagation of our own genes, after all, is to take care of children who are genetically related to us—not those born to other parents.”

Even so their study found that parents did not favor a biological child over an adopted one in all instances. Researchers compared data on 135 pairs of “virtual twins”—siblings about the same age consisting of either one adopted child and one biological child or two adopted children.

What does support adoptees who feel their adoptive parents did not treat them well is this detail – adoptive parents did rate their adoptive children higher in negative traits and behaviors like arrogance and stealing. Yet, it is interesting that when it came to positive traits like conscientiousness and persistence,  they scored both adopted and biological children similarly. 

This study came to the conclusion that the strong desire to be a parent—no matter the source of a child’s genes—can override evolved, kin selection behaviors that might otherwise lead parents to invest more time and resources in their own offspring.

Like Many, Learning As I Go

Clearly, I did not for see all of the criticism that I was getting myself into but I did note that it was “a difficult topic to discuss in a politically correct manner”, so I did have an inkling. Five women expressed a problem with yesterday’s blog. There were literally hundreds of comments posted on the question thread. My blog yesterday attempted to acknowledge I am the product of a different time than the one I am living in now. I also posted a link to that blog in my all things adoption group. This caused my blog to have 10 times more views than any I have ever written here but no comments were left on the blog itself that I know of today.

Without apologizing for viewing the culture I was raised in positively, and I do continue to raise my own children within the same kind of family structure, I was shocked by the accusations of homophobia made against me within my all things adoption group simply for believing in the value of that culture as applied to child-rearing, a culture that includes both male and female role models. Please note – this does not exclude same sex couples but those do need to include extended family to provide examples of each gender, for a child growing up within that culture.

Needless to say, the increase in young people who refuse to embrace a gender identity (non-binary) is a trend for humanity that I don’t expect to end. It is a good response. Making a significant point about how gender is actually a meaningless distinction except in actual procreation. I completely agree with that stance. I have enough life experience to know that sex is sex, regardless of the forms it takes, though rape is something else entirely and about power over another human being. I am also aware that many young people do not intend to parent or have children. Many of my friends, who are in my same age group, lament not expecting to enjoy having grandchildren. Just as with abortion and now the pandemic, these are circumstances that have pushed back concerns about over-population.

Certainly, my family and my dearest friends include people who identify as gay and they are all loved by me just as any other family member or friend is. I see their humanity and accept them as they present themselves to be. For that, I was told to STOP tokenizing my gay family and friends. You sound like the obviously racist people who say “I can’t be racist, I have a black friend.” That was not my intent but I know, life is like this now. Sometimes we can’t undo perceptions, regardless of where our heart actually is. I accept the impossibility of doing so. Social media is a difficult place to even attempt that.

It was also said of this blog that on the whole the writing was disjointed and convoluted making it difficult to discern its intentions.

So I will make clear – my intention regarding the adoption related values most important to me – that were raised by this question that was asked – What are your thoughts about the Buttigieg’s impending adoption?

Adoption causes trauma by separating a baby from its gestational mother. Surrogacy does the same thing.

I support family preservation. This includes financial and emotional support, so that mothers can raise their own children. If a child does need the care of people who they are not born of, for all of the reasons usually given including abuse or neglect, this can be provided without changing their name and parentage from that shown on their original birth certificate. Birth identity matters.

In the case of the Buttigiegs their intention is to remain anonymous. I doubt that is going to succeed in the long run, though actual results will be the proof. The press will turn over every stone they try to set in order to reveal the child’s origins.

In a Washington Post article it was written – “The couple, who have been married for three years, had been trying to adopt for a year, taking part in parenting workshops. They were on lists that would allow them to receive a baby who had been abandoned or surrendered at short notice and also were seeking to be matched with a prospective mother.”

So to be clear, I like the former mayor, now cabinet member, Pete Buttigieg well enough, what little I actually know about him. But the language used in the couple’s announcement included lots of red flags for anyone interested in adoption reform. And the fact that they’re pursuing domestic infant adoption is precisely what I object to the most.

Research indicates that children with same sex parents have strengths and unique challenges. I found this article in an attempt to add some reality to my own thinking – “Same Sex Parents and Their Children“. It notes that between 1 and 9 million children in the United States have at least one parent who is lesbian or gay. There are approximately 594,000 same-sex partner households, according to the 2000 Census, and there are children living in approximately 27 percent of those households.

Adoptees definitely have unique traumas and I do have concerns about this particular couple’s ability create a totally positive outcome, from the trauma they will cause by the adoption of a baby. I would have the same concerns regardless of the sexual orientation of an adoptee’s parents.

Preferences

Birthmother – heroic, damned and judged. Believe me, these women have ALL of my sympathetic compassion. They are too often exploited. My preference would be that no mother who birthed a baby would ever be separated from them. That these women and their babies would be supported – if necessary in comfortable surroundings with no other demand upon them than the baby makes. Sadly, that is not the society we live in. Dominated by the search for profits – babies are taken from their birthmother and given to whoever can pay the price. This is just plain wrong.

What does it mean to attempt to move forward in a life after a woman relinquishes her baby to adoption ? For myself, though my daughter was not relinquished to adoption, she was surrendered to her father to raise, in effect – it isn’t much different. Diminished. Somehow a failure. Less than. Some kind of monster person. I’ve lived with all of those feelings.

Often in this blog, I do choose to spend a lot of my time and energy pointing out the more negative aspects of adoption as I have come to understand the institution. I feel entitled to do this because both of my parents were adopted and both of my sisters gave up a baby to adoption. At this point, it is fair to label me as “anti-adoption” because honestly, for the most part, I am. I would like to explain what the words, anti-adoption, mean in my perspective.

I believe that it is wrong that there is profit being made in the adoption industry. The transferring of parental rights to a child, that we call adoption, is a $13 Billion dollar annual industry. Every day we hear more and more about corruption in adoption and many adoption experts agree that we need to get the profit motive out of it. There is just too much income motivation and not in the best interest of the child – most often in the interest of hopeful adoptive parents. Money matters – not the child’s welfare. In addition, the high cost of adopting makes it completely out of reach for many prospective adoptive parents. These people, in desperation, take out second mortgages or hold adoption fundraisers. I do not think of this acknowledgement regarding the influence of money as “anti-adoption.” I see this acknowledgement as looking for efforts that are pro-child welfare and not focused on turning babies into commodities.

Birthparents face a lack of follow-up services. Whoever has the prize (the baby) has won the battle. The one who gave birth no longer matters. If there are any mental health professionals involved, they are often uneducated about the long term effects of relinquishment on the birth parents. I see this as being a strong advocate for the continued support of the people directly affected by adoption, including the adoptee who never had a say in what was being done to them.

I believe that the marketing and promotional aspects of adoption need to be seriously overhauled. I do think there is something wrong with an adoption agency spending thousands of dollars in advertising or using crisis pregnancy centers to recruit mothers, simply to ask them to consider adoption as the outcome for their babies. Adoption websites must discuss both the positives and the negatives, the risks and possibilities, when providing adoption information to all of the parties involved. People should not be told what they want to hear in order to seal a deal, pay a fee, or relinquish a child. I see this perspective as demanding “truth” from the industry and honoring that spirit by demanding honest information be conveyed.

We must change adoption practices so that the expectant parents considering adoption have enough information to make an informed choice.  An agency cannot tell potential birth mothers that they are strong and courageous, promise them relationships with their children and expect them to find peace and heal.  Adoption professionals must present, however scant, the known research about the consequences of long-term grief, the true statistics regarding of adoptee outcomes, secondary infertility rates, and the legal truth about open adoption agreements (they are un-enforceable).  Adoption counseling should be from a true unbiased source and must ensure that mothers considering adoption have other real options – plans for parenting their baby and realistic bail-out, change of mind/heart time frames available.  It is wrong to ask mothers to “choose” adoption unless they do so with truthful knowledge, of their own free will and knowing the realities they will face the rest of their life related to their choice. I can not count how many birthmothers QUICKLY regret that decision to surrender their precious baby to adoption. “Informed” must be truly informed and not based on some pretty descriptive version of adoption fantasyland.

Pro-ethical accountability. I want to see children’s needs come first.  I want fathers’ rights upheld. I want legal accountability from all parties involved.  I want more than a patchwork of state laws that allow people to cross state lines, get a new license, and work around regulations.  We must restore to adult adoptees access to their original birth certificates.  Currently adult adoptees are the only classification of US citizens that are denied the right to access their original birth certificates based on the fact they were adopted.  This issue touches on their right to know their true identity. If the adoptee desires, it is normal to want know the story of their own birth. Adults should have access to their actual genetic history and genealogy, as well as their detailed medical information. Sometimes even the ability to get a passport, a driver’s license, vote or to have health insurance is dependent on true identity information (and not some made-up identity, as in adoption). The state governments are still stuck in a past created on a perception of shame, defending secrecy regarding adoption details and supporting the lies necessary to accomplish this. My perspective is anti-discrimination and in support of adoptee civil rights.

Together Together

So, I just learned about this movie today. The movie has a 92% positive rating at Rotten Tomatoes. It is defined as a comedy and I did LOL at some moments in the youtube movie trailer. The short summary of the movie’s plot is this – A young loner becomes a surrogate mother for a single, middle-aged man who wants a child. Their unexpected relationship soon challenges their perceptions of connection, boundaries and the particulars of love.

I do have feelings about surrogacy and have know of some surrogate pregnancies. Since learning so much about baby’s bonding with the mother who is carrying them in her womb, I am honestly not in favor of it. I do know of one case of a woman’s mother being the surrogate for her daughter who could not carry to term. I am okay with that situation, especially because “grandma” will be in that baby’s life.

According to a Roger Ebert review – You go into (the movie) thinking you know what you’re getting into, and feeling impatient or dismissive as a result, because the movie conspicuously makes choices that seem intended to announce which boxes it’s about to check off. Then it keeps confounding you—in a way that’s understated rather than show-offy—until you have to accept it on its own terms. It’s the perfect storytelling tactic for a movie about a surrogate mother and her patron, a divorced man 20 years her senior. The main characters don’t fully appreciate each other until they quit trying to categorize their relationship and let it be whatever it’s going to be, while trying not obsess over what’ll happen once the baby is born. 

As it turns out, this is not the kind of film where the leads overcome social obstacles and live happily every after as husband and wife. In fact, it turns out to be a rare film about two characters you’ve never seen in a movie. They initially seem cut from middling romantic comedy cloth.  Matt and Anna quickly disclose shared feelings of loneliness and aloneness (different concepts) and talk about their troubled pasts. 

Matt’s marriage collapsed but he decided to have a kid anyway, using his own sperm and a donated egg. Anna got pregnant in college, gave the baby up for adoption, and earned the double-ire of her parents, who considered her a failure both for having an unplanned pregnancy and not keeping the kid. As with any donor conception, it’s complicated. Money is involved. Just don’t expect an ending that answers the question: Now what ?

But then – What’s Love Got To Do With It ? Just for fun . . . .

Disrupted

Perspectives from a thwarted adoption . . . .

“Just experienced a disrupted adoption. Mom changed her mind after signing the paperwork. I will forever treasure the few days I had with that little girl and hope her and her mama stay safe on their journey to independence. I’m sure I looked like a crazy lady walking through the Dallas/Fort Worth airport carrying a diaper bag, car seat, and duffle bag of baby items with no baby, just sobbing on and off. TSA definitely gave me some weird looks when I got randomly selected to have all my luggage searched and I just kept crying as they took items out. Luckily the winter storm and rolling blackouts in Texas meant there were fewer than normal people at the airport to witness my sob-athon.”

The most obvious question is – Why wouldn’t she just give all that stuff to mom?

The most obvious answer is – They’re expensive and she wants them for the “next time”. 

What does a genuinely nice reactions look like ?

One couple went to Target and bought mom and baby boy everything they could possibly need and gave these to the mom with a card congratulating her and expressing their understanding related to her decision. They had that little boy’s needs set for his entire first year. They were really respectful of mom’s decision and didn’t try to talk her out of it in anyway. PS this was a black couple, comfortable financially but not wealthy, and they always behaved well and offered things if mom chose to parent.

And to treat the hopeful adoptive mom in this story with consideration – her being sad is understandable. I think its ok to be sad, even if the baby wasn’t hers in the first place. She wished them well and doesn’t seem to have been angry. She never referred to the baby as “hers”, no display of entitlement nor was she angry.

It is so easy to criticize and judge. Every one of us needs to reach into our hearts for a sincere understanding of the place other people are seeing things from. Often their personal experiences are coloring their perceptions.

Healing Trauma

I’ve only just learned about this book and have not read it but didn’t want to wait for whenever, if ever, that might happen to pass it on to readers here.

Many adoptees and foster children have some degree of trauma. It is said that this is one of the best-known books about trauma, and in particular early life trauma (which especially applies to the topics I cover in this blog). 

It is not light weight reading, has almost 500 pages that includes a significant reference section. Someone who did read this (link at bottom of this essay) says – “It’s very in-depth, giving plenty of detail, but it’s not unnecessarily complicated. There’s some technical terminology used, particularly with respect to the functioning of the brain, but I thought this was explained well.”

Van der Kolk is a psychiatrist who initially began working with trauma while treating war veterans. There was a lot that wasn’t known about trauma then. He’s been an active researcher throughout his career and often considered at the forefront of new trauma-related knowledge.

In this book, he repeatedly stresses the importance of recognizing the changes that occur in the brains and nervous systems of people who’ve been through trauma, and targeting treatment accordingly with the goal of getting back the functioning they have lost. He is quoted as saying, “Trauma results in a fundamental reorganization of the way mind and brain manage perceptions. It changes not only how we think and what we think about, but also our very capacity to think.”

Imaging studies have produced some new understandings about flashbacks. There’s activation of the right brain along with a drop in activity in the brain structure called the thalamus, which prevents the events from being remembered as a coherent narrative, as would be the case with other kinds of memories.

Brain scans have also shown an impaired self-awareness. Van der Kolk explains that this is why it’s important to work on breathing, mindfulness, and recognizing the link between physical sensations and emotions. He writes further: “The body keeps the score: If the memory of trauma is encoded in the viscera, in heartbreaking and gut-wrenching emotions, in autoimmune disorders and skeletal/muscular problems, and if mind/brain/visceral communication is the royal road to emotion regulation, this demands a radical shift in our therapeutic assumptions.”

The book pays a lot of attention to early life trauma, including issues like attachment and attunement. The author explains that trauma increases the need for attachment, even when the only attachment figure available to the child is the abuser.

Van der Kolk championed adding complex PTSD as a separate diagnosis from PTSD. He was part of the working group that proposed C-PTSD for inclusion in the DSM-IV, and the group that proposed developmental trauma disorder for inclusion in the DSM-5. American Psychiatric Association did not approve any of these suggestions as new diagnoses.

I am indebted to Ashley of The Mental Health @ Home blog for her review which is the basis of my own blog today. You can read more about this book in her article.

How Grief Passes Down the Family Line

A dear friend pointed out that I don’t seem to believe I have the right to be a mother.  The circumstances of my life have done this to me.  The tears come.  She was quite perceptive.

She noted that on a photo of my daughter and her family (children and husband) I wrote – that I could take no credit for the wonderful person she is because I didn’t raise her after the age of 3.  My friend noted – When men take your children away they really do a number on women.

This is sadly true and it has happened to me with ALL of my children in one way or another.  So, my ex-husband ended up raising my daughter when my own desperation to financially support us led me to try driving an 18-wheel truck to make some decent money because he simply refused to pay any child support and I wasn’t going to spend my life in court fighting against him.

Truth be told, I never intended for him to raise her.  I left her with her paternal grandmother for temporary care that I had no idea how long that would be needed.  The grandmother could be forgiven for viewing that as my having abandoned her.  That was never my perspective but I can see how it may have looked that way as the days turned into weeks and then months.

That her father could give her a family life with siblings had everything to do with my not even attempting to interrupt that blessing (which is how I saw it though I have learned recently that “blessed” was not exactly how it was experienced by her and more’s the sorrow in this mother’s heart).  She rightly views her step-mother as her mother and who am I to argue with that perception.

Then there are my sons who are donor conceived.  Therefore, I do see them as more rightfully my husband’s than my own.  Again, robbed of my own children by the circumstances of my life which I do not claim that I am a victim of but the one who made every choice to bring these circumstances about.

So I wonder about the grief that is passed down the generations.  Both of my parents were adopted.  Therefore, BOTH of my own grandmothers suffered the same kind of grief I experience and my sisters experience (both of my sisters also lost either by surrendering to adoption or the courts) an opportunity to raise their own children.

The only good thing I can say about it all at this point is that our children have survived and are managing to raise their own children, even a nephew who in a sense is fulfilling my friend’s insight as he has custody of his own son after a divorce.  You just can’t make this stuff up.

 

 

Buying A Human Being

Every single adoptee that is some part of the family I was born into was adopted because the mother was financially desperate (not for the money itself but for the ability to provide for her child).  People with financial resources have been buying these kinds of babies for a very long time (in my family’s case – 90 years now).

Exchanging money for a human being is morally objectionable or it should be (though the unicorns and rainbows pro-adoption community does not find it so).  There is an objectionable word for it – “human trafficking”.

There is a deliberate blindness in some prospective adoptive parents that cloak the practice of adoption as some kind of altruism.  A human being is not an object or  someone’s property.  Human beings NOT possessions to be bought, sold, gifted or traded.

There are those who dress adoption up in religion as somehow God’s will to take a child from the womb of the woman God put it into and give it to complete strangers because God made some kind of mistake in doing that ?  I don’t think so.

Like God wants families ripped apart?

It is all trafficking – adopting, placing, fostering, being a social worker, gal, casa, family court personnel etc.  Where a mom loses her child to Child Protective Services.  Or a woman never really had a choice.  No matter how you try to dress it up – it is still paying money to buy a baby.

 

Lacking Permanency

After I learned who my original grandparents were (both of my parents were adopted and died knowing effectively nothing about their own familial roots), I began to learn about the impacts of adoption.  I read a really good book on this subject – The Primal Wound by Nancy Newton Verrier (definitely highly recommended for anyone else who is interested in understanding).  I also joined a group about adoption that is all about facing the realities.  Member of the whole triad of original parents, adoptees and adoptive parents belong to this group and I have learned a lot about the issues from the diversity.

From letters written by my adoptive grandmother in the late 1930s to the Tennessee Children’s Home staff – Fanny Elrod and Georgia Tann – there are indications that my mom had been upset the whole time she was being taken by my adoptive grandmother by train from Memphis to Nogales Arizona as a 7 mos old infant and that she may have been drugged by a doctor upon arrival there to calm her down.

Though letters from my adoptive grandmother in the early years of my mom’s life indicate that she was over the moon happy with my mom as her adopted child, I know that my mom never felt she lived up to my grandmother’s high standards.  I understand this personally as she was a phenomenal woman and I had my own run-ins with her opinions about me that were deeply hurtful.

My grandmother grew up not far from me in Missouri.  Her mom was lazy by my grandmother’s accounts – only interested in her bible and not in her household – and both her mother and sister were fat (confirmed in photographs of the whole family together).  My grandmother maintained a very trim figure all her life to match the trim figures of her sisters-in-law and worked hard at that by denying herself fattening foods to maintain her figure.  She criticized me once in a public place quite loudly for taking a dinner roll and putting butter on it.  I didn’t even speak to her for a whole 24 hours I was so upset.

Adoptees do not feel special because someone chose to adopt them.  They always feel at risk of being rejected and abandoned all over again if they don’t live up to their adoptive parents’ expectations.  For that reason they become people pleasers as my own mom definitely was.  She was described very positively after she died by the people who knew her but I wonder now – at what price internally did she accomplish that high regard ?