Speaking For And Over

Straight up – I am NOT adopted but both of my parents were and each of my sisters gave up a child to adoption, who I have been blessed to reconnect with in their late teen/early adulthood. I have learned the most from belonging in an all things adoption group where the voices of adoptees are privileged over all others, though there are original parents and adoptive parents (including those hoping to adopt and foster parents) and the rare oddball like me who belongs but doesn’t fit any of the usual categories. Now that I have dealt with my place in the adoption triad as it is often called, I’ll go on into today’s blog topic.

An adoptee writes – There needs to be a name for the bigotry of attacking, marginalizing and discrediting the voices of adoptees, donor conceived folk and former foster youth. I’m exhausted by the relentless online barrage from people who think they can speak for or over us based on the nature of our birth and/or conception and call us angry, broken and other hateful tropes.

This may shock you that anyone would be so inconsiderate and thoughtless but I will assure you, people are often clueless, especially about adoption. In fact, I was clueless before I entered this group about 3 years ago. I grew up thinking adoption was the most natural things in the world. Of course I would, given my family background. As a child, I thought my parents were orphans. They died knowing very little beyond some vague name related to their origins and their original parents. After they died, through effort, persistence and a lot of lucky, within a year I knew who all 4 of my original grandparents were. My parents were adopted in the dark ages of the Great Depression, sealed adoption records, changed identities on their original birth certificates and in some cases even their actual birthdate was changed.

Now, on to some of the comments regarding my adoptee perspective above . . .

One commenter noted this truth – Many of the people who push adoption are anti-abortion but I call them “forced birthers”. Forced birthers want their baby mills to produce. To which another responded – Pregnancy and birth are expensive and a lot of women turn to abortion because they don’t want a child and its the most financially responsible choice for themselves. Another one noted – I had a bunch of particularly bigoted recipient parents call me prolife because I said donor conceived people had rights. But saying adoptees, donor conceived people and former foster youth have rights is not the same as saying embryos have rights and I’m absolutely pro choice. So frustrating how things are twisted.

Someone else offered this interesting exercise – It helps to do train of thought free association… anti-adoption-truth-sayer, hard truth silencer, kidnapper sympathizer, rainbows and unicorns narrative, adoptee-phobe, foster youth-phobe, trauma denier, child trafficking supporter, baby objectifier, baby snatcher, willful ignorance, privilege/entitlement, keeping one’s blinders on, cognitive dissonance, rose-colored glasses, saviorist, virtue signaling, oppressor, crush, gag, hush, censor, suppress, repress, hide, mask, bully, harass, gaslighting… Really I think gaslighting is what is going on…Definition – Using denial, misdirection, contradiction, and misinformation; gaslighting involves attempts to destabilize the victim and delegitimize the victim’s beliefs. As I continue to think about this… it’s basically “separation trauma gaslighting”…

One noted that she hates the term ‘recipient parent’ because she doesn’t like the idea of adoptees being viewed as gifts. She suggests an “individual who feels entitled to another person’s child”. 

And someone else acknowledged it is conception discrimination.

Yet another said – What is a term that can be used to describe genetic identity seekers? Or people who don’t like to be separated from their genetic family? I think we need a word that encapsulates who we are. Then we could add an anti-, -ism, or -phobia for the opposite side of that concept.

Another one pointed out – Home wrecker is such a strong emotive world, and everyone immediately knows what it means. Maybe Family wreckers or some other similar term?

One woman speaking for her own interests says, I like using words like advocate and mentor to describe myself at this point in my life. I advocate for family safety and preservation and transparency and accountability within the human services systems in our country. I have also been thinking of what to call this movement for adoptee dignity, and the advocates who are tirelessly speaking out about these issues. And your blogger likes this perspective because that is what I think of in regard to myself and what I do in this blog.

An adoptee who has encountered these behaviors says, When someone comments that I should be grateful, sometimes I will tell them to check their privilege. I also like obscurantist, which means deliberately preventing the facts or full details of something from becoming known.

Another noted that this would be a form of childism. The child is objectified, and there is a hierarchy of value placed on them by adults based on many factors including: the circumstances of their birth, how they came to be placed with their non-biological family, how well-treated and accepted they are by the family they were raised by, whether or not they aged out of the foster care system, etc. Childism may be too broad and not specific enough.

And maybe this is the bottom line – I think the most important thing we can do is change the conversation. I think we just need to keep going. Even when our comments get erased or we get thrown out of the conversation just keep commenting. If enough of us keep commenting on the posts with our view I think we can change the conversation.

And on the speaking out side of things, one wrote – I like using terms like fragility and privilege to get people’s attention and get them talking about why they have the views they have so I can knock them down a peg or two. I keep links handy, peer-reviewed studies/articles, etc. and drop them in when relevant.

#whatabouts=derailment

In The Simpsons animated series, Helen Lovejoy often exclaims, “Ohhh, won’t somebody please think of the children!”

Something like this happens in broadly represented adoption groups (adoptees, original parents, adoptive parents and foster caregivers). “What about . . . ?” statements regarding kids being abused when issues of adoption and foster care are discussed, especially when the overall goal is to encourage family preservation only derail the effort to put forth viable solutions.

To assume any thoughtful, caring adult is seeking to justify kids being abused by impassioned support for the well-being of the whole biological family is abhorrent. I do not and never have advocated for allowing the abuse of children. What I seek to discuss through this blog in a variety of ways is how abuse and neglect stem from other factors in a person’s life. Being more pro-active on the side of helping families (and people in general) find the support they need can actually help stop abuse and neglect from ever occurring.

If you don’t believe that is possible, then maybe you are not doing enough in your own life to be part of the solution. Maybe you need to open your eyes to the simple truth of what is actually going on. You may need to stop sitting in your bubble of privileged judging of other people’s challenges.

I do believe that no one is born a terrible person. Life happens and sometimes it is a person’s path forward that results in inconvenient truths about the lack of support in our society for marginalized people. Not everyone is fortunate enough to always have goods choices that help them along on one of those better paths in life.

However, allowing people to have better choices CAN lead to a better life, a better person and a healthier, more stable family. This is not Utopian ideals. This is the honest truth derived from being open to learning about a diversity of challenges and experiences as well as the outcomes of those for many different people.

To that question, will there always be children that need someone else to care for them? Sadly Yes, of course there will.

Another question, is there an over-abundance of foster care necessitated by child removals and adoptions taking place in our country today? Maybe, maybe not. These are complex situations that deserve intelligent, nuanced thinking.

The goal of this blog is to help in educating people who may not have as broad of an access to all things adoption and foster care thinking, nor the attention that captures for me many of the stories I feel are worth sharing here.

Hedging Parenthood Bets

I don’t know anything about this publication but it fits my mood coming into today’s essay.

Read where one woman wrote – “We spent the last 1.5 yrs going thru the foster care process to be told during the home study that we are not eligible since we are still trying to conceive thru IVF. Either way, we still want to foster and adopt and really don’t want to wait much longer. We are 43/44 yrs old and have also been trying IVF for close to 5 yrs. Does anyone know a group that would allow us to foster or adopt while we continue IVF?”

I can honestly relate.  I conceived my oldest son at 46 thanks to IVF and another son at 49.  I won’t say it was the perfect way to have children but they would not be who they are or exist otherwise.  I love them dearly and so, can’t regret the effort behind having them.  While I had to give up passing on my own genetics to conceive them (I had actually already been there, done that, with my daughter, so it was perhaps easier for me to accept, than it is for some people), I do believe the route we took was far better than adoption.  I’ve had lots of opportunity to observe adoptees (both of my own parents) and birth mothers who gave up babies to adoption (both of my sisters).

The comments coming back to the woman above (the comments by others are not in response to my own situation) were not kind.

One wrote – what it sounds like to me is time is running out for us so we want to collect as many as possible to fill our desires before it’s not possible anymore! Also problematic because I’ve heard many adoptees talk about how they were raised by older parents and the huge generational gap caused even further issues. Older people expect old fashioned things, they don’t fit to be parenting in these times, let alone parenting traumatized children.

Well, we are older parents.  However, what I find comparing my two lives (parent at 19 and then in my late 40s) is that we are more willing to give up our own desires to meet our children’s desires where they express themselves.  There is a lot of wisdom and sometimes patience and often an intolerance for what doesn’t seem needed but we are there 24/7 for our boys.  I would not call my sons traumatized the way adopted children always are.  They do know the full truth of their origins.

I do remember my own OMG moment related to age – when I turned 60, my youngest was 10. I thought when I turn 70, he’ll only be 20. That startled me, though at 50 giving birth to him did not.  And one other thought about older parents – I know a lot of parents who died when their children were young. These parents were not old. Truth is we are all born to die, we are not guaranteed a particular length of life. Life is what it is and no two lives are the same. Also many of us live distantly from our offspring. I don’t always see my grown daughter or grandchildren even once a year. Money just isn’t there, though the visits when I am lucky enough to have one, are always precious.

One woman assessed the story above this way – #1 they are likely trying to find a child to ease their pain from infertility and replace the child they can’t have, #2 they are likely hopeful adoptive parents and will sabotage reunification from the git go which is part of any foster care effort and #3 they are likely only accepting 0-3 year olds.

Another noted –  It’s really sad that you cannot conceive, but please don’t traumatize an entire family of people with a lot less privilege than you have in order to satisfy your fantasy of a perfect life. If you want kids so much, divorce your partner, and marry a single parent with a child.

On that note, when my husband wanted to have children and I discovered how low my own odds of successfully conceiving were, I was privately sobbing, you need to marry a younger woman, but that was not what he wanted to do.

And finally, I do agree with this point of view – nobody should be trying to adopt or foster and do fertility treatments. Foster kids and adoptees aren’t backup plans. Also, nobody should try to do domestic adoption and foster to adopt. This is why therapy should be a requirement.  There’s no reason to continue IVF if you want to adopt. I’ve seen couples do IVF literally weeks after adopting. They shouldn’t adopt.

 

Unreasonable Expectations

I’ll be the first to admit I don’t know a lot about cases where Child Protective Services interferes with a parent/child relationship.  I used to worry about it though.  Rowdy boys who I did my best to keep socially acceptable in public in the most gentle way I could.  I used to warn them that they really had to listen to me or someone might take them away.  They seemed to understand well enough to settle down and not raise misguided concerns.  That is the world they grew up in and they are now very well-behaved teenagers, thanking all that is good we all survived their childhood but that isn’t always the case.  So my story today is about one such case and its causes and impacts.

A father and son played for hours at the beach, splashing the water, and building an elaborate sandcastle. The two of them are so similar it’s sometimes hard to imagine they aren’t the same soul living in two separate bodies. Their bond unbreakable regardless of what the courts may have ordered. Their visits are essential to our son knowing who he is, where he comes from, and who he takes after in this world. (Don’t know for certain but believe he has been adopted.  The woman shares that the boy’s 2 older biological sisters are still in foster care, which explain what comes next.)

While spending time together, Dad said to me, “I need to start being good and following the rules if I want to see my daughters…. it’s just hard, because I never had rules to follow before, so it’s not easy for me.”

How hard it must be for first parents to be asked to follow the strict guidelines children’s aid societies and child protection services (CAS/CPS) sets out for them when they themselves grew up in circumstances where there were minimal-to-no-rules. Is it this perpetual cycle that explains why the children are removed ?  Then, why the parents struggle to obtain reunification.  And then, when that isn’t possible, struggle to be able to maintain visitation after Termination of Parental Rights, when CAS/CPS controls the narrative, the rules to follow, and the access to their children. It’s something I think more foster and adoptive families need to recognize is part of our privilege, and be more mindful of the unreasonable expectations placed on first families.

I’m grateful that CAS has no say over who we visit with, how frequently, or under what conditions, so that we can see our son’s family as often as possible; but I’m continuing to learn and to be heartbroken by this terrible system designed to keep families apart.

One woman shared a similar story about rules that was not related to this first one.  CPS told a neighbor her 12 and 14 year old children were not allowed to walk home from school. They had to take the bus or be picked up. She lives 1/2 mile from the school. That felt really controlling and they held that over her head, as if it were a problem. How is something like that possible ?

My sisters and I walked to and from school every day of our childhood.  Both of my parents worked.  There wasn’t even a school bus provided but we did survive it.  We were probably healthier for the exercise.  This is the kind of over-reach that worried me when my boys were very young.

There are so many problems with CPS “rules.”  The first woman went on to add these thoughts – the rules often sound arbitrary, conflicting and complicated to follow in real life. And I can see how they don’t seem “so bad” to those with the means and privilege to have a flexible schedule, financial resources and a support system. The whole premise is corrupt and needs to be dismantled and rebuilt with an emphasis on family reunification, support, culture, and preventative measures, so we never end up here in the first place.

Cultural rules change a lot depending on what cohort you are part of. CPS rules are based really heavily on white middle-class cultural rules, which are stunningly different from other groups of people.  Which led another woman to share –  our case worker keeps saying my nephew goes ‘AWOL’ and it bothers me so damn much.  Because I know that feeling of not being in control. The ability to come and go as you please, to go on a walk is not AWOL.  The amount of re-framing the system needs to do is staggering.

 

Income Inequality and the Pandemic

There are hopeful adoptive parents who are so self-absorbed that they view the economic hardships brought on by the shutdown of the country to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus as a silver lining potential blessing.

They are hoping that financially distressed single pregnant women may be more likely to chose to surrender their babies to adoption under the current circumstances.  This is a sad truth of our often selfish times that such people would be thinking this way but apparently this is the truth.

Instead of feeling compassion for women in those situations, they are hoping and praying it leads to something they want. This is always the case with domestic infant adoption which is generally 100% selfish.

It’s not about finding a baby a home.  These babies have families.  9 out of every 10 placements occur because of financial pressures. Hopeful/adoptive parents often like to believe every birth mom just didn’t want her kid. That’s rarely the case. It’s almost always as simple as a lack of money.

The truth is that these babies are highly in demand and sought after. That’s why it costs so much to adopt domestically, supply vs demand. It’s exactly why it often takes years for someone to adopt. There’s a shortage of these babies vs waiting hopeful adoptive parents.

During a global pandemic, hopeful adoptive parents are still begging for money via GoFundMe, YouCaring, and hitting their friends up to buy ridiculously overpriced t-shirts.

Domestic infant adoption is almost always a baby going from a poor family to a middle/upper class one. The foundation of adoption centers around privilege, and the lack of it. The haves vs the have nots.

These are facts. Hopeful adoptive parents and their WANTS drive the billion dollar a year adoption industry. It drives the manipulative and coercive tactics used in adoption. All for $$$. It’s all about money.

The Basics of Adoption

Raising an adopted child is not the same as raising your biological children.  That is the first thing to understand.  I can just imagine my mom’s adoptive parents (a banker and a socialite) saying something like this – “If it were not for us, you would never have had the kind of life you’ve had. Just always remember that.”  And there is truth in that.  My mom would have grown up in abject poverty.  She was able to go to a university for a degree because of her parents’ wealth.  I was able to take a special summer session as a student at Claire College, Cambridge and see the country of England, thanks to my mom’s adoptive mother.

Different isn’t always better. Also, more money doesn’t always mean happier.  My mom had a difficult relationship with her adoptive mother who used a lure of money against her frequently.  I can see she used money to control my mom when that (to control my mom) was not truly possible.  I do know how blessed my adoptive grandmother felt to receive her two children.  But as my mom grew up that feeling seems to have mutated into something controlling and judgmental.

I will honestly admit, I am grateful I was not adopted. Though I didn’t know family beyond my parents, at least I knew who my parents were. I did not have the name I was given at birth taken away from me. I did not have to pretend to belong when I knew that I didn’t. I was not abused but no one ever tried to convince me I was special because they chose me for adoption. I did not feel abandoned or rejected. My parents believed in honesty and truth.

No one tries to make me feel better by telling me my life could have been worse.  Or that I would be dead if these people didn’t adopt me.  That’s putting a huge burden on a child to meet the adoptive parents’ expectations.

Adoptees suffer a primal wound by being separated from their original mother. Many have symptoms of PTSD. Many adoptive mothers never resolve their feelings of inadequacy due to not being able to conceive naturally. Adoptees are often overwhelmed by feelings that they need to search for their genetic lineage. As adults, adoptees often experience difficulties in achieving a successful romantic relationship.

Misunderstood

Suddenly, friends and family have discovered what I have been writing about daily for over a year and they are understandably confused.  I would not have understood before about two years ago myself.  Both of my parents were adopted and so adoption was the most natural thing in the world to me.  Both of my sisters gave up children to adoption.  What I can say is that ignorance is bliss.

But for adoption I would not exist and I never forget that.  But for adoption my mother would have grown up in abject poverty instead of the privileges of wealth as the child of a banker and socialite.  My husband has said that my story could be viewed as pro-adoption and that is the truth.

Even so, I cannot ignore the many voices of adoptees and the original mothers who have suffered because adoption carries with it inherent wounds and that is what I tend to try and explain in this blog.

Even so, today I read a heartwarming story.  I am sympathetic to the pain of infertility.  I do believe that couples who have struggled with that really DO need to seek counseling before adopting any child.

Back to that heartwarming story.  A couple was traveling on an airplane with their 8 day old adopted daughter.  The mother have given birth in Colorado.  It had been nine long years of fertility treatments, miscarriages and adoption stress for this couple.

A flight attendant announced that he’d be passing out napkins and pens for anyone who wanted to jot down a message for the new parents. The cabin erupted into cheers and applause. A steady stream of people came by to coo and congratulate the couple.

One of the napkins read: “I was adopted 64 years ago. Thank you for giving this child a loving family to be part of. Us adopted kids need a little extra love. Congratulations.”  YES, some adoptees are truly grateful and I do not doubt that but I pause on that thought “adopted kids need a little extra love.”  Hmmmm.

The flight attendants explained to the couple that they are married, and a fellow flight attendant had done this for them while they were on their honeymoon. They wanted to pay it forward.

The new father shared, “Adoption is wild with uncertainty.  You wonder, is this birth mother going to choose us? What happens if she changes her mind, if she backs out?”  The overwhelming support the couple felt during that plane trip was also a time when they were worried that their daughter might somehow be stigmatized.

Southwest Airlines released a statement saying, in part, that the crew showed “kindness and heart” on that flight.  Common kindness always matters.  I actually do care about every part of the adoption triad.  Just saying.

The Ethics Of Praying To Adopt

Actually, come to think of it, this is good advice – IF – by praying one is seeking guidance rather than to coerce the outcome to what they believe they want – when what they may get is not what they are expecting.

Adoption is a practice fraught with tension, pain, suffering and little reward – though the agencies that sell babies to couples wanting to adopt may not want you to know about that part.

Bottom line, it is NOT okay to want and pursue another woman’s baby.  Adoption is always the sad outcome to some kind of trouble in the original parents lives.  A case worker forcing the original mother to sign relinquishment papers reminds me way too much of my maternal grandmother’s sad circumstances at the hand of a master – Georgia Tann.

Every pregnant woman at risk should be given time and space.  Surrender should never be rushed and in the best circumstances delayed for some months to allow the new baby to continue the bonding process post-birth.  My maternal grandmother was married.  It may be that a Super Flood on the Mississippi River before my mom was even born kept my grandfather from knowing the danger my grandmother and mom were actually facing.

Maybe the guidance you will receive will be to help this family stay together rather than tear it apart and separate a child from its original family.

Closing The Gap

When an adoption has already occurred and given the importance of identity issues, what is an adoptive mother to do when the original mother doesn’t respond very much to efforts to reach out and keep that mother connected with her natural children ?

This was a question in a group I belong to this morning.

Some good advice that came from another adoptive mother was this –

Educate yourself on issues of generational poverty vs privilege and learn to identify what pushback actually indicates.

Get out of your bubble and be willing to have genuine relationships with people who are not like you.  (All of us in this polarized society could actually benefit from that advice.)

Humble yourself.

I remember an issue that came up.  My youngest sister gave up her son for adoption.  She gave me a lock-box full of mementos that illustrated her experiences and thinking at that time to deliver to her son someday as I was the contact in a registry somewhere.

It did come to pass.  As he read some letters out loud to his adoptive mom on their way home from our first meeting in person, she was startled to hear that she had some attitudes towards my sister.  She admitted later that she probably was projecting feelings of superiority.

Not to dismiss that the woman has done a fine job of nurturing my nephew.  She was very supportive of him when he was seeking to know who his true father was (turns out my sister lied about that one but indications from certain post-birth contacts indicate that she actually did know the truth).

Definitely, class differences can be intimidating.  In fact, this was mirrored to me growing up by my two sets of adoptive grandparents (yes, both of my parents were adoptees).  One set was well-off, socially prominent.  The other set lived in capable poverty.  I say it that way because they seemed to manage the situation without complaining.

When this class difference exists between the adoptive parents and the original parents (which is quite common or else the original parents would raise their own child 99% of the time) subtle messages are transmitted such as –

We are better than you and we know it.

Which can leave the original parents feeling they have to walk on egg shells.  They know the adoptive parents have all the power and money to do what they want including withhold information and contact if they so choose.

The Better Option

There is such a thing as privilege.  It is a privilege to have enough wealth that if you can’t have a child naturally, you are able to adopt someone else’s.  Is wealth a better option than keeping a family intact ?  There are cases where a child is going to need a safer environment but no child needs to have their identity erased and cultural heritage hidden from them.

It is weird to grow up with all these relatives and then reach an age in advanced maturity when one knows who their true genetic relatives are.  Both of my parents were adopted.  That means the grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins were never really my relations.  It is a very weird feeling to know that with certainty now.

Of course, I acknowledge that there were these couples who provided for and raised my parents.  They were the people I knew as grandparents growing up and they were without a doubt influential in my life.  Now that I know who the real ones were, they are who I think of when I think of who my grandparents were, even though I never had the privilege of knowing them in life.

One of the expectations is that an adoptee is supposed to be grateful and acknowledge all the sacrifices their adoptive parents made to raise them.  On the adoptees part there is this lifelong requirement to live up to the expectations of the adoptive parent.  I know that my mom felt this and I know that she felt like she had failed to equal those expectations.

All parents expect something from their children but most children are quite free to ignore those parental expectations.  An adoptee often fears being returned to a no-family state if they don’t live up to the expectations of the people who purchased their very lives.

It may be hard to read but it is a real thing for those who’s roots have been cut off from underneath them.