21st Century Children and Families Act

Whether it gets through or not, it is a step in the right direction. New legislation authored by California Rep. Karen Bass (D), would drastically change that standard: Under the 21st Century Children and Families Act, states could not even attempt to permanently sever children from their parents until they’d been in foster care for two full years consecutively, barring extreme circumstances — and even then it would be up to the states, and no longer a federal mandate. The reason that this is important is that the 1997 Adoption and Safe Families Act (ASFA) requires states to terminate parental rights when a child has been in foster care for 15 of 22 consecutive months. Granted this is just a tiny step.

“This bill is an important first step in moving away from cookie-cutter timelines that have caused devastating harm to children and families for decades,” said Kathleen Creamer, managing attorney of the family advocacy unit for Community Legal Services in Philadelphia.

Existing exemptions would be maintained for certain “aggravated” circumstances, such as when parents have committed sexual abuse or have been involved with the death of another child. But the legislation would free parents from the federal timeline when their custody rights are threatened due to incarceration or immigration detention — or in cases where they are actively working with the court to overcome hurdles in their lives to successfully bring the family back together. Parents are not subjected to the federal timeline if their children are placed with relatives.

Under the bill, if a state so chooses, it could eliminate all timeline requirements, except in cases involving aggravated circumstances. 

Bass announced her landmark legislation in a news release Thursday. “It’s time to update old child welfare laws,” she said. “More needs to be done to improve foster kids’ options for stability in their lives. Premature modification of parental rights too often leaves children in foster care with no legal family.”

The legislation is at the earliest possible stage, and far from guaranteed, with many elements that could lead to controversy, including strengthening the rights of prospective LGBTQ parents. The bill could also be challenged by representatives of the adoption industry, policy watchers said.

“With respect to the timelines, we’ll be looking at those proposed changes carefully and considering how they affect children and families involved in foster care, especially BIPOC children and families, given the systemic discrimination they face,” said Mary Boo, executive director of the North American Council on Adoptable Children.

Children removed from their homes following allegations of abuse or neglect remain in foster care while their parents address the issues that landed them there, issues typically arising from extreme poverty. Under family and dependency court oversight, local child welfare systems must mitigate the circumstances that led to the child’s removal into foster care, offering the parents therapy, anger management, parenting classes and drug treatment, as well as the time necessary to overcome situational crises such as homelessness or illness.

Charles Redding barbecues for his two children last Easter at the home of a relative in St. Paul, Minnesota.
The family is now in dependency court fighting to stay together.

But that time is often not enough. The pandemic has brought heightened scrutiny to the “cruelty” of federal timelines. Parents such as Charles Redding of Minnesota have fought to regain custody of their children when circumstances are stacked against them to no fault of their own. Redding, for instance, had emerged from jail with no computer to attend court-mandated hearings and online classes, and the local center where he needed to go for drug testing suspended services. Earlier this year, Redding’s two children sobbed through a virtual court appearance, imploring a Hennepin County juvenile court judge to give their dad more time to secure stable housing for them to live together.

David Kelly, a former official in the U.S. Children’s Bureau, called the bill introduced this week “a critical, long overdue step toward justice for families,” adding: “I hope it proves a galvanizing moment for realizing the family children need most is their own.”

Bass is a longstanding champion of children and parents caught up in the foster care system — families who are disproportionately Black and Native American. She is among those emphasizing that the bar for reunification is often too high, and the impact of permanent family separation too damaging to continue the federal standards as they currently exist.

“The changes that I’m proposing today focus the foster care system on the child and the idea that children should be at the center of our efforts,” Bass stated. 

Her legislation would require that before moving to terminate parental rights, states must describe the steps they took and services they provided to help keep a family together. It would also mandate data collection on the accessibility and availability of those services. 

Shanta Trivedi, director of the Sayra and Neil Meyerhoff Center for Families, Children and the Courts at the University of Baltimore said that while states are already required under law to provide services under a “reasonable efforts” standard, the proposed law will ensure that protocol is followed for every family.

“This puts teeth into the ‘reasonable efforts’ requirement that were previously absent,” Trivedi said. 

The bill has another key element: It adds sexual orientation, gender identity and religion to federal nondiscrimination protections that previously only included race and ethnicity. Under the proposed law, states and agencies they contract with could not “deny to any person the opportunity to become an adoptive or a foster parent” based on those additional factors. The provision would directly challenge laws in nearly a dozen states that permit faith-based providers to exclude members of the LGBTQ community by following religious ideology in choosing which foster and adoptive parents, or even which youth in foster care, they will and will not serve.

The legislation proposed by Bass retains current legal requirements that adoptions cannot be delayed to match children with families of the same race, gender, culture and religion. But it instructs states to consider such factors if that is requested by the child or their birth parent.

When the Adoption and Safe Families Act became law decades ago, nearly a third of all foster children had been in the system for at least three years. The timeline was designed to push those cases in the direction of adoptions or guardianships so that children didn’t languish with uncertain futures. 

Since then, adoptions from foster care have more than doubled — from 30,000 in 1998 to 66,000 in 2019. Over the past decade, federal statistics show that the number of children awaiting adoption has also increased, by more than 20%. 

The attempt to rewrite ASFA comes at a time when some are pushing for its outright repeal, including Jerry Milner, the Trump-era head of the U.S. Children’s Bureau. Along with Kelly, his former deputy, Milner now leads a consulting group helping state and local systems interested in significant reforms of their child welfare systems, including the strengthening of family bonds so children can avoid permanent family separation. 

Critics of the current timeline that pushes for termination of parental rights after 15 months describe it as arbitrary and unjust to the families who mostly come from communities of color where daily life and the weight of historic and systemic injustice can bear down on home life. Advocates for parents say the federal timeline also penalizes people in recovery for substance abuse or seeking treatment for mental health challenges — complex healing that can take time and involve relapse and setbacks. 

In a February 2021 op-ed, Creamer and Chris Gottlieb, co-director of the NYU School of Law Family Defense Clinic, described the social context around the original law: “Passed in the wake of the now-debunked ‘crack baby’ scare, and at the same time as nefarious federal laws on crime and welfare, it reflected the racial and class biases that were ascendant at the time and that to this day continue to inflict harm on children, youth and families.” 

Under the proposed legislation, a 24-month timeline was selected to align with the Family First Prevention Services Act, a 2018 law that overhauled the federal child welfare system to decrease reliance on group homes and emphasize foster care prevention. But as it is currently worded in the Bass bill, states could choose not to abide by the two-year timeline — the legislation as written uses the word “may” — not “shall” — while continuing to receive federal funds for the children who remain in foster care. 

“We are hopeful that this is just the beginning of making sure that states have the flexibility they need to embrace and uphold family integrity,” said Shereen White, director of policy and advocacy for the national nonprofit Children’s Rights.  

Child welfare policy consultant Maureen Flatley, who helped craft both the original Adoption and Safe Families Act and Bass’ new bill, said the additional protections for parents would not only help more children reunify with their families, it could reduce the number of young adults who leave foster care alone and disconnected from stable housing, income or a support system. 

Flatley said while the timelines can succeed at creating a greater sense of urgency around permanency for foster youth, roughly 22,000 youth still age out of foster care each year with no legal family ties. Meanwhile, many of their parents may simply have needed more time to complete court-ordered service plans.

“By maintaining those family connections and those relationships, we may be able to mitigate and limit the number of kids who are aging out alone,” Flatley said. 

Under the 1997 Adoption and Safe Families Act, states have received financial incentives to push foster children along the adoption path, despite critics’ objections. Bass’s bill does not address adoption incentives, instead taking aim at timelines that lead to the termination of parental rights — a critical first step for children to be adopted.

Still, even staunch detractors of the existing law applauded Bass’s attempt to update it through a social justice lens. 

“I don’t know what the chances are for passage, but the fact that we can even have this discussion shows that the racial justice reckoning finally is reaching child welfare,” said Richard Wexler, an outspoken foster care critic and executive director of the National Coalition for Child Protection Reform. “If it passes, it will improve the lives of, ultimately, millions of children.”

Thanks to The Imprint for this blog.

It Really Was That Bad

Today’s story –

I was adopted from foster care when I was 12. I was adopted into the same home as one of my biological sisters. Being adopted was the only way I could stay with my younger sister, so I consented. I knew my first family, as I lived with them to the age of ten. Having to leave them, especially my siblings, destroyed me.

Nearly as bad was the family I ended up with. My adoptive mom berated me constantly, and could be very cruel. I was told that my sister and I weren’t wanted, and that’s why my mother kept her other (three younger) kids but gave us up. That we were lucky that she chose us. The day of the adoption she told me that my life now was between her and Jesus.

I have a good relationship with my biological mom and stepdad, and their kids. I love them, and they love me back with a kind of enthusiasm that I never experienced in my adoptive home. Awhile back, my adoptive mom sent me a message, trying to apologize. It was painful, but it made me know for sure that things were as bad as I thought they were.

From the adoptive mom –

A couple of years ago we sat in the livingroom and I made an attempt at making an amends with you. I thought if I had stopped drinking and stayed sober, then the past was the past.

At the beginning, when you moved into our home, I made a feeble attempt at reaching out to you. You cringed and would not trust me, would not call me mom. You already had a mom and I had not even showed I was a safe person. I couldn’t and didn’t listen to your silent pain.

I know I verbally and emotionally abused you. You went to therapy but it didn’t work and I was glad because I did not want my neglect to be exposed. I knew I was guilty for causing the demons that haunted you.

At the height of your anorexia, you were hospitalized and yet I was jealous of you. I know I was insane. It was my own mental illness more than the alcoholism.

I just wanted to tell you that I am so ashamed of not giving you the childhood you deserved. It was my loss, I never really got to know you. I take none of the credit for your strength.

The Miracle of My Parent’s Marriage

Yesterday would have been my parent’s wedding anniversary had they still been living. I discovered when I was a middle school child that my mother conceived me out of wedlock. On their anniversary I would joke about taking a chance on them when I wanted to be born into this this life. That was because my mom was only a junior in high school and my dad had just started going to the university for higher education when they discovered my presence.

It took learning about my original grandparents (both of my parents were adopted) before it started dawning on me what a miracle it was that I was not given up for adoption. My mom’s adoptive parents were a banker and his socialite wife. Adoption was the most natural thing in the world within my family. My dad’s parents were humble entrepreneurs making draperies for wealthy people in a little shop in their home. They were also very religious. I’ve been going through old family letters (at least 30 years old) to clean out the clutter. Every letter from my dad’s adoptive parents has some religiosity in it.

During my own journey to know my actual roots (my parents died knowing next to nothing about their mid-1930s pre-adoption parents), I did realize how amazing that I was not also given up for adoption. I believe my mom’s adoptive parents would have been in favor of it. Somehow, I do believe it was my dad’s adoptive parents that preserved me in the family, though I cannot know this for certain. What I do know is that they took my young parents in for awhile and put me in a dresser drawer for a bassinet. I also know that when we were pre-school, we were living in an apartment of a 3 residence dwelling that my paternal grandparents owned.

My parents were high school sweethearts. It may be that they would have married anyway or maybe not. My dad could have fallen in love with someone else at the university or my mom with someone else in her high school. I did find preserved loved letters from that time among their belongings but did not keep them. I had read the story of a woman who’s mother had destroyed her own such letters. This person lamented that but her mother said they were personal between the two lovers. I didn’t read my parents’ letters though I did see one note by my mom worrying about how my dad would take the news that she was pregnant.

Sometimes I wish I had kept those letters. Sometimes I wish I had kept some of their early photos but I am getting older as are my two sisters and I thought I would just divide it up and turn it over to the grandchildren instead. I exist and I grew up in a loving family and that is enough I suppose.

2nd Chance Adoption

Dax is a 16-year-old who has experienced the heartbreak faced by far too many youth in the foster care system. Seven years after being adopted, this teen was told it wasn’t going to work out when Dax came out as LGBTQ. He says, the adoptive parents stopped loving him anymore because of who he is.

He thinks that maybe he needs a same-sex couple or at least someone who is understanding about his sexual identification.

He has been featured on a News segment in Oklahoma.

In a Patheos piece, I read –

A family adopts a 9 yr old child, cares for them 7 years and then kicks them out because they are LGBTQ. They ask “Who does that ? What is wrong with people ?

And I get it. My sons live a rather isolated life at the moment due to where we live in sparsely populated rural forested land and because they have received all of their education at home. One of my sons may eventually “come out”. There is more than one person in my husband’s family who has such a sexual identification.

The news segment doesn’t tell us anything about Dax’s former family or whether religion came into their decision.

However, a couple of nights after the segment aired, a woman wrote the station via Facebook.

“We are a LGBTQ+ supportive DHS approved foster/adoptive home. We are open for teen placement. WE HAVE CHICKENS !! (Dax has raised and loves chickens).

The News channel has put her in contact with the child’s case worker, so there may be a happy ending to this story.

I got some of this information from The Friendly Atheist at Patheos, Hemant Mehta author.

My Maternal Adoptive Grandmother

1989 among the Missouri Azaleas

I spent the afternoon yesterday reading through a thick stack of letters that I wrote to my grandmother. When my grandmother died, for whatever reason, when my mom found these, she thought to send them to me. I wondered why but now I understand. My grandmother adopted my mom from Georgia Tann and the Tennessee Children’s Home Society’s Memphis branch. I find it amazing that she kept all of these letters from me but they are very detailed about my marriage in the early days, what living in Missouri was like for me and what we were doing to promote our home-based business than I would have imagined. I wonder that I had that much time to write so much to her but then, there is only one, maybe two, in any given month and not even one for every month.

I could have been given up for adoption as my mom conceived me when she was only a junior in high school and not wed. My dad had graduated from the same high school the year before and had only just started attending the University of New Mexico at Las Cruces. I tend to credit his parents (he was adopted also) for preserving me in the family but as everyone who would know is now deceased, it is only a guess on my part. That is the reason I was born in Las Cruces and not El Paso Texas where my sisters were born.

I had the good fortune to chose to be born on this grandmother’s wedding anniversary. In January back in 1994, I acknowledged a memory she shared with me in a letter from her (I haven’t kept most, if any of hers to me). It was a “special memory” of hers about the sunlight shining upon me while she held me in her arms and some beautiful thought she had at that moment. It seems to have been a sign from God meant just for her and since I too believe in signs of that sort, I understood. I am now married to the man that I am because I received a physical, unmistakable sign to give him a bit more attention than I might have otherwise. Of course, discernment is very important when it comes to trusting the signs one notices.

In fact, it is quite clear in re-reading these very old letters from the early 1990s, that I was closer to this grandmother in my spiritual understandings than anyone else in my family. My dad’s parents were very conservative, traditional Church of Christ adherents. My mom was very much Episcopal and my dad wasn’t at all a church goer until all of us girls had left the home and then, he said to me that he went to “keep my mom company.” After she died, when I was there helping him with life in general, I went with him because he continued to go to their little church alone or with my youngest sister who was assisting him so he could remain in his home.

These letters are full of the most amazing details of my early marriage and life here in Missouri. I could share these things with this grandmother because she grew up in Missouri in a house much like the one I live in and an environment that is very similar. In one letter, I write – “I truly love the woods, hills and streams of my home here in the Missouri Ozarks. Knowing that you grew up nearby gives me the feeling that I came back home.” (I had grown up in the desert of El Paso Texas, where my grandmother spent most of her own life and where she eventually passed away.) I also shared a lot with her about our efforts to promote and grow our fledgling business.

When I found this thick packet, I wondered why my mom sent it to me and didn’t simply throw it away. I don’t know if she bothered to read all of these letters or not – I can’t ask her since she died in Sept of 2015 – but I’m glad to have them today. Only a few of them can I even bear to throw away but the details of our early business are as precious as gold and I hope we can preserve them in protective sleeves in a binder. Maybe someday, our sons will enjoy reading about our adventures before we decided to become their parents.

The Ideal Perspective ?

The most common experience from those I have witnessed is a lifetime of regret on the part of the birth mother. That is why my all things adoption group encourages expectant mothers to at least try and parent their newborn for some significant period of time before giving their precious baby up for adoption.

On the other side are voices trying to convince expectant mothers that the BEST thing they can do for their baby is let them go. And so today, I saw this description of that mindset . . .

This is from a “Bravelove testimony”. Although this perspective is from an adoptee testimony, it could have just as easily come from adoptive parent testimonies, birth mother testimonies or adoption professional testimonies. It is often seen as the desired perspective that adoptees should hold of their adoptions. It is often praised as a perspective showing love and respect for birthmothers, yet to me, it is reducing women who are birthmothers to the decision they made and dismissing them as complex people who were dealing with complex situations.

“A birth mother has three options. She can choose to have an abortion, and I wouldn’t be here right now. She can give birth, but choose to say “no this is my child and I don’t care what kind of life she has, she is mine and I’m not going to let her go,” and be totally selfish, but my birth mom chose the most selfless option. And probably the hardest; to carry me for nine months, give birth to me through all that pain and suffering and then look me in the eyes” and say “I love you so much I can’t keep you.”

Some version of the above, maybe not so direct but with similar implications, is often seen as the ideal attitude for an adoptee to have in order to “come to terms” with their adoptions.

I have reversed my own thinking about adoption (both of my parents were adoptees and both of my sisters gave up babies to adoption). I’ve done my best to understand the history of adoption and my grandmothers who surrendered their babies in the 1930s as well as how the thinking about adoption has changed over time, fewer births due to Roe v Wade, more open instead of closed adoptions, the advent of inexpensive DNA testing and matching sites opening up a whole new wave of reunions between adoptees and their birth parents. It appears to me no matter how good of a job adoptive parents did in raising a child, no matter what kind of wealth supported amenities they were able to offer (private school, horseback riding or ballet lessons, etc) adoptees and their birth parents seem to yearn for one thing throughout their lifetimes – to be reunited. This says something powerful to me about the whole push to separate women from their babies. When those adopting are evangelical Christians (whether the good people adopting believing they are doing some kind of saving grace for any unwanted child are motivated by that or not) the leadership of that religious persuasion is seeing adoption as taking the children of heathens and converting them to the faith.

I never did think that the choice a woman makes – to surrender her child or not – was selfish or selfless. All birth mothers are simply human beings who were doing the best they could under whatever circumstances they were dealing with. Each one has my own sympathetic compassion for the effects of that decision on the remainder of their lifetimes.

Argentina’s Courageous Abuelas

Abuelas (Grandmothers) de Plaza de Mayo is a non-governmental organization formed in 1977. Their grandchildren disappeared. Many babies were kidnapped with their parents, some after their parents were killed, and others were born in clandestine detention centers where their mothers were taken after having been sequestered at different states of their pregnancies.

The grandmothers note that from the moment that their children (often with their grandchild still in the womb) disappeared, they have visited every court, office, orphanage, day care center, and so on, trying to locate them. They have appeared before the courts, the successive military governments, the Supreme Court, and the ecclesiastical hierarchies, never obtaining a positive result. They eventually directed their claims to international organizations such as the United Nations and the Organization of American States. All to no avail.

These disappeared children were deprived of their identity, their religion, and their right to live with their family, in other words, all of the rights that are nationally and internationally recognized as their universal human rights. Beginning in 1997, the grandmothers began an informational campaign seeking to draw the attention of young people (of an approximate age range of what their grandchildren would be at that time) who may have had doubts regarding their true identity to the Abuelas organization. Happily, they have had some positive results.

The grandmothers wish to make it clear that their grandchildren have not been abandoned and inform them that they have the right to recover their roots and their history. They wish for these victims to know that they have relatives who are constantly engaged in searching for them.

Over 3 decades, the grandmothers located 120 of the disappeared children, including 4 found by governmental commissions and 2 located by CLAMOR, the Committee for the Defense of Human Rights in the Southern Cone. The estimated number of children kidnapped is approximately 500. Widespread DNA testing is now making it possible to locate more of these children who could have been sent out for adoption to any country anywhere in the world.

Some of the recovered children are already living with their legitimate families and have become perfectly integrated. Others are still living with the families that have raised them, but are in close contact with their true grandmothers and relatives. By being a part of two families, the children have recovered their identity. Sadly, there are a large number of disappeared children whose identities were completely annulled. In those cases, the grandmothers are using modern science to prove that they are members of a particular family. They continue to rely on support from the scientific community in the field of genetics, hematology, morphology, and others to accomplish their goal.

Second Choice

“Trigger Warning – Miscarriage”

I have a fear of a baby I adopt growing up feeling like my second choice…I have had five miscarriages in a row, most second trimester where I had to birth a baby that was no longer alive. We want a baby so badly, and I think, if God allows us to adopt, that I will look back on this time as “the broken road, that led me to our child” but (if I’m honest) I would give anything to birth a live baby instead. Is it wrong to adopt, when you still wish you could carry and deliver your baby ? I don’t want my possible future child to feel like they were a second choice (but isn’t that how most moms usually come into adoption?) I want a live baby so much.

As one begins to learn about how adoptees feel and think, one learns that there is no getting beyond this if the adoptive mother experienced miscarriages or infertility first. The adoptee will always know deep down in their heart that they were a second choice regarding motherhood.

For hopeful adoptive parents who have experienced miscarriage or infertility, it is always recommended that they seek counseling first before moving on to trying to adopt, to at least resolve these issues clearly within their own selves. This will not prevent an adoptee from feeling this however.

Religious beliefs are too often tied in with adoption and the necessity of raising children. I’m not surprised that one commenter quickly asked – Why is it God ? (“if God allows us to adopt”) So many of these people are the first ones to tell others that whatever bad thing happened to you, wouldn’t have happened, if you’d made better choices or how God gave us freedom of choice, so take responsibility for our own actions – yet when it comes to something many Christians want -suddenly, it’s all about God’s will and God making it happen. I don’t know, maybe that’s so if it all goes to shit, they can blame that on God too, or say they were confused ?

Taking that a step further ? So odd when someone makes those miscarriages “God’s way to make them suffer, so they end up with someone else’s baby that they will always resent the reason for.” People twist situations to suit their beliefs and biases. To be clear, it’s wrong to adopt, when you have your own trauma consuming you. Deal with that first.

An acknowledged Christian makes these points – The Bible is in favor of caring for ORPHANS, which has a very limited definition. It doesn’t say to adopt or even to foster. The actual biblical definition of adoption is welcoming a new person into the family of God. Which can be done without actually adopting them. It can definitely be done without the next step of changing their name. The Bible places a high premium on lineage in the first testament. This is a pet peeve for this Christian. When people who have obviously never studied relevant passages to defend their decision to rip families apart, or keep them apart.

I do see the reality in this different perspective –  at least she’s honest about adoption being her second choice. She is not pretending. As an adoptee, I can deal with the truth a lot easier than the lies adoptive parents tell themselves to convince themselves to feel better about it. Then, they project that onto their kids…”we chose you”, “you were our plan all along”. It’s all BS. At least, she is owning her selfishness before, whether she continues to admit it once she adopts, is another matter altogether.

I’m not adopted, so maybe that’s why I feel more pity here than anger. I feel for her because her loss is obviously weighing on her mental state. Even so, she shouldn’t consider adoption until she’s healed her own traumas. I couldn’t imagine giving birth and seeing a lifeless baby. I don’t think I’d want to adopt or try again, personally. It is clear that she REALLY wants to be a mother, but to be a mother is to be selfless. It’s to put your wants in second and sometimes 3rd place, it’s long nights, it’s about the child and I don’t think she’s realized that yet. A child separated from their biological family NEEDS stability and more. This woman doesn’t seem stable.

And I agree with this assessment – she is deep in the trenches of her grief, and should not consider any further action until she seeks help with that. If she was to do the work and heal from her tragic losses – she may even see that she don’t want a baby as bad as she wants the babies she has lost. No baby or child, be it adopted or birthed by her, will fill that deep void.

Spiritual Godmothers

When I was a child, we had godmothers. It was actually a religious thing, associated with the infant baptisms that were part of being raised Episcopalian. I never really knew my godparents. I got a gift or two early in my life but when I was old enough to actually know I received it and from whom.

However, today being Mother’s Day, it occurred to me that adoptive mothers are like godmothers who are present all the time. One could also put step-mothers in that category if the were the “good” kind and not the evil kind. For some people, aunts or even mother-in-laws are like godmothers (mine certainly was and treated me like a daughter the many years, decades really, we were together).

While the wound that adoptees suffer in being separated from their gestational mother is serious and primal, and while much not appreciative nor grateful can be said about any woman who takes a child in that they did not give birth to, I think that on a day like today, when mothering in general is celebrated, it is fair to take a step back from reform interests, just for today to acknowledge “god” mothers. These are mothers sent to us by the spiritual heart of Life itself to assist us in one way or another. Foster mothers fit into this category as well.

The all-pervading, all embracing, unchanging, and unceasing Love that evolves, supports, nurtures, protects, and provides space for its children to reach maturity. Some religions have made the effort to move away from concepts of a male god or they conceive a wholeness of the duality mother/father god. During my later adult years, for some extended period of time I entered into a practice called the Gaia Minute. In doing this practice, twice a day, I came to think of the Earth herself as my mother, the Sun as my father. Larger than the human entities that provided for us during our childhoods and for some time beyond that, indeed while we were made of these, this continues to be true throughout our human incarnation.

Sadly, some children lose their mother so early, they have no clear memories of her physically. That certainly happened to my paternal grandmother, who’s own mother died when she was only 3 mos old. That certainly happens to adoptees who are given to adoptive parents within hours or days of birth.

The maternal nurturing energy of the feminine is not bound by birth, nor even by gender (my husband is surprisingly nurturing as a human being). Our spiritual godmothers, however we obtain them, whenever we obtain them, help birth our soul’s journey by their grace. They encouraged us when we were down, they were they for us when our heart and soul ached (my own human mother could sense me in distress when I was in a different room).

The Divine Feminine of mothering energy is there to remind us that we are never alone in this thing called Life. Happy Mother’s Day to each and every person who has ever fulfilled that calling to serve another human being with the energy of Love, compassion, nurturing, safety, provision and presence.

There was something complete and nebulous

Which existed before the Heaven and Earth,

Silent, invisible

Unchanging, standing as One,

Unceasing, ever-revolving,

Able to be the Mother of the World.

~ Tao Te Ching

A Lifetime Of Regret

The Maiden of Sorrow painting by Tyler Robbins

In a discussion about a same-sex couple (two females) who wanted a family and were seeking perspectives on donor conceived vs adoption, a woman who gave up her baby at birth was strongly defending her choice as best for the child. This kind of denial is not uncommon. Truth is that many women who surrender their child at birth spend the rest of their lifetime in sorrow. Not even getting into the trauma that EVERY baby suffers at a preverbal, subconscious level due to that separation. Today’s story is from a woman who surrendered her child.

I’m a Birth mother. When I placed my daughter for adoption I lost the only good thing in my life. She was my joy. My reason for living.

I spent the next decade deeply suicidal and one of the things I heard a lot from people was that “suicide is selfish because it takes one person’s pain and passes it on to ten others.” These days I can’t help but think how much this statement applies to adoption too.

When I hear hopeful adoptive parents talk about the anguish infertility caused them and how they’re pursuing adoption now because they NEED to be a mother, I wonder if they realize they’re doing exactly this. They are trying to take away their pain of not having a baby by passing that pain onto the birth mother, father, child, grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins instead.

I have spent years in agony over the loss of my daughter, crying and begging god to change what happened. I’ve watched others get pregnant and wondered why they were worthy of motherhood and I wasn’t. I’ve felt the need to be a mother because I was a mother. But I am a mother without a child now.

The future which hopeful adoptive parents were unwilling to live (a life without children) has become my reality instead. Do hopeful adoptive parents or those who have already adopted realize – they are transferring their pain onto others, when they accept somebody else’s baby to fulfill their dreams ? What makes the pain spread through suicide so obviously selfish but the pain spread through adoption so widely acceptable ?

The first response was empathetic – you’re making perfect sense. Except the pain that leads people to suicide and the pain of having a child and losing it are both astronomically greater than any pain felt by never having children. So that makes adoption exceptionally selfish. I’m sorry for the pain you have been through. You did not deserve any of it. Saying a prayer for you.

It is frequently said in my all things adoption group that adoption is a permanent decision to a temporary solution. Society really needs to wake up to the harm of commercializing babies for profit and support struggling mothers and/or families better so children do not need to be taken from the family they were born into.

There are some adoptive mothers who finally realize that their infertility was at least psychologically caused by feeling their own mothers didn’t love them, even though there may have also been a physical component. If a woman is not whole in mind and emotions, any child brought into this life will have flawed parenting. There is also often a religious component to adoption. Some feel that God is punishing them with infertility and though some kind of twisted logic believe that adopting a child will get them back God’s good graces. So many don’t want to heal, they refuse to even admit they need to. And it’s their children and their children’s true mothers who carry the burden of their lack of awareness regarding their true issues.

Regarding a relinquishment of one’s babies and suicide came this comment –

I am an adoptee. My Mom died by suicide because her pain was too much to bear from losing two children to adoption.

I have been saying much of the same thing in regards to suicide. It’s not selfish or cowardly or a crime. I have also been saying that hopeful adoptive parents or those who have already adopted are transferring their pain. Most do not heal before adopting. Adoptive parents are wrongly revered by our society. Nobody thinks to question them or ask them anything. Sadly, adoption is usually option B and adoptive parents do not heal nor research the topic before getting their wallets out.

Fact is – adoption is big business. A for profit business. So if there were no adoptive parents, the money to be made selling babies would decrease. Sadly, adoption is socially acceptable, romanticized, sensationalized and is thought by many to be beautiful, rainbows etc. Adoptive parents are viewed as heroes and altruistic.

Suicide is stigmatized and people are afraid to discuss it and truly do not understand it. Our society has a hard time sitting in discomfort and looking at other people’s pain. That is why suicide is quickly labeled as selfish. In reality, society is selfish for not asking why the pain was so heavy. Even the words used around suicide make it seem like a crime or a choice. (committed suicide, killed oneself, took their own life). We are the selfish ones. We need to be talking about this. Not to mention the high suicide attempt rates and suicides among adoptees, as well as their original moms. Nobody is going to physically die because they can’t have a baby but many adoptees and moms are dying from the grief, trauma and loss that is the truth of adoption and family separation.

Every day, my effort here is to change the narrative about who adoptees are, about their stories, about the importance of keeping families together. Mine is one small voice but those who share my perspectives are legion. So the effort at reform begins with changing the narrative – adoption is NOT a “selfless” act but a “selfish” act. There is so much pain in adoption. I wish more people were aware of (and cared about!!!) the devastating consequences.