Today’s question – A woman adopted 2 kids years ago and has raised them since they were very young. Now that they are older, some truth came out that the situation that caused the adoption wasn’t as bad as she had been led to believe.
1) She wants to know if there is a way for their birth certificates to revert back the originals? She thought she had to change them in order to adopt the kids. (This is a common misperception that adoptees are trying to change because it almost always matters to them.)
2) Can she help their birth mother regain custody so that she can finish raising her own children ? Or un-adopt them, is that even possible?
A complication is that the kids say they don’t want a relationship with their biological mother or even to meet her. The woman is not certain they are telling the truth. Maybe they don’t want to hurt her feelings?
Some responses –
1) She probably did need to change the birth certificate to adopt, that’s still the case in many jurisdictions. It’s why guardianship is often preferred, though what that means also varies from one jurisdiction to the next, sometimes it is viewed as not allowing for stability.
2) The first step is for the kids need to get to know their mother again. If they refuse, I’m not sure what she can do other than to gently encourage it and never speak poorly of their mother. If they get to that point, what comes next varies widely from one jurisdiction to the next.
The mother may be able to re-adopt her children. However, if the allegation was neglect or abuse determined by Child Protective Services, that may not be possible. Same with guardianship. She might be able to take guardianship of her children, or not, depending on the situation.
These options may fail. It may be possible for the adoptive mother to give the original mother a power of attorney, should the children move in with her, and/or unofficially she could share custody of them, just like some separated/divorced parents do.
The woman definitely needs to consult a lawyer, so that she can determine if the court might view her as a possible risk. This assumes that Child Protective Services removed the children from her care. If her Termination of Parental Rights was a private relinquishment (that would make all of the above FAR easier.)
Another possibility is an adult adoption, which could restore the information that was originally on their birth certificates (by again changing the documents to finalize an adoption). If these children are already teenagers, that makes this option easier, as long as they are in agreement.
And this is the most important point, from an adoptee – It’s very possible that they don’t want a relationship with their biological mother, if she hasn’t been in their lives. Listen to what they are saying. I would never have wanted to leave my adoptive family to go and live with my biological family. It would have felt like a complete rejection of the life I had lived. I wouldn’t want another name. I am the name I have been for a long time, not baby girl “x”. These kids need to be the ones leading. Everyone else needs to just sit back and listen.
Therapy. Individually. Let them heal their own traumas. Create a space that’s safe and secure enough that they know they can speak honestly about how they feel about their biological family.
Another adoptee admits that she wanted so badly to have a relationship with her biological family. “It was freaking awful. The worst.” It’s not always what the adoptee thinks it would be like, either way.
The most important thing is their healing and security. The rest will come, if that is the right direction. They don’t deserve to have the process of reintroduction rushed, if they say “no” for any reason. It should be their lead.
My baby girl turned 21 this year. It’s been another one of those weeks that I go through every year. There is a five day span before and after her birthday that lays me out. September 11th 2001, the actual day of the tragedy, happened only the day before I went into labor. I was 19 years old on the couch at my parents’ house. I had been crying for 12 hours because I felt like I was bringing my baby into a terrifying world and I didn’t feel like I was “enough” for her, alone without a partner. I woke up at 5:30’ish am on the 12th, went into labor and had her 24 hours later, on the 13th.
We signed relinquishment papers on the 14th, which was also her birth dad’s 21st birthday (quite a poignant year, this year, and that’s how old she is now plus she’s never met or talked to him). I signed surrender papers at the hospital in Georgia, he signed at the adoption agency office in California. The 15th was my leave-the-hospital-without-my-baby day. My arms empty, everyone looking at me being wheeled out of my hospital room with balloons and flowers but no baby in sight. It was like she had died. I had five days of trauma, on top of trauma, on top of trauma, compacted tight.
Without fail, every year since then, my body implodes on itself for those 5 days, and usually, by the 16th, like clockwork, I’m good.
Know this – the body never forgets. Even decades later. No matter what I do to prepare myself every year, I get annihilated physically, emotionally, mentally. My body will never let me forget those five days. I wrote this to her on her birthday.
Dear Wandering Wildflower,
You bloom wherever you blow Cleansing the air around you Seeking out the sun Reveling in it Dancing in the showers Gaining strength from the chaos Finding solace in the shade
There was more. She said it made her cry and was exactly what she needed to read, regarding where she’s at in her life right now. That was exactly what I needed to hear and it warmed my mama’s heart to no end. I wish things could have been different for her and I. My love for her is endless.
Raped 10 year old Ohio girl had to travel out of state to for an abortion in Indiana. A 14 year old in foster care says “Conception, continuing the pregnancy and relinquishment was not my decision. As a child in foster care, those decisions were made for me.”
The future is not bright for the very young women who may become pregnant in light of the Supreme Court ruling regarding Roe v Wade recently.
Sadly, in the case of the 14 year old former foster care youth, the outcome is troubling. Here is her story.
I see adoptees speak of how traumatizing it is when their birth moms refuse to meet them. I don’t want to cause any pain but the thought of meeting sends me into a meltdown. Contact and meeting isn’t something I want but I constantly read that I “owe” this to her. I’m not in a place where I can handle the fallout it will cause. I’m not interested in reliving the hell of 20+ years ago.
This isn’t something I can make myself do. It is too traumatic. I can’t pretend I’m interested in meeting or having a relationship when I’m not. She represents everything I hate and resent. I want to spend the rest of my life as if she doesn’t exist. I don’t want to see pictures or hear her voice. I want to be left alone.
How am I supposed to handle this? I don’t want to explain anything. Will she get it and leave me alone or eventually show up at my door?
I leave the story here. I’m not wishing to delve into the responses. Just wanted to share how one young woman forced to carry an unwanted pregnancy and then give her baby up for adoption feels 20+ years later.
So many times, I have read adoptees speaking of their adoptive mothers as narcissists. It seems that Infertile women have a higher rate of narcissism. Many of these women become adoptive mothers. The findings of a research study (Psychological profile of women with infertility: A comparative study) revealed that infertile women group differed from fertile women group with respect to narcissism, dimensions of attachment style and uses of defense mechanism. The primary infertile group also showed marked difference from the secondary infertile group with respect to those variables.
Though I did love my adoptive maternal grandmother, I am forced to realize that she likely was a narcissist. I had to look up the definition. “Personality qualities include thinking very highly of oneself, needing admiration, believing others are inferior, and lacking empathy for others.” My mom struggled with her, never felt she quite measured up. My adoptive maternal grandmother was a phenomenal person and well regarded in her own circles but I do believe she damaged my mom’s own self-esteem.
Some of the comments I read in a group that seeks the ethical reform of adoption included these –
I am unsure if the narcissism pre-exists and adoption amplifies it, or if adoption creates narcissism. I think you would have to be a narcissist to think you are superior to an actual mother and have the right to take her baby, keep her baby, and deny / control her contact. Along with belittling her and gaslighting the mother and her child. To invade a mother’s pregnancy and birth, smear their infertility over her and her baby, and exploit her – that takes a particular cruelty and ruthlessness. While dressing it up as being ‘noble’ or ‘kind’ to the rest of the world. Glad this is being looked at. There’s plenty of infertile women who don’t adopt out of empathy for the mother. They accept their childlessness.
My observation too, narcissism in so many adoptive mothers with weak, ill equip adoptive fathers trailing behind them, trying to pick up the broken pieces but failing miserably. It’s a terrifying thought – children being adopted into these unstable and often unsafe environments
Mothers who had narcissist as parents are a target group for adoption predation. The roles that narcissists put their children into, now that they are mothers, allows them to be exploited by adoption counsellors in order to procure babies for their clientele, the prospective adoptive parents. These mothers are far easier to manipulate and their trauma is exploited, which often hasn’t been addressed or dealt with previously. Like all that is bad in adoption practice, it exploits the trauma and uses it as emotional impetus for an outcome against the mother and against her keeping her baby, along with the impossibly brief time frames allowed for her to make a decision. The ultimate goal – relinquishment.
If at 17 years old, adopted from foster care with no contact with your birth mother your entire life but now with an opportunity to ask some questions . . .
What would you as this adoptee ask your birth parents ? If you have been through such a reunion, what were the questions that you thought, in hindsight, weren’t helpful to potentially building a relationship ?
Some responses –
Ask for the family medical history. This one is one of the more important ones. This is what drove my mom to try and find her original mother and/or obtain her adoption file.
Ask how many biological siblings you have. This one lets you know if you are the only child of your birth parents or did they go on to have other children, maybe through a remarriage to someone who was not your original father as well.
Ask for the reason they chose whatever decisions they had in their power to make that led to you ending up in foster care. This one could be a tricky one, it may lead to defensiveness or in the best possible situation, at least regret, and even better, ultimately to a radical change in lifestyle.
If they relinquished for adoption, did they decide to do that early on at the beginning of the pregnancy or at the last moment just before birth or just after ? In both of the cases of my adoptee parents relinquishments, it appears that their original mothers actually tried very hard to keep their first born child, and in the case of my mom, the only child born to her mother.
Ask who your biological father was. Does she know how to contact him ?
On a sweeter, more intimate note (I know this was the kind of information I yearned for related to my mom’s mother that finally at the end of most of my discovery journey, I finally received from my mom’s cousins, the daughter’s of her youngest uncle, who were about my age) – ask her what her favorite foods are, what is her favorite color. Ask about her childhood memories and ask her to tell you something about her extended family members.
One says – “I really wanted to look at my birthmother, hear her voice, and look at her handwriting. Basically I wanted to see if I could find that mirror of who I am.” This is the personal connection many adoptees crave. I do believe my mom yearned for these kinds of experiences. I now have the adoption file that was denied her and one of the treasures are two examples of her personal writing, a post card and a brief letter (though I also have her signature on the surrender papers).
Another interesting perspective that I saw even with my mom who wanted something, though my dad claimed not to want it at all – it is a strange juncture for any adoptee to arrive at, when been raised by people with whom the adoptee has not genetic or biological connection but who were the actual parents and sibling’s in the childhood family –
I told them that I was not ready for a full relationship with them. I wanted them to know I was alive and wanted them to know I had an amazing childhood. My mom told me that as a mother, she would want to know that everything turned out okay for her child. In one case, the biological father started calling the adoptee, “daughter.” He was buying her things and saying “I Love You.” This made her feel very uncomfortable and so, she asked that he not do those things anymore. For this adoptee, she was not his daughter. Happily, he accepted her boundaries. She shares the rest of the story going forward – they are now Facebook friends. Today he is a little more involved in my her daily life. We talk by phone from time to time. She admits that she still does not have the feelings towards him that a raised biological child would (though some of my friends do not have good relationships in adulthood with their genetic, biological family today).
And sadly, this is always a possibility – “I’ve reached out to my birth mom and have been shut out – no answers to my questions. No desire for a relationship.” Yet, there is something you can do in this situation to bring you closure and comfort. Write a letter. Tell her everything you want her to know about you, your childhood, who you are now as a person. In this way, you end feeling you said everything you needed to say.
Let’s talk about “playing the victim”. I see this come up a lot in this group when adoptees and former fostercare youth are talking about their trauma. I can only speak for myself, but I’d like to explain why this is so bothersome.
This is a group about the realities of adoption. Our conversations are often about adoption. I talk about my adoption trauma a lot in this group. Why? Because it’s relevant to the conversation. The conversations I have in this group are not reflective of the conversations I have elsewhere in my life. This group is only a sliver of my life.
I have trauma from being adopted. I suffer from mental illness. I’ve been diagnosed with BPD (* see below). I don’t blame all of my struggles on being adopted. I can’t say for certain that it is the root of all my problems. But I also can’t separate it. I was relinquished as a newborn. This trauma has always been here. It is a part of the other problems. It is a part of me. But it’s not all of me.
* Note – BPD – Borderline Personality Disorder is a condition characterized by difficulties regulating emotion. This means that people who experience BPD feel emotions intensely and for extended periods of time, and it is harder for them to return to a stable baseline after an emotionally triggering event.
I have trauma from being adopted but I have privilege in other areas of my life. I’m very fortunate to be where I am today. I’ve met many roadblocks as a result of being an adoptee, but I’ve overcome many of them. I’ve made mistakes and suffered the consequences of those mistakes, but I own them. I don’t blame others for my actions.
Being adopted comes with trauma. Being adopted has legal implications that can make things difficult. In a group about facing the realities of adoption, I don’t think it’s “playing the victim” to acknowledge the hard things. You have no idea how anyone has lived their life. We are simply sharing experiences that are relevant to the purpose of this group.
I’m realizing a day late that yesterday would have been my maternal grandmother’s birthday. Her father died on Christmas Day in 1953, one year before I was born to his first grandchild, who he never even knew. I can imagine Christmas was not the usual kind of holiday for my Stark family but then I don’t really know. My mom was adopted away from them when she was 7 months old.
Relinquishing a child has lifelong consequences for women and for adoptees. Between 13–20% of birth mothers do not go on to have other children. For those in an era of birth control, a few may consciously feel that to have another child would be to betray the first child which they lost to adoption. For many, and especially in my grandmother’s generation, there was either no known reason for infertility or something about their life circumstances precluded having more children.
After receiving the adoption file from the state of Tennessee that they had previously denied my mother, only breaking her heart and motivation to search by informing her that her birth mother had died several years before, it took me forever to make real contact with one of my grandmother’s remaining family members – this one is a niece. She would actually be my mom’s cousin, that same generation of descendants. She is the warmest person and gave to me the gift my heart was yearning for, some intimate, personal memories of my grandmother along with this picture of her with her second husband.
In some belated post-Christmas communication with her today, I felt compelled to correct the seeming misperception that my mom was the child of the couple in this blog. Here was my reply –
My grandmother never had another child. My mom was her only child (and this is not uncommon among women who lose their first child in such a tragic manner). Her father appeared to have abandoned them, at least to my grandmother’s perception of events, though a super flood on the Mississippi River in early 1937 must have been a factor. My cousin that shares him as a grandfather with me, believes he cared deeply about family. So why did he not come to Memphis to rescue the two of them ? There is no one alive now that can answer that question for me and so, there it sits forever unanswered. Of course, once Georgia Tann knew about the precarious situation my mom and grandmother were in, she swooped in to acquire yet another human being to sell. Awful but a definite truth of it all. I am happy that my grandmother found happiness with her second husband after the divorce between her and my maternal grandfather occurred (and it didn’t happen until 3 years after they first married and my mom was already permanently beyond the reach of her original family).
She later corrected that “seeming” misperception, of course, she knew my mom was not this man’s child.
It is a tragic story. Why my grandfather left her after only 4 months of marriage, causing her to be sent away to Virginia to have my mom, there is no one left alive to tell me. Why my grandfather didn’t respond to the letter from the Juvenile Court at Memphis when my grandmother came back with her baby, there is no one left alive to tell me. My grandmother was so desperate to find a way to stop my mom’s adoption that she called Georgia Tann’s office 4 days after being pressured into signing the surrender papers, under a threat of having Tann’s good friend, Juvenile Court Judge Camille Kelley, declare my grandmother an unfit mother (which she absolutely was not !!). Then, she took a train to New Orleans to prove to Miss Tann that she did have friends there who would take the two of them in resolving at least the issue of stability, even if only temporarily. Everything she tried to do, including taking my mom to Porter Leath orphanage for temporary care – FAILED tragically.
I have all of my original grandparent’s birthdates on my yearly calendar now. I wasn’t able to know them in life but I don’t forget them in death. Maybe someday in the nonphysical realm to which my grandparents (and adoptee parents) have all gone, I will meet them once again and receive the answers my heart cannot acquire in life.
It will be some time before the Supreme Court rules on the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization but there are quite a few perspectives turning up in the news already. Both Justice Amy Coney Barrett and Justice Brett Kavanaugh have gotten a lot of attention for their questions during the oral arguments. Forgive me the long blog but I am passionate about both the issue of legal abortion and curtailing the number of babies who end up adopted. And forgive me this too but I do believe there is an element among the Evangelicals of indoctrinating children who would not have been otherwise raised in the Christian religion into their belief system. Basically, conversion of the heathen masses.
Justice Barrett was perhaps the most clueless but as an adoptive mother her perspective should not surprise. NPR had a good feature on this – Why ‘Abortion Or Adoption’ Is Not An Equal Choice – and hence my blog title. Justice Barrett said, I have a question about the safe haven laws. NPR’s Ailsa Chang comments – Safe haven laws are essentially laws that allow someone to terminate parental rights to a child by relinquishing that child for adoption. (Blogger’s note – this is not entirely my understanding but I’ll leave it stand.)
Justice Barrett continued, “In all 50 states, you can terminate parental rights by relinquishing a child, and I think the shortest period might have been 48 hours if I’m remembering the data correctly.” Chang interjects, “Justice Barrett, who adopted two of her own seven children, wanted to know, isn’t adoption an alternative to abortion?” Barrett continued, “Both Roe and Casey emphasized the burdens of parenting and the obligations of motherhood that flow from pregnancy. Why don’t the safe haven laws take care of that problem? It seems to me that it focuses the burden…”
Gretchen Sisson, a sociologist at the University of California at San Francisco, was also commenting on this program and said, “It’s very interesting that Justice Coney Barrett focuses specifically on the safe haven laws because this usage is extraordinarily rare. . . her broader argument about the termination of parental rights is still somewhat surprising because what we have found is that most of them do not end up choosing to place the infant for adoption.”
Another guest is “Bri” (not her actual name but used for privacy). Chang explains, Bri “had a baby and relinquished it for adoption seven years ago. It was a decision that still weighs on her to this day.” I think Bri’s perspective is accurate, “The suggestion that abortion isn’t needed because adoption is there makes it seem like this casual thing, like taking off a sweater and giving it to someone else and just forgetting about it or moving on. And that’s not what it is. It’s this huge event that you do to yourself and your child, and it changes you.” Chang adds, “For many people who don’t wish to have a child, it doesn’t come down to some binary choice between adoption or abortion. These are not equivalent options.” I agree.
The numbers are shocking. There are around 18,000 to 20,000 private domestic adoptions per year, and these are the adoptions in which a woman makes the decision during or immediately after her pregnancy to terminate her parental rights and place that child for adoption. The number of people who choose to get an abortion is about 900,000 per year. If you look back pre Roe v. Wade, there were more illegal abortions happening than there were adoptions happening. And this is when the adoption rate was at its peak and abortions were completely illegal. There were still more abortions than there were adoptions. Adoption is a very hard decision and it has a lot of adverse outcomes. We see a lot of grief, a lot of mourning, a lot of trauma for the women who go through relinquishments. And that has not really changed even as the context of adoption practice has changed over the years. There is also data that suggests that, in some cases, it is a medically riskier to carry a pregnancy full-term and deliver that baby than to have an abortion, in early stages of pregnancy.
The bottom line is – this isn’t a choice between having an abortion or giving the baby up for adoption, but actually the choice is whether to abort, terminate the pregnancy, or whether the mother has the resources to parent. Many single women faced with an unplanned pregnancy will still chose to parent their baby IF given the support, encouragement and resources to do so. Unfortunately, the selfish elements of our system of government and overall society do not choose to do so. Adoption is often a derailment of parenting plans due to a lack of financial resources, familial support and/or partner support. And when parenting feels precarious or untenable, adoption becomes the solution that they then turn to.
Slate has an article with a similar focus – While Hearing the Case that Could Overturn Roe, Amy Coney Barrett Suggests Adoption Could Obviate the Need for Abortion Anyway. They note that 3 of the Justices, Chief Justice John Roberts, Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett, while listening to arguments about Texas’ notorious SB 8 last month, demonstrated some hesitation about overturning Roe and further dismantling the inherent legitimacy of the highest court in the land. Also note that Chief Justice Roberts has two adopted children and Justice Clarence Thomas has an adopted child as well. Looks like the adoptive parents side of the argument is well represented !!
As part of Justice Barrett’s argument which I have already shared, she goes on to note, “There is without question an infringement on bodily autonomy, for which we have another context like vaccines. . . . so it seems to me that the choice would be between the ability to get an abortion at 23 weeks, or the state requiring the woman to go 15, 16 weeks more, and then terminate parental rights at the conclusion.” The lawyer for Jackson Women’s Health points out that adoption has existed since Roe was first decided and that pregnancy and birth in particular have dramatic effects on a woman’s health, also that the choice to give a child up for adoption is its own burden, not something to lightly suggest is easy. I agree.
One of the main arguments the state of Mississippi is making in this case is that pregnancy, and parenthood by extension, is no longer burdensome because of many economic and social developments that make pregnancy safer and parenting easier. (And I also agree that they are wrong.) “Numerous laws enacted since Roe—addressing pregnancy discrimination, requiring leave time, assisting with childcare, and more—facilitate the ability of women to pursue both career success and a rich family life,” Mississippi Attorney General Lynn Fitch wrote. It is shocking to hear this claim from Fitch, whose state refuses to enact laws that would grant basic protections and security to new and expectant mothers. In fact, Mississippi remains a dangerous and difficult place to bear, birth, and raise a child for lower-income parents.
The Supreme Court can only embrace Fitch’s fantastical thinking by denying the brutal reality. At every stage of pregnancy, life is difficult for Mississippians who are not wealthy. The state’s maternal mortality rate is substantially higher than the national average, and its infant mortality rate is the highest in the nation. And the racial disparities are staggering. Black mothers die at about three times the rate of white mothers. While Black infants only make up 43 percent of births, they are more than half of the premature births and nearly 60 percent of the infant deaths. Black infants also experience birth defects at four times the rate of white infants.
Be sure to click on the other link embedded (also in Slate) that takes you to an earlier article from September – Mississippi Claims Its Abortion Ban Will “Empower” Women – In reality, it could kill them by Jonathan Allen and Mark Joseph Stern.
As to Justice Kavanaugh, it appears he is opportunistic and has never been honest with the American people, especially during his confirmation hearings. Verdict has an article titled – Justice Kavanaugh’s Misdirection Plays in the Mississippi Abortion Case. Basically it comes down to his definition of “settled law” (as applied to Roe v Wade) and “precedent on precedent” (as applied to Casey). And each seems to have been intentionally misleading during his confirmation hearings.
Those statements seemed designed to reassure senators and the public that he would not vote to eliminate the abortion right. By “settled law,” Kavanaugh apparently meant only that the Supreme Court had not yet overruled Roe and Casey, leaving open the possibility that the Supreme Court could unsettle the law by doing so. As for “precedent on precedent,” the phrase perhaps sounded like a kind of extra-strength precedent, but all Kavanaugh really meant was that the Casey decision included a discussion about precedent (in addition to its discussion of abortion). It was thus a precedent about, or, if you will, on, precedent.
All the linked articles contain additional details and context. What seems clear, depending on how the Supreme Court rules, is that there may be MORE babies for hopeful prospective parents to adopt. The supply of humans for the profit of more than one entity involved in the business of adoption has been severely limited. When I was researching my dad’s adoption, which was related to The Salvation Army, they admitted to me they had to close most of their unwed mothers homes because the demand went down sharply with the legalization of abortion in the Roe v Wade decision.
Such an irresistible story, I just had to share it today. The story is “old” but still sweet. The baby that tore two Kentucky teen-agers apart 25 years ago united them in marriage in August of 1991. Mark Kitts officiated at the wedding. His adoptee effort to reunite with his birth parents prompted them to speak to each other again for the first time since his mother learned she was pregnant.
“I’ve always been in love with him,” Karen Caldwell said of her high school sweetheart and now husband, Roger Caldwell. “I’ve never been in love with anyone else.” Karen Waterfill was a 15-year-old Western High School cheerleader in 1966. Roger Caldwell was an honor student and a basketball player at the same high school but by then a freshman at the University of Kentucky.
This is so much like the story of my parents. My mom was a junior in high school and my dad was a freshman at the U of NM at Las Cruces when I took up residence in her womb. My story turned out happier (I believe) than their son Mark Kitts, though he has no complaints. My parents were also high school sweethearts – both of them adoptees – and they remained married for over 50 years until death did part them.
Karen was sent away to a Lexington home for unwed mothers. On Sept 11 1966, she gave birth to a boy. I will always be forever grateful that this didn’t happen to me and my own parents. It could have so easily been my story as well as that was the norm in the mid-1950s. “I remember him crying, but I never got to hold him,” Karen said. The baby was adopted within a week.
A few months after the birth, Roger Caldwell, who did not know the child’s birth date or sex, married another woman, joined the Air Force and left town. But he told his wife, whom he divorced in 1988 after they raised two children together, that he really loved someone else. Karen eventually would say the same thing to two husbands. About six months after the baby was born, Karen returned to the home to ask about him. They would tell her only that he had been adopted by “good people.”
This is so much like what happened to my mom’s mother with Georgia Tann who wouldn’t tell her anything about who adopted my mom or where she went.
Mark’s adoptive parents were Gene and Linda Kitts of Lexington, who adopted their second son, a baby they named Mark. In all, the Kittses, who lived in Louisville when this story was published, eventually had six children — five of whom are adopted and three of whom have found their birth parents. It was a search that the Kittses supported. Linda Kitts said that she often wondered about the women who gave birth to her children.
John Ellis was a mutual friend of the Caldwells in high school. Karen and Roger each quizzed Ellis about how the other was doing. Roger occasionally drove by Karen’s house, hoping she would be outside. Karen got dressed to go to the visitation after Roger’s mother died, but then changed her mind.
When Mark’s wife Dee-dee became pregnant, he start thinking about his own birth. He obtained a court order for the state to attempt to locate his birth mother. Karen Williams was married and living in Frankfort. She eventually agreed to meet Mark Kitts and to see whether Roger Caldwell would meet him as well.
They agreed to meet and discuss Mark’s request. So. Roger came to Kentucky and picked Karen up. The couple cried and talked, then began seeing each other every day. Their relationship went so smoothly that when they met Mark, he thought, “Wow, this is odd. This couple really gets along well.” Karen said it was like giving birth to Mark all over again. Only this time Roger was by her side.
Karen Caldwell also had a 22-year-old daughter and a grandchild living in Frankfort but she quit her job in Kentucky to marry Roger and move to Tennessee. Karen filed for divorce — something she says she had been considering anyway — and then Roger asked her to marry him. Three days after the divorce became final, Mark officiated at the couple’s wedding in Covington, Kentucky.
Mark said, “I’ve been very happy with my life. I don’t wish it was different. We’re trying to build a relationship on the future, not the past.”
At the bottom of this blog, I’ll link the Adoption & Addiction, Remembered Not Recalled video by Paul Sunderland but first, for those who don’t want to watch for almost an hour, I share a few snippets.
The issue of adoption is all about divided attention, it’s all about 2 sets of families. It’s all about the conflicting feelings of wanting to belong, yet fearing belonging. (As the child of two adoptees, I’m certain this has filtered down into my own soul. I have never felt that I added up to be as much as the golden people I surround myself with – whether in social online networking communities or in my writer’s guild up in St Louis – those are just two examples but it probably goes back into my childhood as well.)
Adoption is a pretty weird word because it’s about the only condition that doesn’t really describe what has happened. Talking about adoption is a denial of relinquishment. The relinquishment wounds can be seen as a developmental post-traumatic stress disorder.
The word adoption is a cover-up. When we think about the adoption triangle, we think about the 3 parties in adoption. The adopted child, there are the birth or natural parents and there is the adoptive parent(s). Sunderland’s focus in his lecture is mostly about the adopted child. And as the title of his lecture suggests, his lecture is also about the apparent addition of addiction to that adopted child.
(And I do believe it is in struggling with an abandonment that one is lead into addiction. As an aside, we watched the 2008 Will Smith movie Hancock last night. He is an alcoholic and it seems to me that his alcoholism is due to similar issues of not knowing who one is at the core and feeling abandoned but not knowing by who.)
Back to the Sunderland lecture, he says that when he encounters birth parents in a treatment setting they usually say, “Not a day goes by when I don’t think about what happened.”
Adoptees are massively over-represented in treatment. And that leads to a question, Why is that ?
He has met quite a few adoptive parents, particularly as cross-cultural adoptions have been so popular. It is clear that many are feeling like, this is just not what we signed up to do.
Sunderland’s perspective is that there are NO adoptions without trauma. What he is talking about in his lecture is an enormous grief. A baby who has been waiting 9 months to meet somebody that they are not going to meet. It is about a mother who cannot live with having her child because society has told her that she cannot do it. Relinquishment goes against her biology.
And very often, the adoptive parents come into adoption carrying their own enormous grief due to having been unable to have a child of their own, naturally. One of the problems that Sunderland has with the word adoption is that it covers up the adoptive parents own grief.
So often, an adoptee will be told that they were chosen but the reality is that child has entered into a family that does not genetically fit them and given an impossible job description. They are forced to be someone that they can never actually be to fix the wound that the adoptive parents have. Infertility is an enormous disappointment for a couple and adoption tries to cover that up.
For an adoptee, the issue of abandonment is life threatening. There is nothing worse than to be separated from the one person (your mother) who you needed most at the beginning of your life. This is preverbal – it can’t be recalled – however, it IS remembered.
The word adoption tries to suggest that it is going to be a happily ever after situation. The human brain begins working before it is entirely built and experience is what programs the brain. If the beginning is a trauma and separation, then this is the experience that is wiring the neurons in the brain of the infant. For an adoptee there is a constant desire to attach accompanied by the conflicting sense that it isn’t safe to do so. There is no pre-trauma personality in an adoptee because there is no normal to compare this experience to as there would be for other traumatic events (war, car accidents, etc).
Being born prematurely and placed into an incubator is another kind of relinquishment when the infant leaves that containing environment. If a child is placed into foster care, that is also a relinquishment. Each change of foster family is yet another in a series of relinquishments. And second chance adoptions, where an adopted child is given back, is another relinquishment. In some cross-cultural adoptive situations, the child is born into such poverty, they are separated from the mother into an orphanage.
The bonding of an infant with their human mother actually begins 2 months before birth, while in utero, as proven by multiple experiments. Adoptees will often share that they have heard stories that they cried and cried. And I think of the mention of that in my mom’s adoption file via a letter from her adoptive mother to the Tennessee Children’s Home about the train trip upsetting my mom but that the doctor had her settled down now (and I always think – they drugged her, though it is not said directly). And I can understand now that my mom was relinquished twice because her mother took her to Porter Leath Orphanage in desperation for TEMPORARY care while she tried to get on her feet because her lawfully married husband had abandoned her and did not respond to a letter that the Juvenile Court in Memphis had written to him about his obligations.
Sunderland speaks about the stability of a child being dependent on a mother being able to know herself (which certainly was a black hole, actually for both of my parents, that I had until I was well over 60 years old and began to discover my own adoptee parents origin stories). People who are adopted and end up in treatment, often present themselves as fairly well put together.
Sunderland speaks of “love addiction” as needing to have the positive regard of a significant other. Addiction is genetically proposed and environmentally disposed. The hormonal aspects of having been relinquished are similar to living one’s life on red alert. In an adoption, there is a slow loss of self. A belief that they cannot be them self and get along with the people with whom they have been placed. The hormonal aspects affect sleep and stomach issues (and certainly my mom had her share of gastrointestinal issues throughout her entire life). Real difficulties managing moods (I think of my dad’s underlying seething anger that occasionally popped out).
If you think about serotonin, it is a soothing hormone. Addiction is usually an effort to self soothe. Eating sugar is one such effort to self soothe. Both of my parents were seriously diabetic and myself to some extent (though I am trying to manage my own sugar issues without ending up on insulin). Serotonin also manages shame and let’s you know you are okay but if your levels are low, the answer is “I’m not okay.”
Some people are not given up at birth and that was certainly true with both of my parents who spent 6-8 months with their original mothers before being adopted. People who diet and then give up on themselves, often multiple times. The chemicals in the brains of adoptees who have early psychological wounds are very different from other people without this personal background.
Adoptees have a tendency towards catastrophic thinking, always expecting the worst. The original wound of being separated from their mother was a life-threatening one. Shame is an unacknowledged aspect that is the understanding that I am not good enough, the bad baby (I’m unworthy, unlovable, there is something flawed in me) because if I was given up by my mother, I don’t have value. People pleasing arises from this feeling. How do I need to be to be accepted ?
Being extremely self-reliant (if you want something done, do it yourself) is also an outcome. It is interesting to note that both of my parents’ mothers had early abandonment or separation wounds from their own mothers caused by the deaths of their mothers. My dad’s mother had the worst one as her mother died when she was only 3 mos old. When she discovered that she was pregnant by a married man that she was not married to, she simply handled it herself and he never knew. With my mom’s mother, she was in her pre-teens and had to become “mom” to her 4 siblings.
Shame and anxiety are at the root of all addictions. There is an attempt to manage anxiety by managing the externals out there. Addictions are attempts to put anxieties elsewhere and explain the inexplicable. And there is the belief that somehow it is your own fault. Up until about the age of 10, infants and children believe that everything that happens to them, happened because of them.
In life, it’s not so much what happens to you as how secure you were with your early attachments. Roots, the secure base. Without these, one is less resilient. Adaption is a better word for what is done, not adoption. Adoptees end up with two minds. Real difficulties making decisions. The limbic system – fight, flight or freeze – is what kicks in with the catastrophic thinking. It is the part of the brain that developed before the frontal cortex. If you have an attachment wound, you never learned how to become a separate person. Any successful relationship exists in separateness, not in trying to adapt yourself to be accepted by that other person. The erotic exists in the space between the two. The real challenge for an adopted person is to actually BE their own self.