Whatever Became Of ?

In Life magazine’s – Year in Pictures 1972 – in a Feature titled Whatever became of ? – I read about “Mike” and “Tammy” – twin children found by police in a Long Beach California alley on May 5 1972. As a Gemini, twins fascinate me. After national publicity, the children were identified as Tamara and Brian Woodruff. They had been abandoned by their mother and were placed in foster care. Their mother was placed under psychiatric observation.

I tried to learn more about the twins but understandably, out of privacy concerns, they disappeared from any easy ability on my part to find out. So, I looked into the topic of child abandonment. It is defined as the practice of relinquishing interests and claims over one’s offspring in an illegal way, with the intent of never resuming or reasserting guardianship. An abandoned child is referred to as a foundling (as opposed to a runaway or an orphan). Some of the effects on survivors of abandonment include feelings of guilt about being at fault for being abandoned.

The earlier in life estrangement happens, the more damaging it can be. It can impact personal development, anxiety and depression, and of course the adult relationships people get into. When that person is trying to have a sense of identity, they are dealing with a black hole where their mother should be and a really dysfunctional model of love.

In parenthood, when she holds her baby in her arms, a woman who was “abandoned” as a child might say – “I will never leave you. I will never do to you what was done to me. Mommy will always come back.” And what she is doing is self-consoling through nurturing her child.

One woman says that becoming a mother did end up being one of the most healing parts of her own journey. And much of her anger did disappear as she reflected more on all the things that had broken her mother before she ever broke that woman. She found a lot of compassion for her original mother and the path that woman had to walk through life. Even so, she says something my own mother said to me once, “as a mother myself, I know I’ll never understand the choices you made.” For this woman, in being the mom she always wished she’d had; she found healing.

I will admit this one hits home in a very personal place. So, I didn’t do it illegally. I did not intend to never have her living with me when I dropped her off at her grandmother’s house. Yet I am at fault for lack of foresight.

I struggled financially after my divorce from my daughter’s father who refused to pay child support. I was always an adventurous soul. Would wander off further and for longer than my slightly detached adoptee parents ever seemed to notice.

And so, from financial desperation, after being rejected from a good paying job with the railroad because my ex worked there, I tried TEMPORARILY leaving my daughter with my former mother-in-law, while I tried to earn a bit of money driving an 18-wheel truck.

I didn’t know it then, but that was a point of no return. My daughter would sometimes visit me, even for extended periods of time, but she would never live permanently with me again. I never thought of it at the time as having abandoned her, but I know now that regardless of my intent, I must accept responsibility for whatever emotional harms that may have done to her. I know it did emotional harm to me. I’ve never fully gotten over the outcome or my sense of guilt for it.

Thankfully, my daughter did not eliminate me from her life entirely. I did make real efforts to stay in contact with her throughout most of her childhood. There were periods of time that due to the people I was living with, it became impossible to be contact with her but as soon as it was safe, I did resume contact and she was still young enough, that it reconnected our bond with one another, even if it did not reconnect us full-time under the same roof.

Sadness remains in my mother’s heart regardless. Knowing the legal definition of child abandonment helps but does not heal my personal pain at all that I missed with my daughter.

The Pain of Family Feuds

I’ll let this story from my all things adoption group speak for itself.

I’m an adoptee that was adopted by my maternal grandparents at birth, my birth mom has always been in my life at different times and in different ways, our relationship now is very rocky, and I never saw much of my dad growing up.

When I was 6, my grandparents cut off all contact with my dad’s family. For years they told me that it wasn’t safe, or that they had no interest in seeing me, which wasn’t true – my grandparents actively threw out letters and cards from them.

I used to beg to see my family, when I was a young teen I started sneaking out to see my aunt, then my grandparents found out. I was grounded and stopped from leaving the house. I grew up remembering and loving these people who lived literally two miles away but missing out on a childhood with them.

I grew up with no racial mirrors and felt like I did something wrong to these people that I had fun memories with as a kid. One time I saw my aunt across a store and begged my grandma to say hi, but my grandma dragged me out of the store and said it wasn’t safe.

4 years ago, I reunified with my dad’s family locally and have an amazing relationship with them, and flew to California to see my uncle and meet my cousins for the first time, and eventually flew to New York. I was greeted with open arms, but it doesn’t make up for the 20 year gap of not having these people in my life. These are people I should’ve grown up with!

My aunt lives close to me and we talk, but I feel like a stranger in her house. I feel like I don’t belong here. My uncle is in town to visit with his kids, and I’ve been here all day, and decided to stay the night…for the first time at 28 years old, I’m spending the night with my aunt – something that most kids did growing up.

It’s 3 AM and I’m laying on her couch, unable to sleep because I don’t feel like I belong here, even though they treat me like we were never apart. I don’t know what the point of this post is…it’s just complicated, not many people understand my complex adoption trauma or seem to think that it’s somehow “less” because I was adopted by my grandparents, I should just shut up and be grateful for that.

I still feel like I’m in the fog. My grandparents have both died, and I have a hard time wrapping my thoughts and emotions around the trauma that two people I loved very much even so caused. I’m just trying to live with it.

Intentionally Creating an Adoptee

So the topic came up about how a birth mother loses her baby – intentionally surrendering the baby at the hospital to pre-selected adoptive parents who are hovering there through labor, delivery and immediately after the birth – or because the baby has been taken away by child protective services.

The topic first came up from a woman who falls in the latter category and feels despised by just about everyone as a despicable failure.

In this adoption group I belong to, I’ve come to know that the predominant opinion is that adoption in general is a bad thing. That young mothers are convinced by parents, religious authorities and society in general that they are incapable of parenting a baby they have conceived and carried to term. This has created a hugely profitable industry supporting the separating of a baby from its original mother and handing it over to a couple that can afford to pay tens of thousands of dollars for the privilege of calling the original mother’s baby her own.

So the first response, to the sad feelings of the mom who lost her baby due to the intervention of child protective services, comes from an adoptee thus –

I’m way more judgmental of women that carry children to full term knowing that they have no intention of parenting. Like the minute they have the baby it goes to the adoptive parents without a blink. In my mind…they are purposefully creating an Adoptee. I find that despicable. (This is of course a very broad statement that does not apply to every single one.) Mother’s that lose their children to the system did not plan on creating an Adoptee. They had every intention of raising their children. Then something happened between the time of birth and the time of separation. Regardless of the reason for removal…it was never their intention for their children to be parented by strangers. (Again…a very broad statement that does not apply to every case).

Another woman, a mom who lost her child writes –

There’s a stigma that if your rights have been terminated through the system then as a mom, it puts a red X on us. Here’s just a few examples of things that have been said to me – “You obviously didn’t try hard enough.” “If it was my kid, I’d fight til the death.” “You must have done something just really terrible.” A lot of people in society, especially adoptive parents only see a different side of the system. They don’t see how people get there or the months of fighting for your child just to be fought at every turn. It seems as though everything is weaponized against you, not just during, but for years afterwards.

Yet another mother who lost her child adds –

Watching somebody else raise our kids is always hard. Watching somebody who was deemed “better than us” do it is harder. And when that person is abusing them while the child you were PERMITTED to raise is thriving (for the most part) is harder. As mothers of welfare loss, we have to live with the fact our children are in a system known for its abuses. I’m lucky to have contact with mine.

The problem is that society is conditioned to believe that Child Protective Services is infallible and only takes kids when something is severely wrong and their parents give up, correcting that narrative is very hard. Realize just how broken the system is. Most of the time these women forcefully lose their children only due to poverty.

And finally, this perspective from a woman who once wanted to adopt –

Society as a whole has to make these first moms villains to feel better about the systems. Infant adoption is justified by calling birth moms brave, selfless, any other positive attribute you can think of. But since mother’s who lose their children to welfare didn’t just willingly hand over their kids to some family who wanted their kid so badly they are neither of those things. A narrative that these mothers have done horrible things to their children is pushed to continue to justify removal. Until you meet them, join Facebook groups, or otherwise learn the truth you are often under the impression that they simply aren’t safe. In short, they’re “bad” because they “didn’t want the best for their children,” whereas mothers who place are saints.

So, it is true that there’s a huge stigma if a parent lost their child to the foster care system. That parent is judged as having been terrible. People think they didn’t deserve their own kids. That the parent must have harmed them. Termination of Parental Rights and Adoption is justified by demonizing people. Society as a whole doesn’t see anything they don’t want to see. They aren’t willing to see the poverty, lack of resources or that these parents are pushing mightily against a system that’s determined to take their children, often supplying strangers with financial stipends, rather than trying to help the parent achieve their potential with financial support, therapy and basic living resources.

What Could Go Wrong ?

Regarding a kinship guardian placement vs temporary foster carer ?

An adoption community acquaintance writes –

I’m supposed to take custody of a relative’s baby tomorrow (hopefully.) The caseworker is coming back out tomorrow to see things are in order for him. He’s been in a foster carer’s home for 5 days and they are already claiming he’s bonded to them and begging the caseworker to keep him. Now I’m scared the caseworker is going to come up with an excuse why he needs to stay with them vs coming to me. Selfish, selfish, selfish.

His mom is on track to start overnights in December with reunification in January. Of course, whatever stuff I have for him, will go with him, when he goes home. He was previously with dad’s mom and she lost custody because she allowed dad to have him unsupervised.

Fostering is about reunification, not adoption.

One responder wrote – THIS is a huge problem for the foster care programs. Does the state/program/whatever get money when an adoption occurs????

Another one noted – 5 days is a transition time, no way to bond enough in that time frame. He is not bonded. He is surviving. He’s clinging to a bit of kindness in the midst of chaos. At five days in, he’s likely still confused every time he wakes up and opens his eyes! When there is family that should always be the only choice. If he can be so “bonded” after 5 days with strangers, imagine how much more bonded he’ll be after five days with FAMILY.

And this advice – Let them know that with you, baby will still be able to spend time with safe relatives, which they wouldn’t be able to do in foster care. (Safe is the key word they will be looking for. They will prefer foster care, if they think kinship will allow “unsafe” interactions.)

And finally, this from experience, a woman writes –

Bonding happens faster with family. My instant “bond” with my daughter was due to her losing her mother and attaching herself to me. She is related to my husband by blood… their connection was unspoken and immediate. Ours was initially her needing me, and later it grew into something deeper. They are confusing bonding with a desperate need for human connection… they could have been anyone and the baby would cling to them after being separated. You might have a true bond that is immediate rather than earned. (I have seen this with my own eyes! My relationship with her is now a true bond and we are very close, but her connection to my husband was just a given.