With Privilege Comes Judgment

Growing up, I remember being told not to judge, to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes before judging them. I need to understand the other person’s experiences, challenges, thought processes, etc before judging their own personal choices or lived stories. It is true that judgments keep us safe, help us make friends, accomplish our goals, and all sorts of wonderful, important stuff.

The idea of privilege has become really controversial in some circles, even offensive. Usually the people who are offended by the idea of privilege are the people who have it. And when someone who has had some experience – maybe they have experienced being judged, as being inferior, because they were living in poverty, or they had a bad experience in foster care or in their childhood while being raised by adoptive parents – we should do our best to listen to their stories with compassion, realizing that because we did not have that experience ourselves, we cannot really know how bad it was for them. We need to simply give them the benefit of the doubt and open our heart to their pain and/or trauma.

So, too often when people are simply trying to share whatever awful experience they have lived through, someone will feel triggered and quickly counter this person’s lived experience with the words “not all” – which is simply meant to shut the person up and not allow them to revel their own experience honestly. Maybe you are a foster parent or an adoptive parent or do social work or work for the government in some kind of child welfare or government assistance office and you are feeling judged by the story you are hearing. You are desperate to point out that you are not one of those kinds of people yourself. And it’s wonderful if you are not. However, you should restrain yourself at such a time, take comfort and be confident in the knowledge that the story you are hearing is not about you but about the person telling it and their experience. Allow them to revel their own truth without dismissing it by inserting why you are such a good person (and in fact, maybe look long and hard at your own heart to determine is what it actually is that is being triggered. Is it your sense of being some kind of savior to some segment of humanity ?).

Privilege is something your life gives you that is good. By being able to see those aspects as a privilege, you should also be able to realize that you have had access to something that some other people didn’t.  Often in adoption land, as in real life, those with privilege and those in government service too often treat the underprivileged poorly and that is un-necessary. They have it hard enough without you piling on.

The truth is, adoptive parents hold the dominant view in society. Their perspectives rule when it comes to creating the perceptions that people with no experience with what adoption is like in general, believe it to be. Adult adoptees are too often either silenced or dismissed. Money rules. The financially privileged hold the power in society over the less fortunate – who are too easily overlooked or not seen at all. Adoption is almost always a case of allocating a child. Taking a child out of a poverty stricken family and placing that child into a rich one. Georgia Tann didn’t hide her belief that doing this intended engineering of a child’s life led to better outcomes for that child than leaving them in their original poverty-stricken family. So the truth is, money matters.

Just as it was with Georgia Tann, money continues to be the motivation in our modern times. There are people making a LOT of money by taking money from rich people, in return for giving them the opportunity to experience parenting. An experience that infertility or the tragic death of their biological child may have robbed them of. Money can buy you the opportunity to parent a child. Only people with money can afford a domestic infant adoption. This is the reality. And some determined people without financial good fortune will even set up a Go Fund Me page or some other kind of charity outreach to get the money to adopt a child. But the fact remains – the adoption industry is doing very well at generating a lot of revenue for itself.

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

What is C-PTSD ?

Most of us have heard of PTSD but until this morning, I didn’t know there was a more severe version called Complex-PTSD.

Most people who have looked at adoption very closely already know that trauma is an aspect of having been surrendered to adoption for most adoptees.  I’ve become so steeped in it that I can recognize effects now in statements made by an adoptee that to them a vague issues they still don’t know the source of.  This lack of awareness occurs most often in teenagers and young adults.  Most mature adoptees have worked through many of these and may have had some counseling or therapy to help them uncover the underlying emotions and possible sources of these.

Complex PTSD, however, is specific to severe, repetitive trauma that typically happens in childhood – most often abuse.  On the surface, both PTSD and C-PTSD both come as the result of something deeply traumatic, they cause flashbacks, nightmares and insomnia, and they can make people live in fear even when they are safe.

The very heart of C-PTSD – what causes it, how it manifests internally, the lifelong effects (including medically), and its ability to reshape a person’s entire outlook on life – is what makes it considerably different.

PTSD typically results from “short-lived trauma”, or traumas of time-limited duration. Complex PTSD stems from chronic, long-term exposure to trauma in which a victim has limited belief it will ever end or cannot foresee a time that it might. This can include: child abuse, long-term domestic violence, being held in captivity, living in crisis conditions/a war zone, child exploitation, human trafficking, and more.

The causal factors are not all that separates PTSD from C-PTSD. How their symptoms manifest can tell you even more. PTSD is weighted heaviest in the post-traumatic symptoms: nightmares, flashbacks, hyperarousal/startle response, paranoia, bursts of emotion, etc.

C-PTSD includes all the symptoms of PTSD as well as a change in self-concept. How one sees themselves, their perpetrator, their morals and values, their faith in others or a god. This can overhaul a survivor’s entire world view as they try to make sense of their trauma and still maintain a belief that they, and the world around them, could still be good or safe.

When an adult experiences a traumatic event, they have more tools to understand what is happening to them, their place as a victim of that trauma, and know they should seek support even if they don’t want to. Children don’t possess most of these skills, or even the ability to separate themselves from another’s unconscionable actions. The psychological and developmental implications of that become complexly woven and spun into who that child believes themselves to be — creating a messy web of core beliefs much harder to untangle than the flashbacks, nightmares and other post-traumatic symptoms that come later.

The effects are usually deeply interpersonal within that child’s caregiving system. Separate from both the traumatic events and the perpetrator, there is often an added component of neglect, hot-and-cold affections from a primary caregiver, or outright invalidation of the trauma, if a child does try to speak up. These disorganized attachments and mixed messages from those who are supposed to provide love, comfort and safety – all in the periphery of extreme trauma – can create unique struggles.

Credit for this blog and for the beginning of my education in this new concept goes to Beauty After Bruises.

Is It Really Necessary ?

So is adoption really necessary ?

One could conclude that an orphan should ideally be adopted by the guardians assigned before the parent‘s demise. For foster kids, who would like to be adopted, after parental rights were terminated. Guardianship or temporary fostering could suffice to serve the needs of children in most cases.

It may be that the only time adoption is “necessary” (and one could always argue that word) would be for an older child or teen, whose parents have already signed termination of parental rights.  But only if the child has asked for that without prompting. And the child’s name should never be changed unless the child wants their name changed to feel more in harmony with the rest of the family.  And go slowly on that one because it could be only a temporary phase that won’t be as lasting as changing the child’s name.  The child does need to be empowered in a situation in which they don’t have a lot of control otherwise.

There are very sad and difficult cases.  For example, cases of extreme abuse and neglect where the mother refuses all offers of assistance. Where there is no other family able or willing to help.  There could be no way that this child could ever be safe with their original family. Counseling will be required for every person involved.  Some contact with the original family should be maintained if at all possible, if nothing more than knowing how to reach them.  In the best cases, monitoring for a changed status.  There is always the possibility of change because change is a constant.

Regarding guardianship, some judges and courts may have concerns that the guardianship could too easily be terminated and the child would lose a sense of permanency.  However, a child’s sense of attachment was destroyed the minute their family of origin was severed from them.

Still the question remains – to fully love, protect and be a family is adoption necessary ? Full custody as an alternative to adoption can accomplish the same legal requirements. The system has been an enabler for white saviorism and has made adoption like a free for all.  It’s unethical that so often the natural family is not allowed to give any input and the lack of effort put into connecting these kids to their kin just is mind boggling.

The best adoptive families, upon becoming more enlightened about the impacts of adoption, will make attempts to mitigate the inevitable difficulties for the child (some of these can include not changing the child’s name, learning about the child’s original mother and if possible opening up contact with her and with any other related siblings).  Though most adoptive parents genuinely feel they are doing the right thing . . . when we know better, we do better.

Evolving Approaches

There may come a day when adoption is a rare occurrence but that day isn’t here yet.  What is happening is that adoption is experiencing a more honest, truthful and open approach to the reality where adoption has already occurred.  And there is at least one group (I know because I belong to it) where the members seek to convince mothers-to-be who may be considering a surrender of their baby for adoption to at least try parenting first.  That is one of the ways that adoption may become rare someday.

One question may be – how young is too young to tell a child they are adopted ?  Some advice is – not to ever wait.  Putting off talking with your adopted child about how they came to live with you often becomes a never good time to tell.  I know of one case where that situation has become very very complicated and the truth is still not shared with young adult adoptees.  It has become difficult in an unusual way, so understanding this, I am not judging it, but it is an example of what can happen when telling is put off until the child is “older”.

One adoptee shares – I had an adoption story that was bare bones to start with, as I got older, more information and whys were added, discussions evolved from that retelling. So, create a short TRUE story of how you came to adopt your child – 4 or 5 sentences long at a very young age. Practice telling the story to a friend, in the mirror so YOU are comfortable telling it. Then ask your child if they want to hear about when you adopted them….and tell your child that story.

Waiting until the child is older means they’ve lived that many years without you being truthful with them about who the child is. Just don’t wait.  You want your child to trust you and they will if you are always telling them the truth. Set a date on the calendar to do it soon, a very short story of how you came to adopt them…

Another issue that often comes up with transracial adoptions is about teaching these children about their culture of origin.  It’s never too early to start introducing things from the child’s heritage. 

For example, a Puerto Rican child adopted by a white family. Some suggestions – Introduce Spanish as a normal part of your household, even if that means everyone learning it. Watch as much cultural content about Puerto Rico and its history as possible, and try to find opportunities to connect the child with their culture. Connect with the child’s biological family’s religious traditions – if that is a possibility – so it isn’t foreign to them. Always speak positively about their family, heritage, and culture. Plan a family trip to Puerto Rico when the child is of elementary school age, and then return as frequently as your finances allow. Bonus – learn about your child’s roots and connect to them in tangible ways. Try making some local friends who are Puerto Rican and see them regularly. If this all feels like too much, just recognize that your child is currently surrounded by American culture 24/7.

It goes without saying that this advice applies to all other ethnic groups and countries from which Americans adopted children on an international scale.

Even in those situations where the biological parents are addicted and may even be violent, or maybe the mother never wanted to keep her child, leaving the hospital as soon as she gave birth . . .

There is likely to be some extended family somewhere who would be open to some form of contact. Every child should have those biological ties as much as it is safe and of course, desired by the child themselves.  And don’t forget – people DO often change over time.  How they were at one point in their lives evolves and they become more conventional in their lifestyle and behavior.

Finally, it’s okay if a young child doesn’t understand what being adopted actually means.  An adoptive parent should openly talk about it anyway.  The child will always remember being told their story, about their birth or whatever is known and can be shared in a positive manner.  Adopted children will talk about being adopted, if they have always heard that, even before the child fully understands what it means. Truly, it IS simply a part of who the child is.

It Happens

Some kids are simply born adventurous.  I remember once when my family stopped to check out a small county fair.  My older son was climbing around in a structure and wanted us to keep watching him.  He was always connected to us – well most of the time.  The younger boy was quite independent and adventurous.  This particular time, I took my eyes off the older boy and looked for the younger one, only to see him wandering off totally unconcerned.  Thankfully I could retrieve him.

Once in a large structure with lots of climbing around opportunities (City Museum in St Louis if you’ve ever been there, you will understand).  My husband was following our older son around and the boy got into a space too small for my husband to follow.  He then frantically started heading up to the next level.  The boy had been smart enough to go to a staff member and my husband caught up with him quickly.

There was a time when a young boy wandered off from the family home that was isolated in the wilderness that we have ample quantities of here in my county.  He was missing for 3 days, setting off a massive search that finally succeeded in locating him.  While his mom had been on the telephone inside, he had decided he wanted to go and visit his grandmother but  she lived at quite a distance away.  He had been headed in the right direction at least.

Just because an adventurous young child takes it upon themselves to wander away at an opportune moment does not mean the parent is irresponsible and that they should lose their parental rights and the child taken for adoption or foster care.  Negligence is much more than the rare occurrence of a child’s inventiveness.

Case in point –

A woman was driving along on a busy road outside a mobile home subdivision. She found a small child wearing only a diaper walking near road. Fearing for his safety, she stopped and picked him up, putting him in her car and took him home.

Common sense then caused her to worry that she would be accused of kidnapping him. Wisely, she called police. They began searching for his mom. It turns out she had been napping with the child, who then got up and was able to get out of the house.

Of course, the mother was frantically looking for him. She wasn’t a mom who deserved to lose her child. He had never gotten out of the house before.  That day he had just figured out how.  Had wandered off, while his mom slept. Moms get tired. Kids are smart.

Fact is, almost every parent has a story about one of their kids who figured out how to open doors and go off on their own at some very young age.  A very young child often does not know their parents names or phone number.  Of course, as parents we need to keep our children safe.  However, no parent should be judged harshly because their child is an escape artist.  No parent should lose custody over such an occurrence and always all of us should be happy when a wandering child is returned home safely.  True, it is a dangerous world out there but sometimes, even with attentive and loving parents, it happens.

Denying The Father

I came across a question posted by a pregnant woman.  The baby she is carrying will be a daughter.  She asked, “Is it unethical to leave a potentially dangerous father off of a newborn’s birth certificate ?”

The immediate response was honest – Every person has a right to know their true identity.  In fact, among adoptees this is a significant and primary issue.

Someone suggested the expectant mother put him on the birth certificate but terminate his rights.  This expectant mother offered – He’s never done anything to me so far except be an asshole but he has a felony charge that is relevant to the situation.  I spoke to a lawyer and he said he’d give it a 50/50 chance that a judge would allow termination of rights without a stepfather around to adopt. And the father would have to willingly be there and declare he wants to terminate rights.

Doesn’t seem fair but this is the reality we as women often have to cope with.

Then came this caution – The reality is, if he’s on the birth certificate and you file for public assistance, he’ll be charged child support.  That system is crappy and may share your address. Don’t let people pressure you into any move with your abuser you’re not comfortable with.

Someone offered what seems to be a rational alternative – She can always establish paternity later. All she has to do is file for child support and give his name and the state will take care of finding him and doing paternity test. You can’t take him off birth certificate once he’s on but you can establish paternity and get child support without him on birth certificate.

And I do believe this is an important consideration – Not putting his name on the birth certificate makes it harder for him to just take her. That would be proof that the child is indeed his daughter and does have legal rights, unless you go through the court to have it documented in the way you wish. Not putting his name he would have to go through court for paternity and visitation.

It does appear that the father is aware.  In fact, the expectant mother says he wants to co-parent and she wants only full custody and that any visitation be supervised.

My sympathy and compassion go to the expectant mother wanting to protect her daughter.  She says she does intend for her child to know ALL of her family.  At this time, this is not an adoption issue but it is a family separation issue.

Reproductive Rights

The woman on the left is Norma McCorvey, the woman who was Jane Roe in the legal case that came to be known as Roe v Wade and made it possible for women to have an abortion.  I did not know it until this morning, but the pregnancy that caused her to seek an abortion, ended up in adoption.

Norma grew up poor and abused.  She was the daughter of a single alcoholic mother. She got into trouble frequently and at one point was sent to a reform school. She married and became pregnant at 16 but divorced before the child was born; she subsequently relinquished custody of the child to her mother. In 1967, she gave up a second child for adoption immediately after giving birth.

At the age of 22 and unwed, she was mired in addiction and poverty, she was desperate for a way out of an unwanted pregnancy.  It was her third child and she was so desperate to have an abortion, that she made up a story that she was gang raped, thinking that might legally entitle her to one.  To my own perspective, she is the sad example of the trauma a birth mother experiences as Norma repeatedly lost custody of her natural children.

Roe v Wade became law in 1973, just after I graduated from high school.  In the latter part of the 1970s, I benefited from a safe, medically induced and legal abortion.  It has surprised me how many adoptees will say they wish they had been aborted.  That tells you something about how not happy becoming an adoptee can be for many, not all, children as they become mature adults.

Roe v Wade built on earlier decisions legalizing contraception.  The right to plan wanted pregnancies (and in my own experience a wanted child is loved and treated better in general, I say that because all of my children were wanted, and my reasons for having an abortion, while haunting me most of my life, I still believe were the right ones) and the right to end unwanted ones has freed women to pursue more fulfilling lives than the old barefoot and pregnant model of married life.

When women are able to choose when and whether to have children, they are more likely to finish their education, more financially stable and less likely to remain in and endure abusive relationships.  In states that have fewer abortion restrictions, there are lower rates of maternal and infant mortality.

In 1984, Norma McCorvey revealed herself to have been Jane Roe.  This resulted in the ugly side of the Pro-Life movement as she was harassed and someone even shot at her through her window.  Even so, she was undaunted for years and remained an abortion-rights advocate.  However in the 1990s, she announced she was 100% pro-life.  One has to wonder after what she suffered, if she just wanted safety, security and peace.  She died in 2017.

Today in 2020, the right to choose is under a strong attack and given the increasingly conservative nature of our judicial system thanks to the Republican party, young women may once again only have the option of illegal and unsafe access to ending an unwanted pregnancy.  Women could be forced once again to have children against their personal desire to bear a child.

Without Us

It is difficult being a woman.  It is difficult being a mother.  It is difficult being a wife, a daughter or a sister.  Sometimes it is difficult having women friends.  Today is International Women’s Day.

I was in a difficult romantic relationship with a dangerous man. He lived in dangerous ways and he was dangerous for my own self to be with. More than once he physically hit me. I’m not denying that my own behavior may have pushed him over the edge those times but I also know that whatever holds a man back from harming a woman, if he is able to break through that barrier even once, the risk then exists that it will be easier for him to go through that same barrier the next time. So eventually I left his physical presence. I planned my leaving carefully to be able to safely go. I saved money from what was allotted to me for groceries by buying wisely over a long period of time and I left without saying goodbye. After I was safely at a distance, I notified him that I wasn’t coming back.

It took that courage of leaving to put me into alignment with meeting my husband, so I could live in this deeply nourishing place where I feel very safe and am contented. And it took other actions too, like being brave enough to place a personal ad in a weekly entertainment newspaper in St Louis, without which I would have never come in contact with the man I married a little over a year later. Traveling through life is a lot like being in a car where I always know that I can never actually get truly “lost”. All roads eventually go somewhere and one can always backtrack and find a “somewhere” that we recognize. Leaving can be like backtracking to where you were comfortably confident in your own self, after the damage an abusive relationship can inflict upon a person. I know that all experiences – the good and the bad – end up somewhere else eventually. In that there is a great deal of comfort and a real confidence for living through it all.

My family supports the regional women and children’s shelter.  They support women and their children to survive domestic violence and end up in a better place.  They help keep mothers and their children together.  If you have the opportunity to do anything that will keep a mother together with her children, please consider doing so.  The future of our humanity depends on us being here.

The Broken Birth Mom

This sculpture speaks so strongly to my own heart.  I empathize with my grandmothers who gave up my parents to adoption.  In a sense, though less permanently, I am one myself.  Each of my sisters truly are.  There are no words for how this haunts a person.  No mother should have to live without her child, even though I do understand that sometimes the safety issues are so strong because that mother is so broken as a person, the child isn’t safe with her.  I get it.

Adoption isn’t just a one-time event and it’s over. It is never over, it can’t be and it isn’t.  It is something that follows an adoptee and their original parents throughout their lives.

I have obsessed in my guilt for not raising my daughter. Just like my maternal grandmother, I never intended to leave her daily life permanently. In my effort, just as it was in my grandmother’s effort, to work things out financially, circumstances changed and it was no longer the best outcome for her to take her back. Both my maternal grandmother and myself would have, if it had been possible or truly made sense to step back in.

There were no role models for absentee mothers in the early 1970s though one read a lot of stories about absentee fathers.  I realize I caused the situation for myself. My grandmother stepped into a serious trap without realizing it when she turned to Porter-Leath Orphanage in Memphis TN for temporary care of my mom.

The superintendent there betrayed my grandmother and my mom to a master baby thief.  Miss Georgia Tann was backed up by her good friend, the Juvenile Court Judge Camille Kelley, in her pressure campaign to exploit my grandmother and wrest my mom out of her possession so that she could sell her to my adoptive grandmother.

Being a birth mom who permanently surrenders her child is not a club you should want to join.  It is a grief that lasts a lifetime. The pain of that wound will change over time but it will never go away. It will always be there.  I have spent years trying to resolve my own.  I know the reasons and the causes but there is no recovering lost time and those precious memories of your child growing up.

If you are an expectant mother, especially a single and financially challenged young woman, seek out the help that will make it possible for you to keep your baby. You will be glad you did.  Here’s one place – https://savingoursistersadoption.org/