No Big Deal ?

Because LINK> Rebecca Solnit says it so well in her essay in The Guardian . . .

Being a parent is expensive. Being a criminal is also expensive, whether you lose economic opportunities to avoid apprehension or spend money on your defense if apprehended or go to prison and lose everything and, marked as a felon, emerge unemployable. Abortion is an economic issue, because when it’s not legal, those are the two remaining options, leaving out being dead, which you could argue is either very expensive or absolutely beyond the realms of money and price. And being dead is also on the table because women have all too often died from lack of access to reproductive healthcare, including abortions (to say nothing of being unable to leave an abuser, to whom pregnancy and children can bind you more tightly). They are facing more of that now.

Having no options but to be dead, criminal or a parent is not a sane or moral argument for parenthood, and it’s also pretty different than having certain inalienable rights, including life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Also, now that abortion is unavailable under almost all circumstances in Texas and other states, it’s an economic justice issue in that those with the financial capacity to take time off, travel in search of care and pay for it out of pocket are not affected the way those who cannot do so are. And those who can afford to get an abortion under these circumstances are also those who can afford to defend themselves against possible criminal charges.

All of which is to say, abortion is an economic issue and a labor issue, as well as a human rights and healthcare issue, as the AFL-CIO and other labor unions have recognized. So it’s been confounding to see some supposedly progressive men say that people should talk about economics instead of abortion, as if the loss of reproductive rights isn’t a huge economic blow to anyone facing the possibility of an unwanted pregnancy. The last days before the midterm elections should include robust Democratic conversations about defending rights and pursuing economic justice, with access to abortion central to both.

Access to birth control and abortion laid the groundwork for US women to begin to claim financial, professional and educational equality – a goal still far from realized, overall, but reproductive rights flattened the mountains and filled in the chasms a little. Taking that away pushes women back into the grim era when an unplanned, unwanted pregnancy could upend a life, stop an education, stymie a career, force unwanted dependency on the person who caused that pregnancy – an era when self-determination was an aspiration, not a given.

The Dobbs decision striking down Roe v Wade on 24 June was cavalier about all this. The majority opinion pretends that bearing a child no longer has significant social and economic impact. It cites among its justifications that “attitudes about the pregnancy of unmarried women have changed drastically; that federal and state laws ban discrimination on the basis of pregnancy; that leave for pregnancy and childbirth are now guaranteed by law in many cases; that the costs of medical care associated with pregnancy are covered by insurance or government assistance; that states have increasingly adopted “safe haven” laws, which generally allow women to drop off babies anonymously; and that a woman who puts her newborn up for adoption today has little reason to fear that the baby will not find a suitable home”. In other words, there is no reason not to have an unplanned or unwanted child; doing so is no big deal.

All of which are callous lies. The right not to bear children isn’t just about respectability for the unmarried, and to frame it that way while ignoring the profound and lasting emotional, psychological and physical as well as financial impact of carrying a pregnancy for nine months and giving birth is outrageous. Discrimination against people who may get pregnant or are pregnant continues despite those laws; many pregnant people continue to lack access to healthcare; and the fact that a baby can be handed over is no justification for being forced to bear it. Furthermore, as another branch of the US government that the supreme court could have consulted reports: “The number of children waiting to be adopted also fell in fiscal year 2020 to 117,000”; the number in foster care was over 400,000.

One of the striking things about the conversation in defense of abortion rights in recent months is the testimony by those who’ve undergone pregnancy, miscarriage and childbirth about how physically grueling and even life-threatening they can be. Pregnancy can incapacitate women for months, which is obviously economically devastating to a poor person working in the gig economy or, say, in a nail salon or a fast-food restaurant. It can be an overwhelming experience, interfering particularly in the ability to perform physical labor: the judge may be able to toil on when the janitor cannot. And a lot of people are making a living through work that is physically demanding.

Another striking new note has been the insistence that we need to stop defining abortion as a stand-alone right and look at the criminalization of pregnancy and motherhood, especially for poor and nonwhite women. “More than 50 women have been prosecuted for child neglect or manslaughter in the United States since 1999 because they tested positive for drug use after a miscarriage or stillbirth,” reported the Marshall Project, while noting that miscarriages are common under all circumstances. “Sentences have ranged from probation to 20 years in prison. Women prosecuted after pregnancy loss are often those least able to defend themselves, the investigation found. They typically work low-paying jobs, are often victims of domestic abuse, have little access to healthcare or drug treatment and rely on court-appointed lawyers who advise them that pleading guilty is their best option.” Too, some women die from pregnancy and childbirth, and thanks to unequal medical care, Black women have the highest incidence of such deaths. Pregnancy and childbirth can also cause permanent physical changes, including lasting pain and disability.

The laws making the most intimate conditions of a body and life subject to legal intrusion are reportedly already preventing pregnant people from seeking healthcare and spreading well-founded fear. Making the administration of an abortion a crime is frightening medical caregivers and interfering with their ability to provide care. Some of the proposed abortion bans would include life-saving abortions, and we have already seen cases in which medical care was withheld until a woman’s life was actively in danger. Women are already being denied prescriptions when those drugs can be used in abortions, another way that taking away abortion rights is turning into a broader loss of rights.

The financial and professional impact of parenting in heterosexual relationships still mostly falls on women. The majority of women who have abortions are already mothers raising kids; we are in a childcare crisis that has, along with the long months schools were shut during the pandemic, crushed a lot of women’s working lives and financial independence.

As Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez noted in late September, “When the powerful force people to give birth against their will, they trap millions in cycles of economic setback and desperation. Especially in a country without guaranteed healthcare. And desperate workers are easier to exploit.” The supreme court majority pretended it was undermining access to reproductive rights because they have no significant impact, but of course the court’s agenda was the opposite: to impose the conditions that make women subordinate in rights and economic status.

In A System Haunted

DeJarnette Sanitarium

It doesn’t take long if spending time among adoptees to learn about the strong link between foster care and adoption. Foster care is often the first step in that direction as children are removed from their parents and placed with strangers. The official goal is reunification of the family when it is deemed safe for the children to be returned to their parents. That does happen in many cases after an emotionally damaging experience for all concerned. Other times the parent’s rights are terminated and in the case of infants and young children, often these are adopted by the foster parents or some other hopeful adoptive parent. And in too many cases, these young children “age out” in the system and are thrown out into the world as young adults with few supports, though that situation has improved somewhat in recent years.

Yesterday, I learned about the link between the building pictured above and foster care. Dr Joseph DeJarnette was a proponent of racial segregation and eugenics, specifically the compulsory sterilization of the mentally ill. He was known to idolize Nazi Germany and took the facility under his management from a resort-like treatment center to an apocalyptic prison nightmare. His determined efforts resulted in the passage of the “Eugenical Sterilization Act of 1924” (a.k.a Racial Integrity Act). This new act reinforced racial segregation by preventing interracial marriages and classifying “white” as being pure 100% Caucasian. Men and women who were admitted to his hospital were involuntarily sterilized to prevent the conception of mixed race human beings. DeJarnette also forcibly sterilized single mothers, alcoholics, those with mental conditions and epilepsy, the poor, and the incarcerated. Dr DeJarnette not only performed countless sterilizations but also medical procedures on his patients like electroshock therapy and lobotomies.

He died in 1957. DeJarnette became a state institution with a focus on children’s behavioral health issues. It is at that point in the history of this place that my interest today became awareness. If you believe emotional energy leaves traces of residual energy in a place, then in that sense DeJarnette is believed haunted. A young woman writing an op-ed for LINK> The Huffington Post brought that awareness to me.

At the age of 14, the author was relatively new to the foster care system and waiting for a bed to open up at a long-term facility. The author walked those halls, recognizes the once-grand arches that frame the doorways, the bedrooms with graffitied walls. She says, “Dr. Joe’s evil spirit is said to walk the halls. Some say they’ve heard children’s voices in the darkness or moans and other noises from the former patients reported to have perished due to medical experiments. I doubt the teens who once lived there were aware of Dr DeJarnette by name. I wasn’t. However, the building’s ties to eugenics were among the first things new kids learned about the center.”

She goes on to note that she asked – “Why did they do it?” And the answer she got was – “They think your kids are gonna end up like you. If we don’t have babies, they’ll be less of us and more of them.” She says – “I wasn’t totally sure what more of them meant but I understood less of us. Less of me.” She also shares that she lived in DeJarnette during the winter with the holidays were approaching. It was her first Christmas in the system. Her expectations were perpetually low back then. She fixated on the phrase anything you want when asked to provide a Christmas wish list with one condition – as long as it’s less than 10 dollars. She remembers asking for a Def Leppard tape even though she no longer had her boom box. Receiving the tape symbolized hope and the belief that someday, she would have a tape player again.

We don’t often consider what it is like for a teen living in foster care. That they don’t have typical teenage memories like going to the homecoming dance, having their first date, a sweet 16 party or getting a driver’s license. What she did get was a strong sense of her ability to survive. She made it through the system and didn’t become a statistic. She says that she is thriving today. She says of that residual energy – “when you consider the collective traumas and experiences of all those who spent time in that cavernous, state-run institution, there was plenty of haunting going on. It wasn’t ghosts, though. It was us.”

Inside DeJarnette Today

Legal Conflicts

Straight off, I will say that I am NOT in favor of gestational surrogacy. My primary objection is separating babies from the mother who’s womb they developed in. There is definitely an in-utero bond. I probably do know more families with donor conceived children than most ordinary citizens do. I know of situations where a surrogate was used. One in which the intended mother was actively undergoing chemotherapy at the time her twins were born and who did die when the twins were about 2 years old. They are being raised by their genetic father who donated the sperm in that assisted reproduction effort. I also know of a couple of women who simply didn’t want to wait any longer to have children with no husband in sight. They used both egg and sperm donations. BOTH carried their own children and I know them as awesome moms. These children are all 18 years old now including my youngest son.

The situation that inspired today’s blog regards couples from other countries entering into surrogacy contracts with women here in the United States. In this particular case, the intended parents have refused to come and get their twins for over a year now (they were born in February 2021). The surrogate and her husband are on the birth certificates as the parents but lack any legal custody because the surrogacy contract supersedes any hospital created birth certificate. The woman has both TikTok and Instagram accounts but both are private (possibly due to the legal complications) but I really don’t need to see them myself. The Instagram has a cute profile photo of the twins.

The United States is a destination country for couples who find they have to undergo surrogacy abroad due to the laws in their own country. Surrogacy is allowed in the United States for international patients by law. Not all of the states here are equally “friendly.” The website on LINK> International Surrogacy notes “surrogacy arrangements are legal in the following territories: Nevada, California, Texas, Arkansas, Illinois, Virginia, Florida, New Hampshire, Delaware, New Jersey, Tennessee, and Utah.” The states that ban surrogacy arrangements include Arizona, Michigan, New York, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, and Nebraska cautioning that surrogacy is even considered a criminal offence in some of them.

In the USA, a birth order is the legal document used to assign parentage to a child. These can be either a post- or pre-birth order that establishes the parental rights for the intended parents. This is key when undergoing surrogacy in the USA. Pre-birth orders can be started in the fourth month of pregnancy, whereas post-birth orders are granted on day 3 or 5 following the birth. This choice is very pricey for the intended parents – $95,000 to $290,000 – due in part to the fact that the US healthcare system is run by private businesses.

So back to our “trapped” surrogate and her husband. In order to have legal custody, they will have to go to court. They would have to sue for custody because simply being on the birth certificate doesn’t circumvent the surrogate contract in place. A complication of course is that they are not genetically related to these children and had no intention of parenting them to begin with. This even though they have been effectively raising these two babies for about a year. The intended parents have “broken” their contract but that doesn’t simply negate it legally.

Being a legal parent on a birth certificate does not always mean you have legal custody of your children – if there is another entity involved (like surrogacy, Div of Human Services/Child Protective Services with foster care, adoption until it is finalized, guardianship). It really depends on the country and this is the reason so many contracts, legal fees and lawyers are involved with situations such as surrogacy. Every situation is extremely unique.

Issues Change With The Times

Original birth certificates and name changes have been an issue for adult adoptees. Many adoptees still can not acquire their original birth certificates. My parents were adopted in the 1930s. In adulthood, both learned the names they were born as but nothing about their original families. I do have my mom’s original birth certificate which was very helpful as all she knew about her birth parents’ names was Mr and Mrs JC Moore (which reveals very little). I never could get my dad’s original birth certificate because California is one of those states that won’t release it without a court order. I did learn his birth mother’s name thanks to a handwritten note on a letter concerning the changed birth certificate in the state of Texas that his adoptive mother wrote down. Turns out she was unwed.

We still have new members come into my all things adoption group with questions pre-adoption about how to handle the birth certificate for pre-school children and name changes. In today’s modern society, most are over thinking what a more open and progressive society have made a moot point. While conservatives and evangelicals may not like these changes to marriage and family units, the changed nature of society is a positive development for adoptees.

Divorce, remarriage, blended families, single mothers and same sex partnerships, to name just a few of the complicating factors, have resulted in what once might have been a legal issue with schools and medical records, no longer matter regarding the child’s name. What does still matter is identity and true family origins. Keeping the original birth certificate intact still matters. Not sealing adoption records matters. Today, an adoption decree is all the legal documentation an adoptive parent needs to establish their responsibility to the child. A birth certificate and the child’s name no longer need to be changed. Some adoption agencies and social workers, perhaps even some legal authorities may still try to make changes a requirement but in reality, there is no longer a basis to do that.

There is one issue that did come up that could matter. That is where violence or some kind of public notoriety could follow a child throughout their life. One adoptive mother with just such an issue shared that she was able to get mentions of these events, where the child is also mentioned, removed from public access. She asked the kid’s attorney, the judge, assistant district attorney and the district attorney to send letters to the news outlets that covered the original story. They did that and it worked for this family. So, with some help, even news coverage can be buried. That said, as the child matures, they are still to be fully informed in an age appropriate way about these circumstances and if necessary, with the help of a trauma informed therapist. Never hide the truth from the child who it concerns.

One other adoptive parent of an older child mentioned that their child legally changed their name for reasons of their own. In their experience, the name change did not cause any problem with passport and Real ID, and even the change of gender did not cause a problem either. All that was needed was the proper documentation about these changes and they simply followed the rules related to those changes.

The Brave New World

It is a reproductive fact – the egg contributes 50% of a person’s DNA, the sperm contributes 50% of a person’s DNA. For donor conceived children, the mother and/or father who is raising them may or may not be genetically related to them. Often, at least one parent is but in the brave new world of creating human beings utilizing reproductive technology – a child may be raised by a single mother who is not related at all to her child – though she may have carried the child and even breastfed her baby. The truth is that one’s marriage to their child is life-long, though as in the case of divorce, a genetically related parent may not be in their child’s life 24/7 or even throughout the childhood.

I do know of families with donor conceived children for whom the donor was anonymous – this can apply to egg donors as well as sperm donors. Fact is – Anonymity — as a pragmatic matter — can no longer be guaranteed to the donors who contribute to the existence of any donor conceived person. Donor-conceived people have interests all their own. Not all donor-conceived people know about their origin, and many express an interest in knowing more about their donors, including medical and identifying information. In a group of adult donor-conceived offspring from the 256 families that were eligible to receive identifying information, 85 (35%) contacted the clinic for this purpose. Many of those who contacted the clinic did so within the first three years after they turned 18, with the most common motivation to obtain information about their donors, including who they are as a person, their reasons for donation and their medical and health information. Third, recipients have a strong interest in knowing about the health risks their future children may experience based on the medical history of the donor.

Today, a woman writes – I’ve decided to conceive through a known local donor and my own egg. The child will know this man is their biological father. We are planning on meet up at least every 2 weeks from birth and he will receive plenty of pictures. He has also agreed to donate a second time in about 2 years so that my children will be biological siblings. (my note – that is certainly what my husband and I have as sons.) My question is, is there anything I’m overlooking in my excitement that I can do differently for the well-being of the child with this set up?

There are some details that sound like they haven’t been worked out yet. Is this an informal sperm donation or is it being arranged through a bank? Will he be listed on the birth certificate as the child’s father? Have you asked for perspectives from donor conceived people? Do you have a support system to help you raise the baby if he is not planning to be involved financially or practically? Has anything been drawn up legally? If he is not on the birth certificate as the father then he has no responsibility to help, participate or abide by your wishes. Sperm donors are not treated as the father of the child by law. No matter how much you may like and trust him today, things can change. To be clear, I am not against you creating a donor conceived a child. I encourage you to work out the legal details and to really think about the what if‘s no matter how unlikely they may seem now.

One response and some additional questions was this – The most ethical way to do this would be to list him on the birth certificate as the father and actually co-parent with him, not just let the child meet up with him every two weeks. Do you really think that would work out long term ? How would you handle it if the child tells you they want more time with their dad, overnights or to live with their dad or anything at all ?

Then there was this – What about when dad develops a new relationship with a woman who wants him all to herself?? To be with her and their “real” kids? Followed by an example – I actually know someone who was in this exact situation. She did what you are hoping to do, with a man who she thought would be in her child’s life forever. He moved across the country, married a woman who was/is extremely uncomfortable with the situation, they had kids together, and now he hasn’t seen his oldest child in over 2 years.

The woman in the question doesn’t want a romantic relationship and so that brings up another issue – You can forgo a romantic relationship, while also not procreating with a stranger. I do not understand why anyone would have a child with a man you do not know and then give that man access to your child. It takes a level of intimacy to trust someone to father your kid, doesn’t have to be romantic.

Again, more questions – what happens if you do meet somebody and fall in love, and your partner wants to take on the role of “dad” and feels threatened by the child’s relationship with its father ? And mentioned before – What happens if the father meets somebody and falls in love and she feels threatened by it, and tells him she doesn’t want him involved with you and your child ? What happens if he gets a job opportunity that moves him across the country, or even across the world ?

A woman choosing to donor conceive really needs to seriously think through the situation and there are situations where it does make sense and can be handled well. So just some final thoughts –

Both need to be absolutely certain on how that would work. Couples that intimately know each other can struggle to communicate well enough to co-parent, even within a marriage, and even more so when they live apart. You mentioned the specific of every two weeks having visits but what do you expect the visit to entail? How will you communicate changes in schedule? Are there financial obligations? Would your expectations change if his financial situation changed? What influence would he have on life decisions such as education, religion, place of residence, activities etc. What if someone needs or wants to move? Will you be able to control who else is included in the visits? How will his family be included or excluded? How will you handle inevitable disagreements on important issues? Do you have it legally planned out if something should happen to you and you are unable to parent or pass away? Planning to have full legal custody doesn’t guarantee you will make every decision on your own for the child. Are you financially prepared to confront additional legal barriers? You also mentioned having a sibling in two years which opens a new can of worms so to speak. I have watched so many of my friends struggle to work with someone they once loved navigating these issues. Some no longer recognize the person they chose (it happened) to father their child. Parenthood fundamentally changes people and it does seem you could set you and your child up for tremendous conflict. I think I would have multiple friends and family members write down every potential question they can think of and discuss how you can legally address these questions. I would also set up a prescribed procedure that should be followed when conflict does arise. I hope that is something attorneys can legally require. I’m sure you have thought a lot about what you expect, just be certain all of the potential legal issues are addressed to the best of your ability. In my opinion it would be a mistake to cross bridges when you come to them or rely on the donor to be a benevolent actor.

And just this advice – for your own protection, talk with a lawyer first. I got a free consult with a lawyer with expertise in this area, and decided a sperm bank was a better choice. There are a lot of cases, especially in certain states, where your donor could be considered a father, and could take custody, even with a legal agreement in place. Or could prevent you from moving out of state, etc. Took me awhile to let that dream go, but it was the right choice for me.

And though there aren’t many yet (I have read an essay from one myself who recognized she would not exist otherwise, which I thought a very healthy perspective) here are some Thoughts From A IVF Donor Conceived Person (if you want to read some more from such a person’s perspective). With this one, I thought this was also a healthy perspective – “I have never doubted that I was wanted, I’ve always known I was meant to be here on this earth. My conception wasn’t down to mystical chance, I had purpose and meaning to both sets of my parents from the moment I was conceived in my little Petri dish.”

Personally, as a last word, I can relate to this as I experienced secondary infertility, I was simply too old to conceive naturally any longer, even though I did give birth to a genetically, biologically related child – “Finding that you need assistance in conceiving does not mean you have failed, and it doesn’t mean any child you conceive through assisted reproduction is in any way ‘artificial’ or different from naturally conceived children. I’m proud of both my biological mother and my mother. IVF doesn’t make them any different to other parents, and raising a child that was not her own biological material doesn’t make my mother less of a parent.”

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How To Help

Question: (Background info: we live in a low income neighborhood. Neighbor is a single mom with 3 young children. Child Protective Services (CPS) has a habit of meddling in the business of poor families)

2 days ago, a CPS caseworker knocked on my door. She told me she has been trying to talk to our next door neighbor, but she hasn’t been opening the door when she knocks. She kept asking me questions about the neighbor and trying to get information (How many kids does she have? Do you ever hear yelling? Do the kids look well fed? Does she leave the kids by themselves? Do different men come and go? etc etc)

I said I have no clue to all her questions. (I just came home from college 2 weeks ago so I was telling the truth.) She then starts telling me personal information about her “investigation” that made me so uncomfortable that I cut her off and said, “I’m running late and have to leave.” She hands me her business card and asks me to call her if I see them outside or pulling into their garage, so she can “zoom over and bust them.” (Her words, not mine. Not a chance I would call her back anyway.)

Now, what to do ? I know that CPS will insert themselves into the littlest things in order to take children away from their mothers. What would you do in this situation? Would you go over and let Mom know that CPS is watching? I was thinking of going over there and explaining exactly what the case worker asked me and what kind of car she drove. I’m nervous because we don’t ever talk. I don’t want her to think I’m working for CPS or that I was the one who reported them. Maybe a letter ? But then, she could just check her ring camera and see it was me anyway. I might as well have an actual conversation. Do you think she already knows ? Should I just stay out of it entirely ?

I have no idea.

Suggestion:

Absolutely go talk to mom. Please please give her a heads up and tell her everything. Help the mom address any issues that could arise. Let her know that she can trust you. Offer to help her get her house “home inspection ready”, just in case. Make sure mom knows her rights with CPS.

Also, report the caseworker who was freely giving out private information to a complete stranger. At the very least, gossiping about your case is extremely poor ethics.

Example of a Home Inspection – Check List

Anthony Albanese

Anthony and Maryanne Albanese

It is interesting that I had queried a friend in Australia about him being elected prime minister without knowing how she felt about the man and her response was very positive. “I am glad this happened and am excited at the results of the Greens and the Independents. The Independents who got in were all women. Some were given funding to run by an Australian billionaire, on the condition that they supported climate change action and making the government accountable.” and much more.

Then running late today and looking for a topic for this blog in my all things adoption group, I read this – “Australia’s new prime minister, Anthony Albanese, is the son of Maryanne, a woman who as a single mother in 1963, was strongly pressured to give him up for adoption. She resisted and raised him herself. He is a strong proponent of social justice and I’m so excited to see a new future for our country under his leadership.”

So I went looking for more and found this article in The Australian from 2021 titled – ‘Something wasn’t right’: Anthony Albanese’s heartbreaking Mother’s Day tribute. He said, she “sacrificed so much” for him. She had rheumatoid arthritis that “crippled her joints” and meant she couldn’t work. “She lived on a disability pension. Life wasn’t easy, and her health made things even harder but we got through because of her,” he said.

“We lived in council housing, which gave us a sense of security and stability. It was our home.” His mother taught him how to save money but the most valuable life lesson she passed on was to leave no one behind. “Truth is, mum was left behind by people who counted her out, and by governments who cut back support,” he said. “The cutbacks that happened in mum’s lifetime meant she had to justify the support she was receiving. When health funding was cut, the quality of mum’s care was cut too.”

“When they tried to sell our council house, it felt like our home was being taken from us.” It was his mother’s influence and challenge to make ends meet that inspired the Labor leader to get into politics. “Mum always gave me unconditional love. And I feel very privileged to have had that. Mums really are special,” he wrote.

Identity – Before and After

Today’s blog assist comes from this man – Travis Bradburn

What makes you… you? Those people with a DNA surprise have a “before” and “after” marking the day their identity was upended. Family secrets tear at the fabric of who a person is. Tell the truth and practice forgiveness.

In 2018, at the age of 45, Travis Bradburn’s identity was upended. In an instant, his life now had a before and an after. He saw – “Predicted relationship – half brother.” Those were the words he saw when he opened up his 23 and Me app.

He writes – In very real ways, I always had a feeling of being ‘out of place’ and like I didn’t quite belong somehow. Those words…”predicted relationship – half brother” meant that I was 45 years old, and did not know who my father was. My brother and I were raised by a single mother, who alone, along with our church family, raised us to be strong, independent, educated, hard-working, faith-filled people. She struggled to provide, but she did it. 

He continues telling his story – I’m a happily married man with a wife who has been very supportive through this entire process. And I have 4 beautiful children I love more than life. In spite of all of this, in making this discovery, I became unmoored. I did not know who I was; who made me. I looked in the mirror and couldn’t fully recognize myself. The most basic parts of my life story were no longer true.

As I was told my father’s name, I learned he was alive; a little about who he was; and that he had 3 children. I had more brothers and a sister. It’s amazing how quickly you can find information about people online when you really want to know.

I never had a father in my life, and now as I learned this truth, I was intent on making sure that as little time as possible passed before we met. And so 17 days after my discovery, I sat down at a restaurant table with my father. It was a surreal 2 hours that included some laughter, tears, awkwardness, questions and good conversation. Those moments are forever etched in my mind. During our visit, that feeling of ‘other-ness’…like I didn’t quite belong in some way…disappeared. Many of the feelings of not knowing why I was a certain way…felt answered.

We continued to meet together for dinners over the next several months. They are cherished memories I will always have, of just getting to know each other, and I hope those can continue for some time. Eventually, he agreed to share this news with his other two living children…my sister and my brother.

About 13 months after my discovery, I sat in my father’s home and met my family I didn’t know existed for the first 45 years of my life. We talked, laughed and shed a few tears for several hours that day. We shared photographs and stories. Words can’t describe how happy and grateful I was to see the burden of this secret lifted off my father’s shoulders. It was palpable and something I will never forget.

Genetic connection and identity are inseparable. Please read that sentence again. I believe this to be an irrefutable truth that has profound implications. Those who have not experienced this could never fully comprehend it. I feel like I could have been a human experiment in the debate of nature versus nurture. Think about your mannerisms, appearance, your laugh, manner of speaking, aspects of personality, the way you walk, things you like and dislike…to name just a few…all more highly connected to genetics than I think people realize. Not seeing that genetic connection in your life has implications.

Learning you are a 45-year secret is hard. Learning you are no longer a secret was healing beyond belief. Maybe that’s part of why sharing my story matters to me.

The Impact of the Opioid Crisis on Adoption

The Valles with their adopted children

“I always like to tell everybody we raised yours, mine, ours, my brother’s, now others.” ~ Suzanne Valle

The opioid crisis has strained child welfare systems in recent years, as kids who often face neglect and abuse are taken from their families and put into foster care. Jesus and Suzanne Valle thought they would become empty nesters indulging in their love of travel but they became adoptive parents instead. From 2007 to 2018, they took in six children, all from Ohio families struggling with addiction, including their own. Four are the kids of Suzanne’s brother, and two kids came through the foster care system. They had already raised nine of their own biological children.

The above is courtesy of StoryCorps and NPR. I also found this first person account – What Happened After I Tried to Adopt an Opioid-Dependent Baby from Washingtonian written by Susan Baer for Carrie Brady, a longtime employee at Google.

Carrie with her adopted son

She was 40 and single when she decided to adopt a baby. Because of America’s opioid crisis, her chances of finding a match were better if she agreed to accept the child of someone addicted to drugs. She had received a call from the adoption agent for the baby she expected to adopt. The mother had hemorrhaged and given birth in an emergency C-section, actually five days earlier. The baby had aspirated blood and been without oxygen, then helicoptered to a hospital in the mother’s home state, down south, and might not survive.

Her whole rationale for adoption was to be the best mom for whatever baby she was matched with. But now she found herself confiding to her sister, “I worry that if this baby survives with major brain damage, it was going to be too much for me.” She prayed about it and hoped the baby would somehow lead her to the answer. She asked her adoption agent, “Do you ever have families looking for special-needs babies?” She said, “Yeah, I do.”

She knew adopting a baby on her own would throw her tidy life into disarray. Her mother asked repeatedly, “Why do you want to uproot your life like this?” She simply felt she could give a different sort of life to a child born into tough circumstances. Reminds me of my own father, when my husband and I decided to have children (thanks to assisted reproduction) at an advanced age, “I question your sanity.” That has come back to me a few times.

The baby was taken off life support and was going to die. She wanted the baby girl to be baptized and so a chaplain was called. The nurses brought her a dress and booties. Carrie was able to hold the baby girl the only time she would ever be held. Carrie says, “I told her why she was here and how sad I felt. I promised to remember her.” For the first time, there were no sounds. The room was still.

The first thing she learned was that if she wanted to be an adoptive mother anytime soon, meaning within two years or so, she’d have to consider a baby who might have some drug dependency. Over the last several years, because of the opioid epidemic, a growing number of infants placed with adoption agents in the US (as many as 60 or 70 percent at some agencies) have had exposure to drugs or alcohol in utero, mostly opioids or treatment drugs such as methadone. Methadone is a very powerful drug given to help keep addicts off of heroin and other related opioids. The opioid crisis has had such a profound impact on the adoption landscape that placement agencies provide classes on prenatal drug exposure so that prospective parents can decide whether it’s something they can handle.

Adoption is a control freak’s worst nightmare and with an addicted birth mother, it can be nerve wracking. It is excruciating to have such a tenuous grasp on something as important as adopting a newborn and hard not to read too much into every unanswered text or canceled date. Her adoption consultant told her, “It’s not a bad thing to be all in.”

Two months after the baby girl died, her adoption agent called with the news: Another birth mother, also from the South, had chosen her profile and was having a baby boy at the end of the year. She was also in a methadone treatment program for a drug addiction (same as the first birth mother). The adoption agent cautioned her, the birth mother had been expected to place her last child for adoption but had backed out after the birth and chose to keep the baby.

This birth mother had been on methadone for three years, it was likely her baby would be dependent. The detox period could last weeks to months. Carrie was there for the baby’s delivery. He weighed 6.9 pounds and was 20 inches long. She was allowed to cut the cord and was the first to hold him. That night had been stormy with the birth mother. However, the next day when she arrived at the hospital, the birth mother was holding her infant son. They looked so peaceful. Carrie told her, I just want the best for him and would love her, even if she wanted to change her mind. She didn’t.

In NICU, the baby’s blood had a higher concentration of red blood cells than was normal, a condition that can result from maternal smoking. He was getting fluids through an IV but might need a blood transfusion. Thankfully, the fluids resolved the issue and the baby avoided a transfusion. But his withdrawal symptoms were escalating. His crying wasn’t like any baby’s cry she’d ever heard. Imagine the screams of someone being tortured. That’s what it sounded like—pure anguish—and nothing would stop it. With his symptoms worsening, doctors decided morphine would allow him a little relief.

When they weaned him from the morphine, the withdrawal came back with a vengeance. She finally got him into his crib with the sand weights, pulled down one side of the crib to lay her head down next to his. She started singing to him the country song she’d listened to on her morning walks to the hospital: “Everything’s gonna be alright. Nobody’s gotta worry ’bout nothing. Don’t go hitting that panic button. It ain’t near as bad as you think. Everything’s gonna be alright. Alright. Alright.”

He finally improved enough to be discharged. The nurses assured her that best thing for him was to be home. “It’s the nurture part that gets these babies through,” they said. For two more months, the baby struggled through withdrawals. Crying sometimes for hours on end, clenching up his face and body, and appearing mad at the world for many of his waking hours. He rarely slept more than two hours at a time, and once he started crying, it was hard to get him to stop.

At three months old, he got better and would take a pacifier to soothe himself. He started sleeping three and four hours at a time and then through the night. She never heard that awful cry of pain again. Besides normal pediatrician visits, he was seen monthly by a developmental therapist, who dismissed them after about a year. He had hit all of his milestones and showed no signs of any delay.

Abortion or Adoption is NOT an Equal Choice

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.