The Girls Who Went Away

Studies that have examined the grief of relinquishing mothers have identified a sense of loss that is unique and often prolonged. In one such study, the grief was likened to the separation loss experienced by a parent whose child is missing, or by a person who is told their loved one is missing in action. Unlike grief over the death of a child, which is permanent and for which there is an established grieving process, the loss of a child through adoption has no clear end and no social affirmation that grief is even an appropriate response.

~ Ann Fessler, The Girls Who Went Away, Page 208

Looking for an image of the book cover, I found an old story in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution from 2015 titled Legacy of Loss. It is a story about Leslie MacKinnon who relinquished 2 sons to adoption when she was still a teenager. Her grief inspired her career as a therapist in the Atlanta area who works with people who’s lives have been touched by adoption.

Only a year after giving up her first-born son in an Alabama maternity home, she was once again giving birth, this time at her family’s home in Florida, unmedicated, untended and unseen. She had tried to bring on a miscarriage by throwing herself down the front stairs, drinking a bottle of castor oil, soaking in the hottest baths she could stand. She even tried to commit suicide by driving her car too fast on a hairpin turn but realized even death would not erase her shame.

After losing her second son to adoption, Leslie felt herself split in two. The shame-filled girl who couldn’t look anyone in the eye stayed hidden inside, frozen in time. The girl on the outside transferred to the University of Georgia in 1967 to study social work. There, she learned the only way to keep the pain at bay was to work longer hours and aim higher than anyone else.

After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in social work in 1969, Leslie moved to Atlanta and was hired by Families First, one of the biggest social service agencies in town, which gave her a scholarship to get her masters. She got her degree at Tulane and returned to Atlanta to work as a licensed clinical social worker.

This is how her story begins. You can read the entire story at my link.

Kept In The Dark

It’s hard to believe that adoptive parents agreeing to an open adoption would do this but apparently they will. Today’s story.

I just found out that my bio family was reaching out to me for years giving me gift and letters – which I didn’t receive. I went my whole life feeling rejected by my biological family, so I never searched. In May, I started my search. I found my family and I’m so happy and excited. Only to find out, I was wanted the whole time and my adoption was supposed to be “open.” I’m 27 now and I’m so upset that I went so long feeling like I wasn’t wanted. I feel like I’ve lost so much time with my biological family. I also haven’t told my family that I know this information now. I’m not sure if it’s even worth mentioning, since they were keeping me from them this whole time? I’m meeting my aunt and cousin in a few weeks and I’m so excited.

She adds this – My biological family sent me gifts my whole life and most recently they sent me a letter to reconnect when I turned 21…my adoptive parent just told me about this letter 2 months ago… I didn’t look for them only because I felt rejected by them. Had I known, I would have started looking for them when I turned 18.

One suggestion to this woman was to bring her lifetime’s photo albums. Make copies of the photos to leave with her aunt and cousin. This is an incredibly thoughtful gift in a situation like this. I remember when I met my cousin. We are related through our maternal grandfather. During her afternoon with me, she went through every one of the many photo albums her deceased mother had left her (her mother was my deceased mother’s half-sibling). I used my phone to photograph all of the photos she thought significant enough to tell me something about. By the time the afternoon was over, I felt as though I had lived the decades within this branch of my family that I had missed. Oh, the stories. I wish I had been recording everything she told me !!

From another side of this equation – I’m a birth mom who has tried keeping in contact with my kids (aged 13,12,11 now) within our open adoption but the adoptive parents haven’t ever followed their own guidelines that we agreed to, even from year one. There has been 0 responses from them in 3 years period. I still write every month and have asked how to send gifts and such with no reply. Your story makes me hopeful that, when the time is right (they turn 18), I’ll be able to reach out and have some sort of relationship with my children. It also makes me sad to realize they might be feeling the same rejection you have, when that is so definitely not the case.

Someone suggested to her that she keep copies of her letters – so they can read her words when there is a reunion.

Here’s another example – a similar thing happened with me and my daughter… They did give her the gifts I sent the few times I could emotionally pull myself together enough to do it. They never, ever sent the photos and letters they were supposed to, unless I hounded the social worker to hound them (clearly an emotionally exhausting and traumatizing effort. To top it off, my daughter was told and still believes that they sent me pictures and letters. Every year, they went through the motions of preparing these things, often with my daughter’s help, but never bothered to mail them to me – Ever.

Some honesty about reunions from an adoptee – Reunion is one of the hardest things I’ve had to navigate as the cognitive dissonance of mixed opposing emotions is a complex beast with no real resolution. Regarding your adoptive family, my advice is do not share with them if you feel you are emotionally not in a place to handle the response. Wait until you can have that difficult conversation whilst keeping yourself safe. This may take some time. (I told mine after the reunion.) I didn’t bring gifts when meeting my biological family, but I did take photos of me at different ages, and a loooong list of questions. The best advice I was given was to start the relationship the way I intend to continue it. Emotional openness and honesty are what I value most, as unmet or misinterpreted expectations can be kryptonite to such new fragile bonds. Remember, it’s your life and they are YOUR family, and we don’t owe anyone else anything.

Another birth mother horror story – I reunited with my son when he was 27. I found out that NONE of the letters I wrote him were forwarded (I can’t say whether it was his adoptive parents, my own mother or the agency at fault). His adoptive parents even disposed of the only gift I was ever able to give him – a small teddy bear that I sent with him to his adoptive home. I was livid when I found out he didn’t have or even recall the teddy bear and texted his adoptive mother myself. I refused to involve our son in this, but we had a semi-open adoption. I got letters and photos for the first 5 years. In those letters, she mentioned the teddy bear often, and the bear was stationed on his dresser in early photos – like it was important. Now, she recalls none of this, and even when I sent her the picture as a “reminder,” she gaslighted the entire exchange. I tried to reach out a few times after that, as it seemed important to our son, but eventually got brushed off enough that I gave up. She really made it evident that I wasn’t worth her time, even though I met her for dinner once thinking that it would be a good thing for our son. In retrospect, it was just a 3 hour grilling session to gauge my intentions and the dynamics between me and our son since our reunion. I would say tread cautiously and remember that there may be many people playing puppet with your truths. I will never know who decided that my son wouldn’t get my letters. I was a minor and trusted my mother to forward them to the agency, as they played middle man. I often wonder if my mother actually did. Were my letters screened like an inmate and deemed inappropriate. (I wasn’t the typical rainbow birthmom…I expressed my grief, love and regret often). Did these letter ever make it to their final destination, at which point the adoptive mother nixed them? I’ll never know, just as you may never know. I’ve accepted that I will never know the entire truth as to why my letters never reached him.

Another reunion story from an adoptee – I reunited with my Dad’s family when I was about 28/29. I brought things because I was traveling. I found out that I was wanted by his family and it’s a lot to unpack. Give yourself grace. I would say tell your adoptive family but maybe give yourself some time to process everything you want to say, so you can be in a safe place emotionally to handle their reactions. If they don’t react well, you will be strong enough in that moment to respond however you need to.

From a perspective of fairness, I will add this one from an adoptive parent – I want to be able to do better as an adoptive mom and not cause our child this pain some day. I want this child to have a connection with her roots and biological family but how can we get to a place were we can feel relaxed about the safety of this child and all the trauma she has already endured from her biological family? Her mom just asked to be able to write letters but I haven’t given her an answer, all I can think about is – all the emotions that will be stirred up and all the trauma and feelings this child has had to endure through 5 years of therapy. How can we allow this child to have contact with her biological family, when the fear is so big that she will be hurt again?

And the response to that one ?

Know your place and it isn’t first! As an adoptee I can tell you – iF my adoptive parents had hid ONE thing about my adoption EVER, no matter how much I loved them, I would have removed them from my life! As a adoptive parent, it’s not your job to be a savior, decide what information you wish to share or not share. You cannot love away an adoptee’s trauma, pain, and hurt! We adoptees all have first families and need age appropriate knowledge. I counted, in your one paragraph post the words“ I, my, we” used nine times. Nine! Biological family and roots was used four times. And not once in a positive manner!! Repeat not once did you say anything positive about your daughter’s DNA family. Mom was used once and her wishes you’ve tossed to the curb. Then you used “our daughter.” NO, she came from someone else’s body, sperm, and DNA. Your savior complex is screaming loud and clear. Now please understand I am also a biological mother and an adoptive mother and your way of thinking is wrong. You need to read The Primal Wound, The Body Keeps Score, and Being Adopted, the Lifelong Search for Self. They are not easy reads but you are now raising an adoptee. You need to unpack everything you believe about adoption, understand your fears and fragile thoughts come from being a second mother, and no, an adoptive parent is NEVER a savior.

 

A Different System

A women who lives in Germany and hopes to adopt, shares how their system is different than the one in the United States where I live. She mentions that her father is adopted and that she is half American/half German.

The German system is totally different when compared to the US. There are no adoption agencies, everything goes through child services and you can’t “pick” a child, nor are you allowed to talk to the birth parents and make a deal with them. In order to adopt here, you have to go through about a year full of different evaluations.

First they come to do a house inspection, you have to prove your income and debts. Then, you have very intense sessions with the social workers where you share your childhood experiences and upbringing, explain why you want to adopt and whether you’ve resolved the reason you don’t already have children or have grieved about any infertility or lost children.

After that, you have a 2 day workshop with a psychiatrist, who must clear you as fit to adopt. You also have to be cleared by your doctor, to determine whether you have any type of mental or physical illness that would make you unfit to adopt or foster, as well as anything of concern that might cause an early death (ie cancer, etc).

After going through all of that, there is another house visit is made to check whether anything has changed. Then, if you make it that far, you get the ok from child services and are on an adoption list.

If a child is put up for adoption, child services goes through the list and chooses the best couple for the child. Fully open adoption are very uncommon in Germany but the birth parents can change their decision during the first year of surrendering their child.

One commenter noted – Sounds like Germany puts effort into vetting and preparing hopeful adoptive parents but do they put effort into maintaining family unit, family preservation, and supporting parents in crisis pregnancies to keep and parent their child ?

One wrote – I do applaud moms having a year to change their mind and get their child back. Is it actually that simple or does a judge have to approve in best interest case?

This was the reply – In Germany, child services does take a look at the mom to see if she is stable enough to take the child back. Germany has great ways of helping – so if she wants it, she will definitely get the help she needs. The main goal is to always keep the children with their birthparents and if not, at least in the family, if at all possible.

Someone else inquired – You don’t mention how the child came to be available for adoption. Where do the adoptable kids come from? Once adopted, are they issued fake birth certificates with the adoptive parents names listed?

The answer – there are different ways: there are “drop boxes” in hospitals. If a mother has her baby at home, she can take her baby to the drop box. The baby is put up for adoption after an 8 week waiting period, to see if the mother comes back to claim the child. If she comes back up, after the 8 weeks or within a year, the adoption will be reversed. The second option is that she has the baby in the hospital and uses a fake/anonymous name, then the hospital contacts child services, who will try to talk her into keeping her baby, but if she doesn’t want to. then the 1 year stage also starts. And the third option is that a pregnant woman goes directly to child services and says she wants to put her unborn child up for adoption. If she remains consistent in that desire, she can have a say in the type of adoptive parents she wants for her child. She is allowed to meet them in person but no personal information is exchanged – no last names, no addresses.

In Germany, once the child is officially adopted in court, the birth certificate is changed. The mother can leave her name and an address for the child to be given when the child reaches the age of 16. This is entirely the birth mother’s choice to do or not. The birth father also has the 1 year right to make a claim. In some cases, if the adoption is already finalized, he may only receive visitation rights but in some other cases, the adoption is reversed and the father receives custody of the child. A judge makes that decision based on the child’s welfare and the father’s life. 

There is a law in Germany that child services remains in contact with the family until the adopted child’s 18th birthday. The child always knows they were adopted and that fact is not kept secret.

It is noted that –  the German adoption system will not lessen or alleviate adoptee separation trauma any more than the US system. All adoptees should deeply process all aspects of their adoption and realize whatever negative impacts they may be affected by. This is described as absolutely life changing and a gift by those adoptees who have. It does appear that adoption is not nearly as common in Germany as it is not the multi-billion dollar industry there that it is in the United States.

Chosen ? Special ? Really ?

In my adoption group, one woman wrote –

How are adoptees “chosen” and “special” and “soooo wanted” when hopeful adoptive parents would literally pick ANY baby under the sun?

Partially prompted by A Million Little Things when their adoption agency offers a replacement baby the *same day* they learn the natural mom they had bought decided to parent.

I only watched one episode. The natural mom decides to keep her baby, hopeful adoptive parents are upset, next thing the adoption agency calls saying another woman is in labor and they got “bumped to the front of the line” which sounds like a McDonald’s drive-through lane that dispenses babies. Thankfully, the woman says no… for that episode…

This same woman goes on to explain –

I’m French and was relinquished at birth. I went to an orphanage, for 2 months the birth mom has the right to come back for her baby, and nothing can happen, then legal initiates. I was legally free around 6 months by then they put me in a family that had paid $0 (adoption is always free) and vetted by social services for months.

Now they provide even more help for birth moms to parent, so the number of babies like me is only 700 per year, which discourages adoption as a way around fertility. That would be around 3,500 babies for the whole US, 50 per state.

And instead of foster homes we have a paid social worker taking kids in his home with a stipend on top of salary going to the kid’s needs. It doesn’t prevent hopeful adoptive parents from shopping for a kid abroad and is far from perfect but there is no commercialization of domestic babies, and even surrogacy is illegal.

An adoptive parent shared her perspective –

I am an adoptive parent that is still constantly learning and working through my own insecurities, I believe it all stems from the “meant to be” or “God’s plan” narrative that many/most adoptive parents feed into.

Like any disrupted match (in the eyes of the adoptive parent) is just not the child God has waiting for you. The one that worked out was the one all along. When one really thinks about it, it’s like the adoptee stated – any baby will do and becomes “chosen”. This group has helped me see the issues and concerns with this way of thinking. I am still always reading and learning though.

Another adoptee added –

As an adoptee I never felt chosen or special I felt sadness and confusion. When we were forced to adopt our foster baby we didn’t do any celebration and we didn’t announce it on Facebook etc. we didn’t start a Go Fund Me or beg for money on TikTok or share his journey. Only immediate family know.

Thank god it’s an open adoption and for the first year it was much like a divorced couple but the last year since his mom got married and has a new baby, visits and time with her have been less and less – at her request. My hope is once she settles into a new normal, she will spend more time with him. But I’ve never used those words with him.

And this came from South Africa –

I totally agree an adopted child should never be burdened with the “chosen”, “special” etc narrative. I had a domestic infant adoption with a private social worker. At the time I adopted, I tried to make sure I did NOT “choose” a specific child. The first child I was matched with luckily went home with his aunt. I was so happy for that child.

I was then matched with a different child, and again I tried to keep my heart from attaching to this specific child, in case his parents were able to parent. I was trying to keep in mind that what is best for the child is their family. I felt I was trying to offer a home for a child who needed it, and not attach and try to hold on to a child that could go to their family.

So many hopeful adoptive parents mourn the parents changing their mind – but surely that is the ideal situation.

Finally, this question – what birth mother actually doesn’t “want” her baby?

And this response – they exist but they are FEW and FAR between. The narrative of the droves and droves of unwanted babies in the US that are languishing away for help really burns me. (And I was one of those few, actual unwanted babies).

So what do adoptees actually feel ? We are not chosen. Quite the opposite. We’re discarded.