Regret from a Birth Father

Why I relinquished a son to adoption,
and why I never would again
~ Ridghaus

Today’s blog is thanks to a sharing by Amber Moore Jimerson. You can read the full, original story there. I have edited and condensed it for this blog.

One of the biggest mistakes I ever made was relinquishing my son to an adoptive couple. I would not find the words for the feelings surrounding my decision, until I experienced more life, had other children, left Evangelicalism, and discovered my own adoption story.

I had taken a job working for a Christian church in a neighboring state. Then, I received a phone call from Angie, my ex-fiancé’s best friend: “Becky is pregnant.” So, I left the job and returned to Becky in Kansas with hopes of reconciliation. Growing up in an abusive, alcoholic family, I wanted something better than I had, something more stable. I wanted to give our child a chance at the happiness neither of us had growing up. Despite a sincere effort, I couldn’t stay in the relationship, even for the benefit of this unborn child. After a month, we broke up again.

Back at my home church, the youth pastor’s wife contacted us to say that her sister, Colleen, and husband Brian, were looking to adopt. Colleen brought a hopefulness edged with caution; she’d experienced several miscarriages and a couple of adoption attempts which fell through. That first meeting and subsequent meetings went well, and we felt moderately comfortable about them raising our child.

I chose adoption because God could redeem our “sin” as joy for this stable couple. I chose adoption because they paid the medical bills. I chose adoption for a clean slate. Except, over time, I learned there is no clean slate. A couple wants to experience parenthood, and they will look into the eyes of the crisis couple and convince them to relinquish their child because parenting is tough. “Please give your child to us because we want one, and it will be too difficult for you.” Separation creates trauma, and trauma rewires the brain.

Brian left Christian ministry and the family when his adopted son Zach turned 11. A stable family is only a momentary snapshot. Brian leaving couldn’t be anticipated, but nevertheless that negated a reason I chose to give him up.

The clincher – when Zach turned sixteen, I found out that I had been adopted. It turned out to be unexpectedly important to meet my own biological family. My mother’s voice sounded like a song I’d always known and never heard. Watching my father shift tools easily from right to left and back to right handedness brought to mind a moment when I was 11 and my adoptive father asked, “how do you do that?” I had no idea that what I’d done was unusual.

I was reminded of a line from Ron Nydam’s book “Adoptees Come of Age” – “Adoptees are always re-creating the circumstances of their relinquishment.” My biological identity is a part of my identity, one part among others, and its importance to me took place by affirming that I came from somewhere, from someone, who did things kinda like I did them and who looked a bit like me.

Early spring 2011 when Zach turned 21, I asked him, “If you’ve ever wondered the question as to whether I’d do it again, I wouldn’t.” Zach replied, “I think I’ve always wanted to know, but I couldn’t find the words to ask.”

I chose to relinquish my first son into adoption over temporary pressures, largely financial, some cultural, Christian mindsets and expectations, and a general concern I wouldn’t be able to escape the poor parenting models I received. The backward glance has greater clarity.

I have told my children that if any of them were ever in my previous situation of facing an unplanned pregnancy, I’d want them to come to me. He had relinquished a son at age 19, and then later, at the age of 35, learned that he himself had been relinquished and adopted. He would want his children to tell him. He would tell them that they have his complete support and that he’d never let them adopt away one of their own children.

The Damage Done By Addiction

It is a personal issue for me but people do sometimes recover. Just this morning I was reading an article by a woman who admitted the difficulty of recovering from the trauma of her past and four addictions. Today’s story –

I am a foster parent and have a one year old child in my home who I have had since she left the hospital. I have a good relationship with her parents, I think about as good as can be expected in this situation. We text frequently, exchange pictures, arrange visits outside of the court-mandated ones. They love her endlessly but are deep into struggles with addiction. Both have had a few stints where they go to treatment for a day or two (so, there does not appear to be a barrier with access to treatment) but do not stick with it. Addiction has been a long-time struggle for both parents.

Her case is very much still open and I am still trying to help them into treatment. But, it’s to the point where the department is asking about permanent placement options. The child has a relative (I think mom’s second cousin, not positive on the exact relationship) who lives about three hours away and is not in contact with the rest of the first family. Relative has said she would adopt if needed, but didn’t want to be the first choice. Parents were asked who they would want to adopt and they said me. I had not talked to them about this and didn’t know it was being asked, so I don’t think they felt pressured. If we get to that point, I would try to facilitate a relationship that’s beyond “open” – i.e., I would invite them to her activities and holidays and would support them seeing her with gas cards and paying for activities and the like. I know many open adoptions end up closed, but to the extent that you can believe an internet stranger, please try to believe that I would not do that.

She also has four half siblings and cousins, aunts, uncles, grandparents (none placement options, unfortunately) in the area where I/her parents live. Under these circumstances, what’s the “best” placement option? (Understanding that the actual best option is with her parents). I’m a foster parent who yells at other foster parents about interfering with kin placements, but it seems like parents should get a say here. How does one weigh the benefits of living with a member of your first family vs living outside of your family but having the option to see them regularly? (I know guardianship would be preferable, but the department won’t do that – so, the options are adoption or not adoption for this case).

First of all, straight up, I would NOT want to go to a relative that didn’t want me.

One response seems realistic to me as well – I would adopt if left no other legal choice. If you do allow her parents to see her when they are able, then I think ultimately it’s what best for the girl, if her parents can’t find their way out of addiction and the state is pushing the issue. A similar response from an adoptee was –  If I was the little one in question, and guardianship was not an option, I would want you to adopt me over the distant relative and keep me in contact with my close family. The deciding factor, for me, is that the distant cousin doesn’t want to be the first option, and that is bound to come across to the adoptee, especially if times get tough when they are older. It’s hard enough to know that your biological parents didn’t want to/couldn’t raise you, but when you start getting the same message from multiple sources, it can really compound the trauma.

Someone else writes – Considering the addiction issues, this child needs a home. If there was NO other option but you vs the cousin, I’d prefer you because you live near her family/parents. But, closing this child off from her family at anytime and getting all “she’s MINE” – no, nope, nada. Being a supportive and caring adoptive mom with the child’s mental and psychological health front and center – providing therapy as needed throughout this child life for issues that will pop up – remembering always that you are not this child’s mother….period. I can be on board for you to provide a stable home for this child.

Finally this from a voice of experience – I was adopted at the age of 9. Both of my parents are addicts. My adoptive parents said they would never keep me from my family. True to their word, they didn’t. When my mom was clean and I asked to go back and live with her, they let me. Even paid my mom child support that wasn’t mandated, just to help out. She relapsed and my adoptive dad actually gave me the choice to stay in foster care and finish high school or for him to come and pick me up, since legally he was my parent. I chose to stay in high school in order to stay near my siblings, instead of moving across the country. If you are really going to keep it open, with access to the child’s family, I would say you are the better option than a long distance blood relative who doesn’t speak to the family. I just hope that you always give her parents grace and don’t cut off communication when you are mad. Especially if the child wants to keep that communication open.

When Something Doesn’t Feel Right

From Slate.com’s Dear Prudence.

Titled – Help! I Think the Kids We’re About to Adopt Are Being Wrongfully Taken From Their Family.

Subtitled – The parents may be incarcerated, but the extended family seems totally qualified to raise them.

My husband and I (both white men) decided to become foster parents several years ago, with the ultimate goal of eventually adopting. We took the classes and our first placement came to us in September 2020, during the pandemic. In my estimation, we have done an excellent job with the day-to-day, but something has come up that I’m at a loss about. I’ll try to be brief.

In short, the agency has decided that the children’s extended family (they are two siblings, both parents are incarcerated for unknown “drug-related” reasons) is ill-equipped to care for them, despite owning a home, seeming to have a stable income, and already having raised two children previously. They have asked us to step in and proceed with a full adoption. My husband wants to do this as he has always wanted children, and these two are pretty awesome. I am very hung up on a number of things that can be boiled down to: I feel like we are stealing someone else’s kids. We don’t know (and the agency won’t say, for “privacy” reasons) why the parents are incarcerated, and we don’t know why the extended family has been ruled out and denied custody (they really seem fine, stable, nice, and they are interested in the kids), also for “privacy” reasons.

This seems insane to me. What if the parents are in jail for possession, or some other goofy crime that God knows I’ve committed 8,000 times myself (in bygone years)? What if the extended family is perfectly fine but has been precluded due to some bureaucratic nonsense issue like lacking paperwork? We live in a large urban area and the foster system is known, according to them, for its diligence, but this still feels icky. Both our families are pro the adoption, and I’m the only one pointing out red flags. They think it’s because I’m not “fully committed” to the idea of adoption or having kids, but I can tell you I’ve been agonizing over this and can’t get past the lack of data we have on how the kids have come to this point. They are Latinx kids caught up in foster care and the carceral state. Am I overthinking this? Should we trust the agency’s process? What should I do?

I don’t entirely agree with Prudence’s response – but here it is.

I think your concerns are very, very real and very thoughtful. But the thing is, they are about the system, not about this one adoption. Declining to move forward won’t free your kids from that system and all of its problems—it will (as far as I know; hopefully a reader will correct me if I’m off base here) simply lead to them being placed with another family that may or may not be as loving and sensitive as you are.

I think you should do it, and make it a priority to give the kids as much contact as possible with their family of origin, and as much reassurance as possible that they are not terrible people. So no, you’re not overthinking it at all. You are thinking about it the perfect amount. And I have a feeling you’ll put the same amount of thought into all the future aspects of raising Latinx kids and the many complicated issues that come with being an adoptive parent.