What Would You Expect Me To Do?

Overheard somewhere in America – “What are people supposed to do who can’t have kids biologically? Suffer and never adopt a baby?”

Uh, yes, that is not a reason to adopt. They should go to therapy and learn to manage their grief. Then, they will not be suffering anymore.

Your infertility isn’t an excuse to cause another human trauma and grief. You should find a way to pour your desire into kids without taking them away from their parents.

Adopt a dog or other pet if you want to love and take care of something.

DWI – Deal With It.

Figure out who you are without kids. Plenty of people don’t procreate. Find other things to enjoy. Travel. Etc. 

Understand that a baby, yours or someone else’s, isn’t the solution to your problems.

This societal narrative that people have to have kids to be fulfilled needs to change. There are infinite ways one can find fulfillment!

Wanting a child is a natural desire. But taking a child away from the biological mother and brushing away its name and environment is trauma. Adoption is not an option.

The beginning and end of you as a person doesn’t come down to your reproductive organs. 

Society as a whole needs to unpack the stigma around not having children. For EVERYONE, including fertile people who simply don’t want to procreate, including people who wanted kids but couldn’t have them. We shouldn’t attach so much grief to not having children. You don’t have kids? Find another purpose. Find other passions.

There are the parents who say you’re selfish for not giving them grandchildren. The random strangers in public saying you make such a cute couple. 

Literally – no one has ever died because they didn’t have a child. If your happiness is dependent on another person or on that baby you wish you could have, that’s a major problem. No one else can truly bring you happiness, you have to find that within your own self. Your self worth is not determined by others. If you think it is, that’s not mentally or emotionally healthy.

This really comes down to the mythical elevation of the 2 parent nuclear family with children as the only acceptable family structure and the breakdown of the village/extended family connections. We need to make room for everyone at the table, special friends, aunties, uncles, cousins. The next deeper question is, if I am not part of a family unit with children, what is my place in society? Do I get to be part of a family? That’s real inclusiveness.

Parenting is not a right.

Adoptees Deserve Better

Steve Inskeep, is a co-host of NPR’s “Morning Edition” and “Up First.” He is an adoptee and an adoptive father. He penned an op-ed in the New York Times recently titled For 50 Years, I Was Denied the Story of My Birth. I share excerpts below.

In 1968, a woman appeared for an interview at the Children’s Bureau, an adoption agency in Indianapolis. She was in her 20s and alone. A caseworker noted her name, which I am withholding for reasons that will become apparent, and her appearance: She was “a very attractive, sweet looking girl,” who seemed “to come from a good background” and was “intelligent.” She had “blue eyes and rather blonde hair,” though the woman said her hair was getting darker over time, like that of her parents.

Her reason for coming was obvious. She was around 40 weeks pregnant. She told a story that the caseworker wrote down and filed in a cabinet, where it would rest for decades unseen. The expectant mother said she had grown up in Eastern Kentucky’s mountains, then migrated north as a teenager to find work after her father died. She was an office worker in Ohio when she became pregnant by a man who wasn’t going to marry her. The most remarkable part of her story was this: When she knew she was about to give birth, she drove westward out of Ohio, stopping at Indianapolis only because it was the first big city she encountered. She checked into a motel and found an obstetrician, who took one look and sent her to the Children’s Bureau. She arranged to place the baby for adoption and gave birth the next day.

The baby was me. Life is a journey, and I was born on a road trip. I spent 10 days in foster care before being adopted by my parents, Roland and Judith Inskeep, who deserve credit if I do any small good in the world.

In recent decades, open adoption has been replacing closed and sealed adoptions. The rules governing past adoptions change slowly. Mr Inskeep was not allowed to see his birth records. Everything he has shared about his biological parents was unknown to him growing up. He says, “They were such a blank, I could not even imagine what they might be like.”

His adopted daughter is from China, and like many international adoptees, she also had no story of her biological family. A social worker suggested to him that his adopted daughter might want to know his own adoption story someday. So I requested my records from the State of Indiana and was denied. Next I called the Children’s Bureau, where a kind woman on the phone had my records in her hands, but was not allowed to share them.

In 2018, the law in Indiana changed. Many adoptees or biological families may now obtain records unless another party to the adoption previously objected. In 2019 the state and the Children’s Bureau sent me documents that gave my biological mother’s name, left my biological father’s name blank and labeled me “illegitimate.” On a hospital form someone had taken my right footprint, with my biological mother’s right thumbprint below it on the page.

I saw something similar on my mom’s adoption file records. Tennessee had changed the law in the late 1990s for the victims of the Georgia Tann scandal only, sometime after they denied my mom but no one ever told her. My cousin told me she got her dad’s file (he was also adopted from The Tennessee Children’s Home) after my dad died in 2016 and that is why I now have the file my mom was denied on flimsy reasoning (her dad, who was 20 years old than her mom could not be proven to have died, though her mom had died and the state of Tennessee didn’t really try very hard).

Mr Inskeep writes – It’s been nearly two years since I first read those documents, and I’m still not over it. Knowing that story has altered how I think about myself, and the seemingly simple question of where I’m from. It’s brought on a feeling of revelation, and also of anger. I’m not upset with my biological mother; it was moving to learn how she managed her predicament alone. Her decisions left me with the family that I needed — that I love. Nor am I unhappy with the Children’s Bureau, which did its duty by preserving my records. I am angry that for 50 years, my state denied me the story of how I came to live on this earth. Strangers hid part of me from myself.

2% of US residents — roughly six million people — are adoptees. A majority were adopted domestically, with records frequently sealed, especially for older adoptees. Only nine states allow adoptees unrestricted access to birth records. Indiana is among those that have begun to allow it under certain conditions, while 19 states and the District of Columbia still permit nothing without a court order (I came up against this in Virginia). Also California, when my dad was born, I could get nothing out of them. Florida also remains closed.

This spring, more than a dozen states are considering legislation for greater openness. Bills in Florida, Texas and Maryland would ensure every adoptee’s access to pre-adoption birth records. Proposals in other states, like Arizona, would affirm the rights of some adoptees but not others. The legislation is driven by activists who have lobbied state by state for decades. Many insist on equality: All adoptees have a right to the same records as everyone else.

Equality would end an information blackout that robs people of identity and more. Mr Inskeep notes what my mom (an adoptee) often said to me – “I was never able to tell a doctor my family medical history when asked.” For that matter, until I learned who my original grandparents were from 2017 into 2018, I didn’t know mine either because BOTH of my parents were adoptees.

Closed adoption began as “confidential” adoption in the early 20th century, enabling parents and children to avoid the stigma of illegitimacy. Records were sealed to all but people directly involved. In a further step, by midcentury, even parties to the adoption were cut out. Agencies offered adoptive parents a chance to raise children without fear of intrusion by biological parents, and biological parents a chance to start over.

Access to information about one’s genetic background, heritage, and ancestry is a birthright denied only to adoptees. An adoptee is expected to honor a contract made over his or her body and without his or her consent.

Glitter Birthmoms

This is a new term for me this morning but I will admit I struggle with this now. At one time, I wouldn’t have but I have learned too much related to all things adoption to go along with the denial or self soothing perspectives that the adoption industry puts forth and way too many mothers who surrender a baby to adoption absorb and then believe it. These birthmoms speak about adoption as some win/win scenario.

Someone asked the obvious question – What are glitter birth moms? And here was the response – Someone who is glad they adopted out their child and doesn’t regret it.

One woman talked about the ones she sees that are proudly proclaiming their child is in a closed adoption for their own “privacy” but are also Extremely Online, using their full name and photo, IDing themselves as biological moms. Uh, that’s not really how privacy works but they’ll find that out when the adoptee does DNA and matches with close relatives. (And this does happen increasingly these days – in fact DNA and matching has revealed to me my adoptee parents’ – both were – genetic families).

Just recently, I saw one like this from a Christian agency and the woman has gone into counseling unwed mothers to surrender after getting a degree in some social work area. I just couldn’t . . . Here is how someone describes a similar situation – The ones whose stories adoption agencies/adoptive parents trot out in adoption circles to reinforce the narratives they want. They usually talk about how young they were or what obstacles they had, how they picked the adoptive parents (blogger’s note – and I actually supported my youngest sister during a pregnancy where she sent me the profiles to give her a second opinion but that was before I learned all I have learned), what wonderful people the adoptive parents are, how they have thrived since then, sometimes how their child is doing, and saying they know they “made the right decision.” They paint adoption as “giving my child a better life than I could offer.” All of this is very typical.

One adoptee said about such women – my guess is denial and a way to deal with guilt, they can safely live in the fog. I hate the way adoption is always about the parents, adopted or biological.

Another adoptee shares this –

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I don’t **know** this is how my birth mom is for a fact… but at least on the surface she fits the bill on
paper;

She had me at 16, before her 17th birthday

& Because she placed me for adoption

(and that she escaped the stigma,
as she didn’t show and no one knew she was pregnant)

She was able to easily graduate high school

Get her bachelor degree

Married the “love of her life”

And have two well behaved sons at the appropriate time deemed by society

She is a pillar of her community, a kindergarten teacher

She is head of PTA and very active at fighting for kids rights and services in her community (ironically)

It hurts more because I was always
fed the narrative “she did this for me” “she wanted you to have a better life”

No.

It was always about her

She wanted a better life

She wanted to escape stigma

It was never about me

Another adoptee shares – My “unfit” biological parents both went on to have more children and raised them in stable, loving families, unlike the adoptive one I got. Like we always say, placing your child or adoption is a permanent solution to a temporary problem and nothing to be proud of. My biological parents can insist they did it out of love for me all they want but all I would ever hear is “we couldn’t be bothered to get our shit together in time to keep you in the family but look at all these lucky siblings we did do that for!”

And this was an important piece of advice – Please don’t start framing adoptees as either having a “negative experience” or “bitter and abandoned.” This will only silence your child and make them feel they cannot share complex feelings. The best thing I ever did for my daughter was tell her she had every right to feel however she wants over a situation she had no control or say over. Its quite possible for adoptees to love their parents but find parts of their adoption traumatic or challenging. For Example my daughter mourns not growing up with her siblings I get to raise. That doesn’t make her bitter or negative – its a completely normal response to an abnormal situation.

Someone shares this, which I alluded to above about a Christian agency – There are glitter birth moms who make a career out of it, by becoming an “adoption professional” and are paid by agencies to speak at events, promote adoption to other expectant mothers, etc. I follow them closely. It has a two fold impact – not only is the birth Mum able to turn their relinquishment into an income stream but it continually reinforces to them that they made the right choice. And this is far easier to live with than being open to considering the alternative. I have seen one of them do a complete change – she was actually featured in national articles supporting adoption. I’m not exactly sure what happened – whether the openness reduced, the reality of what she had done started to sink in as her child got older, however I have seen her talk about how her she has really struggled with her mental health. She hasn’t come out and owned her past but I have seen her commenting against adoption now.

And this very honest assessment that has some balance integrated into it – I don’t know if I’m considered a glitter birth mom, I don’t regret placing my daughter given the circumstances of my life at that time and the circumstances of her current life. However, I wouldn’t preach that it’s the greatest thing ever either. I just feel it was the best choice out of the ones I had at that time. I didn’t do it all for her, yes she was definitely a consideration but I’ll admit my choice was selfish too.

That’s part of why when I see women being praised when they are considering adoption that it irks me so much. It’s not selfless and brave and giving some couple a chance at parenthood. It’s hard, and emotional and traumatic for everyone and people don’t want to hear that. My daughter is 9 and it breaks my heart a little. She told me she never wants to be pregnant and have biological children. She wants to adopt children like she was and I wonder if this is her way of reacting to her trauma. I see her often, I’m pregnant with her little brother and first biological sibling, and she’s so in love with him but I worry how she’ll feel when he’s here, the relationship that they could have had, if she hadn’t been placed.

Lastly, in the realm of Welfare Queens exploiting a system, I need to include this sadly misguided perspective on it all – There is a glitter birthmom in my life. She was a former foster youth who aged out and has been having children since then. Her oldest is 24 and she is pregnant with #12? now. She has raised none and actually believes she is doing good by giving infertile families babies and encourages her biological children to do the same with her own grand babies.  I believe it is a survival narrative. She knows how to get housing and WIC and medical care and all sorts of benefits. She does not see the impact of her decisions on her children – even those who have been vocal with her about it. And the trauma of knowing they have siblings all over the country that they may never meet. It is a sad cycle being repeated by the next generation.

Intentionally Creating an Adoptee

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

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

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

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

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

Another woman, a mom who lost her child writes –

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

Yet another mother who lost her child adds –

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

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

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

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

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

Misunderstood

Suddenly, friends and family have discovered what I have been writing about daily for over a year and they are understandably confused.  I would not have understood before about two years ago myself.  Both of my parents were adopted and so adoption was the most natural thing in the world to me.  Both of my sisters gave up children to adoption.  What I can say is that ignorance is bliss.

But for adoption I would not exist and I never forget that.  But for adoption my mother would have grown up in abject poverty instead of the privileges of wealth as the child of a banker and socialite.  My husband has said that my story could be viewed as pro-adoption and that is the truth.

Even so, I cannot ignore the many voices of adoptees and the original mothers who have suffered because adoption carries with it inherent wounds and that is what I tend to try and explain in this blog.

Even so, today I read a heartwarming story.  I am sympathetic to the pain of infertility.  I do believe that couples who have struggled with that really DO need to seek counseling before adopting any child.

Back to that heartwarming story.  A couple was traveling on an airplane with their 8 day old adopted daughter.  The mother have given birth in Colorado.  It had been nine long years of fertility treatments, miscarriages and adoption stress for this couple.

A flight attendant announced that he’d be passing out napkins and pens for anyone who wanted to jot down a message for the new parents. The cabin erupted into cheers and applause. A steady stream of people came by to coo and congratulate the couple.

One of the napkins read: “I was adopted 64 years ago. Thank you for giving this child a loving family to be part of. Us adopted kids need a little extra love. Congratulations.”  YES, some adoptees are truly grateful and I do not doubt that but I pause on that thought “adopted kids need a little extra love.”  Hmmmm.

The flight attendants explained to the couple that they are married, and a fellow flight attendant had done this for them while they were on their honeymoon. They wanted to pay it forward.

The new father shared, “Adoption is wild with uncertainty.  You wonder, is this birth mother going to choose us? What happens if she changes her mind, if she backs out?”  The overwhelming support the couple felt during that plane trip was also a time when they were worried that their daughter might somehow be stigmatized.

Southwest Airlines released a statement saying, in part, that the crew showed “kindness and heart” on that flight.  Common kindness always matters.  I actually do care about every part of the adoption triad.  Just saying.

Stigma Isn’t The Issue

If I had never learned about the trauma of separating a mother from the baby she has carried in her womb, I would have more support for surrogacy.  Because I have learned about this (as part of my own journey coming to terms with all of the adoptions that are part of my immediate family’s experiences) I cannot condone it.

A woman recently posted a very compelling op-ed to The Washington Post about why surrogacy became necessary for her.  First of all, she does have a child.  She writes that she is a genetic carrier of HY-restricting HLA class II alleles and goes on to explain that this means her son’s Y chromosome lingers and attacks all subsequent pregnancies. In essence, she had this small genetic component and she gave birth to a boy.  From then on, her odds of successfully carrying another child became slim to none. Her husband and she found they could create an embryo, but her body could not carry it. So the couple started down the rabbit hole of surrogacy.

My own sister-in-law did eventually become a parent by surrogacy.  I am happy for my brother-in-law that he has a son.  I also know there is a deep subconscious issue that they are unlikely aware of.  In our family, we were not supportive of this couple becoming parents because the woman always was a basketcase full of all kinds of psychotropic drugs.  They also acted as though creating a child was simply creating another possession and intended to have a nanny after the baby was born.  And they did but she didn’t last long and my brother-in-law has ended up the primary caregiver for this young boy.

A developing fetus is constantly bonding with the mother in who’s womb the infant is growing.  That bonding process continues after birth for months/years into the young child’s life.  The case described in this op-ed is of a surrogate who is carrying twins for this couple.  There is a definite bond between twins and multiples.  Maybe that will help but will not entirely remove the wounds of losing their gestational mother.

One can argue that genes matter and I know this.  I assume the soon to be parents do have a genetic connection to these twins based on other details in the op-ed.  However, there is more to this situation than genes alone.

I do not wish any child to be stigmatized because of the details of their conception.  I have a lot of personal compassion for that issue.  This woman admits that surrogacy is more political than she realized but I know she still doesn’t realize the full import of their choice.  She admits to knowing that there is an array of advocates trying to end surrogacy on a national level.  I understand why.

Abandoned Over A Pregnancy

This happened to my maternal grandmother.  For whatever reason, she was abandoned by her lawful husband (my mom’s father) and she was abandoned by her own father.

Despite the joy that usually accompanies a pregnancy, it is one of the most stressful life events.  If a pregnancy is unexpected or unwanted, the stress compounds.

When the person coming to grips with this surprising change is then abandoned by her support system (parents, a lover, a spouse), it’s devastating.  Though either parent could be shunned, the mother typically bears the brunt of the rejection.

The expectant mother may believe some false concepts about herself – what they say about me is true, the baby is the cause of all my trouble, love is temporary and people always leave when times get tough.  Beyond false beliefs are the fears – of being abandoned again, of the judgement of other people, being spiritually condemned or being unable to care for herself and her baby

These mothers may go into denial, acting as though they aren’t pregnant. Some may attempt to hide the pregnancy. In modern times, there is a stigma if the woman chooses a legal abortion. The woman may become emotionally unavailable or wallow in self-pity or blame.  There is the worry about her ability to cope all alone and doubt about her ability to be a mother.

If the mother-to-be has decided not to keep her baby (or after she has relinquished her child), seeing happy couples caring for their baby together will be especially painful.

If this mother is unable to find support, she will realize that she can’t depend on others to help her. If it is a difficult pregnancy, it will compound the challenges.