Also not my personal story. It simply breaks my heart.
I’m a kinship care provider to my nephew and I’m really struggling right now. There is no possibility of him going back to his parents because they both died over this past summer. His mom was my sister. It was a murder/suicide perpetrated by his father and I feel like that’s really relevant to the situation. Which is sort of complex and multifaceted, but I’m just looking for some guidance or opinions. Also I am white, my husband is Puerto Rican, and my nephew is mixed black/white. He just turned 2 at the end of December.
This past week he’s started calling me mom and my husband dad, and we’re both very emotional about it and not sure how to respond. We think it’s started because his friends at daycare all call their parents mom and dad and he hears that all the time. When we show up other kids will also tell him that his mom or dad is here. The teacher always corrects them, but toddlers don’t really get the difference sometimes. Anyways we don’t want to make him feel like we’re rejecting him by correcting him every time, but we also don’t want to erase his parents. My sister and her partner had a very rough relationship with each other, but they were both wonderful parents who loved him with all their hearts. We show him pictures of them, and have them around the house. Whenever he asks about them in the pictures we refer to them as mom/dad. I just don’t know what to do.
The other issue that I’m starting to worry about is him feeling connected to his paternal family. Currently, there is a no contact order in place against one paternal aunt. When everything first happened they couldn’t believe their brother would do it and started threatening me and my husband as well as my mom. I understand the initial shock/trauma response, so I don’t want to hold it against her forever but I’m also not sure if contacting would be safe. I also would text a different paternal aunt at first but she cut contact after the stuff with her sister and no one from that family has reached out to ask about him since. I know I wouldn’t feel comfortable with my nephew staying there alone, at least at first, just because I know several of members of that family were abusive to their own children. I also know that this is a cross racial situation and I want him to feel connected to his culture. I do my best to stay educated, listen to voices of people of color, and be aware of the situations he will face in life, but I will never have the lived experience. As a white woman, I’ll never get how it feels to face racism every day. The closest thing I’ve experienced is the occasional racist mad about my blended family, but even then the color of my skin means I can seek protection much easier than my husband or nephew.
One adoptee confirmed – its totally fine for children to call their permanent caregivers mom and dad even if they aren’t. Let him. You are the acting parents in this situation, and kids (especially kids with a trauma background) need to feel a sense of normalcy in their life. Regarding paternal family connection is important but so is safety. Regarding cultural connection – some of the big ones are going to be immersion in black culture, mirrors in that kiddos life, and making sure that your neighborhood and school has a lot of other black children.
Yesterday, I was stung on my little finger by a Red Wasp. Whether we simply collided or it came after me as I passed by the wooden post that has become nest – through a knot-hole opening into a large hollow space, I do not know. It happened so fast, I never saw it. I only felt the hot iron pain. All I could do was put a couple of ice cubes on it at the time where I was.
It brought back memories of the time when my adoptive maternal grandmother gifted me with a trip to England with her. We were going to attend a 4 week long summer session at the University of Cambridge and it was a lifetime experience that I do not regret. That morning I was stung on my middle finger also by a wasp I never saw. There was no time to do anything about it, even if we would have had some remedy.
My hand became painfully swollen over the time it took to make the transatlantic journey. My grandmother pretended not to notice my suffering and I knew better than to make a issue of it. In my dorm, not even having washcloths and towels yet, I used my socks to make compresses and by dinner time it was bearable. Last night I reflected on how it must have been for my mother growing up with such an emotionally cold woman. I do know that when she died, lots of appreciative comments about her mother came my mom’s way and simple reminders of her perfume on her clothing were bittersweet for my mother. My mom yearned for a reunion with her birth mother but she had died several years before my mom’s effort, which came months before the state of Tennessee changed its own perspectives to allow the adoptees or their descendants to have the adoption files related to the scandalous Georgia Tann. I now have that file that would have brought my mom so much peace. In my own spiritual perspective, I believe she was reunited with her birth mother after death and now knows even more than I do.
In my all things adoption group this morning I read –
I was surprised at how many adoptees truly loved their adoptive moms and were devastated when they died. Is it strange to not seem to feel much of anything? Some days I think I might be sad and then I realize it might just be residual feelings from long ago. I’m so confused and feel so cold.
A soothing comment followed – Know that your feelings, whatever they are, are valid.
The next comment was this – My adoptive mother and I were not close. I loved her, but didn’t much like her.
One honest adoptee admitted – My adoptive mom was an awful person. I only felt relief when she died. Yet another wrote – I won’t grieve, I have no relationship with my adoptive mom or adoptive dad, as cold as it sounds ill feel like a weight will be lifted from my shoulders when they pass. They still think they haven’t done anything wrong and blame me for everything
I could appreciate this perspective – I think how people grieve and process loss depends on their relationship with that person, whether it’s adoptive family, biological family, friend, coworker. If you’re close to someone and love them, you might feel sadness, a sense of loss, emotional pain. If you weren’t close to them, you might not feel much at all. None of these feelings are bad, they’re just a reflection of your relationship to that person. Not missing or grieving someone doesn’t make you any less of a person with emotions.
The original commenter went on to share – It’s sad because I could never connect with her. She had bipolar disorder and always asked me why couldn’t I just love her. She tried to live her life over through me and it seemed to suck the very soul out of me. It’s hard to love someone when it’s only one sided. It’s like we are baby dolls meant to fulfill all their dreams instead of human beings with our own destiny, personality, and dreams to explore.
Another wise perspective was this – I think every relationship is unique and one should always honor whatever they feel, or don’t feel when dealing with death. Try not to compare your experience with loss to others. This also, grieving is different for everyone, and the way you grieve (or seemingly don’t) is valid.
There is this sad story – The last few months of my moms life were difficult. She was difficult (in general). Our relationship was difficult. I had to step in and took over care the last 4 days of moms life. She had a rapid health decline. I didn’t know for sure I was adopted at that point. And I never got that moment. My adoptive mom was a broken person. The Adult Children of Emotionally Immature Parents book helped me see that this year. I’ve been able to see her different and with a kindness that wasn’t there before. We had a hard relationship. And it’s helped me reach some of the grief that I’ve had shoved down inside.
And yet another sad story – My adoptive mom is still alive but I feel absolutely numb towards her. I think it’s the abuse and bullying and constant threat of sending me away as a child. I had one moment once where I felt for her, it was some random moment by myself that made me realize that perhaps underneath the hurt, I did care for her, but I am unable to feel it because of how much she has hurt me.
Another perspective – As adoptees, we have *all* lost our mother, during our formative years. So when my adoptive mother died, I felt that pain of losing a mother again. My adoptive siblings don’t quite understand why I reacted so strongly (and they also don’t realize how deeply her death impacted me, because I never really showed my grief in front of them). They are all her biological children, and also much older than me. So while we all lost our mother, I was losing *another* mother. As adoptees, we have difficult relationships with our adoptive parents, and however you felt is completely understandable.
In 1994, a made for TV movie titled Baby Brokers tells the story of Debbie (how ironic being as how that is my name !!), an LA doctor (played by Cybill Shepherd) wanting to adopt who feels exploited by a couple who had at first seemed willing to sell their child to her but are actually scam artists, exploiting many women. If one didn’t know it is based on a true story, it would seem both strange and strangely perverse. In my all things adoption group, such stories pop up consistently over time. According to the one critic who reviewed this movie – it is “not a terrible movie and to be honest is quite interesting but the impact of it comes from knowing that it is based on a true story and it is then when it comes to life.”
In this week’s Time Magazine (June 7/June 14 issue), there is an article by the same title – The Baby Brokers. The digital version subtitle is “Inside America’s Murky Private-Adoption Industry.” The cover photo of Shyanne Klupp includes these words – “I will never forget the way my heart sank. You have to buy your own baby back almost.” The article notes that the photo was taken on Nov 21 2020, and notes that she regrets placing her child for adoption a little over a decade ago, back in 2010. I see this all the time from birth mothers in my adoption group. The regret. And that is why this group works diligently to support expectant mothers by encouraging them to keep and raise their babies.
Shyanne Klupp was 20 years old and homeless when she met her boyfriend in 2009. Within weeks, the two had married, and within months, she was pregnant. “I was so excited,” says Klupp. Soon, however, she learned that her new husband was facing serious jail time. Poverty and such life circumstances as entanglements with the legal system do cause a significant number of adoptions.
Shyanne reluctantly agreed to start looking into how to place their expected child for adoption. The couple called one of the first results that Google spat out: Adoption Network Law Center (ANLC). Klupp says her initial conversations with ANLC went well; the adoption counselor seemed kind and caring and made her and her husband feel comfortable choosing adoption. ANLC quickly sent them packets of paperwork to fill out, which included questions ranging from personal-health and substance-abuse history to how much money the couple would need for expenses during the pregnancy.
The Time Magazine article notes – In the U.S., an expectant mother has the right to change her mind anytime before birth, and after for a period that varies state by state. While a 2019 bill proposing an explicit federal ban the sale of children failed in Congress, many states have such statutes and the practice is generally considered unlawful throughout the country.
Klupp says she had recurring doubts about her decision. But when she called her ANLC counselor to ask whether keeping the child was an option, she says, “they made me feel like, if I backed out, then the adoptive parents were going to come after me for all the money that they had spent.” That would have been thousands of dollars. She ended up placing her son, and hasn’t seen him since he left the hospital 11 years ago.
At any given time, an estimated 1 million U.S. families are looking to adopt and many of them want an infant. Those who want a baby far exceed the number of available babies available for adoption in the US. Some hopeful parents turn to international adoption. However many countries now limit the number of children they are willing to send out of their country. There’s always an option to adopt from foster care. Usually it is an older child, not an infant. For those with some financial wealth, there is private domestic adoption. That is the route my sister took to find a couple to adopt her baby.
ANLC is a largely unregulated, private-adoption organization located here in the US. The truth is – baby brokering a lucrative business. The problems with private domestic adoption appear to be widespread. The issues range from commission schemes and illegal gag clauses to Craigs List like ads for babies and discount rates for parents willing to adopt babies of another race (known as trans-racial adoption). There is no entity tracking the private adoption rate in the US. A best estimate developed by the Donaldson Adoption Institute in 2006 and a later one created by the National Council for Adoption in 2014 estimate the number of annual nonrelative infant adoptions at roughly 13,000 in 2006 to 18,000 in 2014. Public agencies are involved in only approximately 1,000 of these adoptions. The vast majority of domestic infant adoptions involve the private sector and money drives that exchange.
“It’s a fundamental problem of supply and demand,” says Celeste Liversidge, an adoption attorney in California who would like to see reforms to the current system. The scarcity of available infants, combined with the emotions of desperate adoptive parents and the advent of the Internet, has helped enable for-profit middlemen – from agencies and lawyers to consultants and facilitators – and these charge fees that frequently stretch into the tens of thousands of dollars per case.
“The money’s the problem,” says Adam Pertman, author of Adoption Nation and president of the National Center on Adoption and Permanency. “Anytime you put dollar signs and human beings in the same sentence, you have a recipe for disaster.”
Even though federal tax credits can subsidize private adoptions (as much as $14,300 per child for the adopting parents), there is no federal regulation of the industry. Relevant laws that govern everything from allowable financial support to how birth parents give their consent to an adoption are made at the state level and these vary widely. Some state statutes, for example, cap birth-mother expenses, while others don’t even address the issue. Mississippi allows birth mothers six months to change their mind; in Tennessee, it’s just three days. After the revocation period is over, it’s “too bad, so sad,” says Renee Gelin, president of Saving Our Sisters, an organization aimed at helping expectant parents preserve their families. “The mother has little recourse.”
In 2006, the Orange County California district attorney filed a scathing complaint against ANLC that the organization had committed 11 violations, including operating as a law firm without an attorney on staff and falsely advertising the co-founder Carol Gindis as having nursing degrees. While admitting to no wrongdoing, the firm agreed to pay a $100,000 fine. In 2010, former employees filed a discrimination and unlawful business practices lawsuit against ANLC. The company denied the allegations but the parties settled for an amount that plaintiffs are not allowed to reveal. Former ANLC employees also allege the company would encourage pregnant women to relocate to states where the adoption laws were more favorable and finalizations more likely.
Expectant mothers considering adoption should know that being pressured to go through with an adoption could be grounds for invalidating their consent and potentially overturning the adoption. It is a question of whether the parents placed their children under duress.
Stories of enticement and pressure tactics in the private-adoption industry abound. Mother Goose Adoptions, a middle-man organization in Arizona, has pitched a “laptop for life” program and accommodations in “warm, sunny Arizona.” A Is 4 Adoption, a facilitator in California, made a payment of roughly $12,000 to a woman after she gave birth, says an attorney involved in the adoption case. While the company says it “adheres to the adoption laws that are governed by the state of California,” the lawyer, who asked to remain anonymous because they still work on adoptions in the region, says they told A Is 4 Adoption’s owner, “You should not be paying lump sums. It looks like you’re buying a baby.”
Expectant mothers routinely face expense-repayment pressures when they consider backing out. Some states, such as California and Nevada, explicitly consider birth-parent expense payments as an “act of charity” that birth parents don’t have to pay back. In other states however, nothing prohibits adoption entities from trying to obligate birth parents to repay expenses when a match fails. Conditioning support on a promise to repay or later demanding repayment if there is no placement is at very least unethical.
In 2007, Dorene and Kevin Whisler were set to adopt through the Florida-based agency Adoption Advocates. When the agency told the Whislers the baby was born with disabilities, the couple decided not to proceed with the adoption—but they later found out that the baby was healthy and had been placed with a different couple, for another fee. After news coverage of the case, Adoption Advocates found itself under investigation. In a 2008 letter to Adoption Advocates, the Florida department of children and families (DCF) wrote that it had found “expenses that are filed with the courts from your agency do not accurately reflect the expenses that are being paid to the natural mothers in many instances.”
In 2018, the Utah department of human services (DHS) revoked the license of an agency called Heart and Soul Adoptions, citing violations ranging from not properly searching for putative fathers (a requirement in Utah) to insufficient tracking of birth-mother expenses. Rules prohibit anyone whose license is revoked from being associated with another licensed entity for five years. But a year later Heart and Soul owner Denise Garza was found to be working with Brighter Adoptions.
Jennifer Ryan (who sometimes goes by “Jennalee Ryan” or “Jennifer Potter”) is a facilitator to adoption middle-men and operates the websites – Chosen Parents and Forever After Adoptions. Both include a section that lists babies for adoption, sort of like a Craigslist ad. One example from last August: “AVAILABLE Indian (as in Southeast Asia India) Baby to be born in the state of California in 2021…Estimated cost of this adoption is $35000.”
Reforms to private adoption practices could include mandatory independent legal representation for birth parents, better tracking of adoption data and the reining in of excessive fees. In 2013, the Illinois attorney general filed a complaint against ANLC. It contended they were breaking the law by offering and advertising adoption services in the state without proper licensing or approval. ANLC retained a high-profile Chicago law firm, and within months, the parties had reached a settlement. ANLC agreed that it would not work directly with Illinois-based birth parents but it did not admit any wrongdoing and called the resolution fair and reasonable.
The few reforms that have been made in adoption law are generally aimed at making the process easier for adoptive parents, who have more political and financial clout than birth parents. There is an assumption by most people in this country that adoption is a win-win solution. The problem is that most people don’t really understand what is actually going on in this industry. Private adoption could move more toward a nonprofit model that is similar to Nebraska Children’s Home Society. They are a nonprofit that does private adoptions only in Nebraska (with a sliding fee based on income) and which rarely allows adoptive parents to pay expenses for expectant parents.
A civilized society protects children and vulnerable populations. It doesn’t let the free market loose on them. Children should not be treated as a commodity. Expectant parents in difficult situations should not be exploited. It is always about the money with the profiteers. During the pandemic, Adoption Pro Inc (which now operates ANLC) was approved for hundreds of thousands of dollars in stimulus loans. Its social media accounts suggest it has plenty of adoptive-parent clients. ANLC continues to run hundreds of ads targeting expectant parents. For example, if you Googled the term “putting baby up for adoption” in January 2021, you might get shown an ANLC ad touting, “Financial & Housing Assistance Available.”
As for Shyanne Klupp, she has since immersed herself in an online adoption community (probably much like the one I am in). What she’s learned has slowly chipped away at the pleasant patina that once surrounded her adoption journey. This realization is common. It is described as “coming out of the fog.” The problem is the profit motive. Klupp admits “I know in my heart that I would have kept my son if I had had the right answers.” That is what groups like the one I belong to attempt to do.
In my all things adoption group, the prime mission is to keep mothers and their babies together. To discourage them from choosing a rash permanent solution to whatever their temporary problem is that has caused them to consider relinquishing their baby to strangers. The pressure to do so, due to a shortage of newborn infants available for adoption, is huge. Today’s story –
An expectant mother in Illinois has received assistance from some hopeful adoptive parents since end of March. She’s uncomfortable with them, wants to back out and keep her child, but is afraid. They are already threatening her with things like being sued if she backs out.
Now for a reality check – She should absolutely back out. Keep her child. Sued for what? Money? It would be a waste of their time. She could have a judgment against her but then, they would have to file to collect. If she received assistance from them, she may be lower income and therefore, the likelihood they would be able to collect at all isn’t looking promising. Maybe she signed a contract, but so what ? She still doesn’t owe somebody her baby. She cannot be forced to sign over the baby. Stop contact. Breathe. Stress is no good for the baby.
Nothing they can legally do would be worse than mom losing her baby.
I’d say “take me to court then!” Your gut feeling is correct. Keep your baby!
Even if they paid her a lot of money, it qualifies as a gift because otherwise, it would literally be considered bribery and/or extortion to obtain a child. There is no valid contract available to give your baby to someone for money and it would probably be them getting in trouble if they did have one written up and signed. It’s not illegal in any way to decide you want to parent your own child.
They can’t take her to court. They can’t do anything. If they were to try, they would get themselves in bigger trouble because it means they intended to buy a baby. The law prevents adoption agreements before birth. She should cut all contact and ignore them.
To get them to leave her alone, she could in writing, sent by certified mail, send them a letter stating that any further contact will be considered criminal harassment. She can send them a cease and desist outline warning them that any future contact will result in legal action, including a no-contact order. Any assistance they provided is legally a gift. She could also remind them that paying money or goods in exchange for a child is a federally a trafficking charge.
You can’t buy a baby, and that’s what they are trying to do. If they are with an agency, the agency might try to make her think she needs to give them the baby, but that’s also illegal on their part. Gifts are given with no assumption of anything in return, and items given to “birth moms” (hate that they use that before birth – totally grooming) are expressly and legally classified as gifts. Also, just in general, even if she still was considering adoption, this is a major, massive, huge red flag that these are not good people and should not be parents to anyone’s child. Maybe not even their own biological kids. This is really sick behavior and indicative of people with serious issues.
And why is this so important ? Here’s a true story from another woman in this same kind of situation.
I received some money when I was considering that same choice. I backed out and everything seemed okay. The hopeful adoptive mom showed up at the hospital unannounced, after the baby was born. She just walked into my room (I forgot to terminate my release of information, so when I had the baby she was notified and flew in from California.) She had these baby clothes with her that she had embroidered with the name she had chosen for my daughter. I honestly thought she was going to kidnap her. She ran when I pushed the call button. After that the hospital heightened security and no one could find us without a code. It was a scheduled c section, but it wasn’t scheduled until that last month. I wasn’t in contact with them by that time. It was pretty scary, but the hopeful adoptive parents never retaliated nor were they able to sue me or try to take my child. I’m mentioning this story so hopefully nothing like that happens to anyone else. If you change your mind, don’t forget to tell the hospital to terminate releases of information! You don’t owe them your baby.
As prospective adoptive and foster parents find the all things adoption group I belong to, some of their perspectives truly do begin to change. Same for expectant mothers thinking about surrendering their child for adoption, then changing their mind and deciding that they may actually be capable of raising their own child. Always a happy outcome.
Unfortunately, many Division of Children and Families agencies at the state level still operate from an obsolete point of view. Here’s a story from one foster mother who is facing that dilemma.
We have a 7 year old pre-adoptive foster son that has lived with us for 21+ months. I always had the intention of adopting (until I joined this group), but we were only regular foster parents until this boy moved in. Everything was going “well” and mom was going to sign an open adoption agreement. Then the pandemic hit and we had to supervise their video visits, which ended up being good because we got to know each other. Then we offered to supervise the monthly in-person visits. I joined this group and now I’m trying to help mom to get her son back. She is working on her plan and I’m so proud of her, but I am not sure it will be enough for Division of Children and Families. We have a permanency meeting in a month, so I need some help.
I have 2 questions about our situation:
For the adoptive parents/foster parents in the group: How do you navigate changing a goal of adoption to guardianship, when the department has said in the past that doesn’t offer enough permanency for the child and they would move him. Is a 7-8 year old listened to, if the child says he wants to live here forever but only if his mom can’t get better?
For the adoptees/former foster youth in the group: Let’s assume mom’s rights are terminated. There is no dad involved and there literally is no family that could take this boy in and raise him. How do we know if this boy really wants to be adopted by us or not? How do we know if guardianship is or isn’t enough for him? We have a biological child who is only 6 months, in case that matters. How old is old enough for us to follow what the boy requests? We have heard so many adoptive parents talk about how their children’s behaviors changed after adoption because they felt “secure”, but after reading so much stuff in this group, I have a whole different view about adoption. Yet I don’t know how to figure out what our foster son would really want or if he would think we love him less, if we don’t adopt him.
Only one response, from an adoptive/foster parent so far but it could be helpful to others in a similar situation –
Does he have a CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocate) or GAL (Guardian ad Litem) ? I am not sure what state he is in but in Indiana, the guardianship petitions are heard in a separate court outside of the Child Protective Services court. Child Protective Services is notified that a guardianship petition has been filed and they can come and object, if they want but sometimes they don’t.
So I would think, if you get an attorney and just file it – with mom being in agreement, then they would have to come and object, explaining why adoption is better. I think if mom is making some efforts, then that would be a bonus towards guardianship.
Guardianship is always an option. I haven’t figured out why they don’t push more for guardianship for very young children and what the age is that it suddenly becomes an option but I have seen our state grant guardianship with a Child Protective Services case for kids as young as 2 years old.
Also, I don’t think it is ethical for the department to threaten you with moving him. So I would ask for a supervisor or above to sit in on your next meeting and just ask for them to explain why this is happening and why adoption is the only option. I would personally tell you that we have custody/guardianship for our two youngest and it has been good.
I became aware of generational trauma (inherited trauma) as I began to learn about the impacts of adoption on the adoptee as well as on members of their family. Both of my parents were adopted and I do believe that the trauma they were either only vaguely aware of or totally unconscious of did impact us as their children. As to spanking, I remember my mom said she stopped spanking me when she dreamed she was hitting me harder and harder and I was laughing at her. Thanking all that is good. I only spanked my daughter once, in a grocery store, she was very young and it was just a light slap on her little hiney to get her attention. At the time, I had been told that punishment must come close to the action that provokes it but I never spanked her again.
Today, I read this piece in my adoption group –
My parents beat me as a child and I am not traumatized, said the man whose ex-partner reported him for physical violence.
When I was a child they left me crying alone until I fell asleep and it was so bad I did not go out, said the man who spends long hours in social networks, affecting his sleep.
They punished me as a child and I’m fine, said the man who, every time he makes a mistake, says to himself words of contempt, as a form of self-punishment.
As a child, they put a heavy hand on me and I suffer from a trauma called ‘education’, said the woman who still does not understand why all of her partners end up being aggressive.
When I became capricious as a child, my father locked me in a room alone to learn and today I appreciate it, said the woman who has suffered anxiety attacks and can not explain why she is so afraid of being locked in small spaces .
My parents told me they were going to leave me alone or give me to a stranger when I did my tantrums and I do not have traumas, said the woman who has prayed for love and has forgiven repeated infidelities so as not to feel abandoned.
My parents controlled me with just the look and see how well I came out, said the woman who can not maintain eye contact with figures of ‘authority’ without feeling intimidated.
As a child, I got even with the iron cable and today I am a good man, even professional, said the man who his neighbors have accused him of hitting objects while drunk and yelling at his wife.
My parents forced me to study a career that would make me money, and see how well off I am, said the man who dreams of Friday every day because he is desperate in his work doing something every day that is not what he always wanted.
When I was little they forced me to sit down until all the food was finished and they even force fed me, not like those permissive parents, affirmed the woman who does not understand why she could not have a healthy relationship with food and in her adolescence came to develop an eating disorder.
My mother taught me to respect her good chancletazos (Spanish meaning strike with a sandal) to the point, said the woman who smokes 5 cigarettes a day to control her anxiety.
I thank my mom and my dad for every blow and every punishment, because, if not, who knows what would happen to me, said the man who has never been able to have a healthy relationship, and whose son constantly lies to him because he has fear.
And so we go through life, listening to people claiming to be good people without trauma, but paradoxically, in a society full of violence and wounded people. It’s time to break generational trauma cycles.
Trauma is a FACT of being adopted or of giving up a child to adoption. While adoptive parents may believe they are traumatized by behavior they don’t understand, their trauma is more a lack of understanding than an event that happened to them at an age when they had no conscious ability to understand what was being done to them.
This concept of Polyvagal Theory is new to me today, so this particular blog will not be complete in the sense of connecting all the dots but a dear friend I trust has made a point of bringing me to an awareness of this and so, I am sharing it for whatever good it might do someone else.
Polyvagal Theory can help with –
Understanding trauma and PTSD
Understanding the dance of attack and withdrawal in relationships
Understanding how extreme stress leads to dissociation or shutting down
Understanding how to read body language
Emotions are responses to a stimulus (internal or external). Often they happen out of our awareness, especially if we are out of touch, or incongruent, with our inner emotional life.
Our primal desire to stay alive is more important to our body than even our ability to think about staying alive. That’s where polyvagal theory comes in to play.
The nervous system is always running in the background, controlling our body functions so we can think about other things—like what kind of ice cream we’d like to order. The entire nervous system works in tandem with the brain, and can take over our emotional experience, even if we don’t want it to.
Animals are a great example of how we handle stress, because they react primally, without awareness. They do what we would, if we weren’t so well tamed.
If you have ever watched a National Geographic Africa special, you’ve seen a lioness chase a gazelle. A group of gazelles is grazing, and suddenly one looks up, hyper aware of what is happening around him. The whole group notices and pays attention.
After a moment, the lioness starts her chase. The gazelle she’s singled out runs as fast as he can (sympathetic nervous system), until he is caught. When he is caught, he instantly goes limp (parasympathetic nervous system).
The lioness drags the gazelle back to her cubs, where they begin to play with it before they go in for the kill. If the lioness gets distracted, and the gazelle sees a moment of opportunity, he’s up and sprinting off again, looking like he suddenly came back to life (back into sympathetic nervous system response).
When the gazelle was caught, with fangs around his neck, his shutdown response kicked in—he froze. When he saw the opportunity to run, his fight or flight kicked in, and he ran.
Polyvagal theory covers those three states—connection, fight or flight, or shutdown.
During non-stressful situations, if we are emotionally healthy, our bodies stay in a social engagement state, or a happy, normal, non-freak-out state.
I like to call it “connection.” By connection, I mean that we are capable of a “connected” interaction with another human being. We are walking around, unafraid, enjoying our day, eating with friends and family and our body and emotions feel normal.
It’s also called ventral vagal response, because that’s the part of the brain that is activated during connection mode. It’s like a green light for normal life.
In fight or flight, at some level we believe we can still survive whatever threat we think is dangerous.
When our sympathetic nervous system has kicked into overdrive, and we still can’t escape and feel impending death the dorsal vagal parasympathetic nervous system takes control.
It causes freezing or shutdown, as a form of self preservation.
I’ll be the first to admit I don’t know a lot about cases where Child Protective Services interferes with a parent/child relationship. I used to worry about it though. Rowdy boys who I did my best to keep socially acceptable in public in the most gentle way I could. I used to warn them that they really had to listen to me or someone might take them away. They seemed to understand well enough to settle down and not raise misguided concerns. That is the world they grew up in and they are now very well-behaved teenagers, thanking all that is good we all survived their childhood but that isn’t always the case. So my story today is about one such case and its causes and impacts.
A father and son played for hours at the beach, splashing the water, and building an elaborate sandcastle. The two of them are so similar it’s sometimes hard to imagine they aren’t the same soul living in two separate bodies. Their bond unbreakable regardless of what the courts may have ordered. Their visits are essential to our son knowing who he is, where he comes from, and who he takes after in this world. (Don’t know for certain but believe he has been adopted. The woman shares that the boy’s 2 older biological sisters are still in foster care, which explain what comes next.)
While spending time together, Dad said to me, “I need to start being good and following the rules if I want to see my daughters…. it’s just hard, because I never had rules to follow before, so it’s not easy for me.”
How hard it must be for first parents to be asked to follow the strict guidelines children’s aid societies and child protection services (CAS/CPS) sets out for them when they themselves grew up in circumstances where there were minimal-to-no-rules. Is it this perpetual cycle that explains why the children are removed ? Then, why the parents struggle to obtain reunification. And then, when that isn’t possible, struggle to be able to maintain visitation after Termination of Parental Rights, when CAS/CPS controls the narrative, the rules to follow, and the access to their children. It’s something I think more foster and adoptive families need to recognize is part of our privilege, and be more mindful of the unreasonable expectations placed on first families.
I’m grateful that CAS has no say over who we visit with, how frequently, or under what conditions, so that we can see our son’s family as often as possible; but I’m continuing to learn and to be heartbroken by this terrible system designed to keep families apart.
One woman shared a similar story about rules that was not related to this first one. CPS told a neighbor her 12 and 14 year old children were not allowed to walk home from school. They had to take the bus or be picked up. She lives 1/2 mile from the school. That felt really controlling and they held that over her head, as if it were a problem. How is something like that possible ?
My sisters and I walked to and from school every day of our childhood. Both of my parents worked. There wasn’t even a school bus provided but we did survive it. We were probably healthier for the exercise. This is the kind of over-reach that worried me when my boys were very young.
There are so many problems with CPS “rules.” The first woman went on to add these thoughts – the rules often sound arbitrary, conflicting and complicated to follow in real life. And I can see how they don’t seem “so bad” to those with the means and privilege to have a flexible schedule, financial resources and a support system. The whole premise is corrupt and needs to be dismantled and rebuilt with an emphasis on family reunification, support, culture, and preventative measures, so we never end up here in the first place.
Cultural rules change a lot depending on what cohort you are part of. CPS rules are based really heavily on white middle-class cultural rules, which are stunningly different from other groups of people. Which led another woman to share – our case worker keeps saying my nephew goes ‘AWOL’ and it bothers me so damn much. Because I know that feeling of not being in control. The ability to come and go as you please, to go on a walk is not AWOL. The amount of re-framing the system needs to do is staggering.
I read a heartbreaking story today and I want to share it because not only does it illustrate something that is really not just but also that love is real and true and people can and do change.
So this woman was adopted at age 5. Her mother’s rights were terminated voluntarily because she had failed to complete her “plan”. The woman was placed into foster care – twice.
At the time, her father was incarcerated on assault charges. Other than the fact that he had lost his temper and gotten violent, she doesn’t know anything more about the circumstances. What she does know is that he did not get violent with her mother or any of his children. I too understand inheriting a temper, I got my father’s much to my own surprise when I discovered that well into my 50s.
Back to my story. The father did NOT want to give up his rights. He wanted to parent the child himself, when he was released. He wasn’t serving a particularly long sentence. However, his rights were forcefully terminated because he was in jail. Sadly, he was released a few months after she was adopted.
At some point, the father spoke to a caseworker. He learned there was a prospective couple planning to adopt his child. It is said he made threats to harm the couple planning on adopting his child. He threatened to forcefully take his child back if he had to.
So it is said that for this reason, the adoptive parents chose a closed adoption.
Sadly, her dad maintains to this day that she was “kidnapped”. This is an understandable perspective.
Turns out, her dad lived close by her entire childhood even though she did not know him. He remarried a few years after his release. He went on to have 4 more children who he successfully parented. A portrait of her hung in their bedroom all the years of her childhood. They even had a small cake to celebrate her existence on her birthday each year.
This is what happens inside children when they are forcibly separated from their parents.
Their heart rate goes up. Their body releases a flood of stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline. Those stress hormones can start killing off dendrites — the little branches in brain cells that transmit messages. In time, the stress can start killing off neurons and — especially in young children — wreaking dramatic and long-term damage, both psychologically and to the physical structure of the brain.
“The effect is catastrophic,” said Charles Nelson, a pediatrics professor at Harvard Medical School. “There’s so much research on this that if people paid attention at all to the science, they would never do this. To pretend that separated children do not grow up with the shrapnel of this traumatic experience embedded in their minds is to disregard everything we know about child development, the brain, and trauma.”
Nelson has studied the neurological damage from child-parent separation — work that he said has often reduced him to tears. As the children grew older, Nelson and his colleagues began finding unsettling differences in their brains.
Those separated from their parents at a young age had much less white matter, which is largely made up of fibers that transmit information throughout the brain, as well as much less gray matter, which contains the brain-cell bodies that process information and solve problems.
The activity in the children’s brains was much lower than expected. “If you think of the brain as a lightbulb,” Nelson said, “it’s as though there was a dimmer that had reduced them from a 100-watt bulb to 30 watts.”
The children, who had been separated from their parents in their first two years of life, scored significantly lower on IQ tests later in life. Their fight-or-flight response system appeared permanently broken. Stressful situations that would usually prompt physiological responses in other people — increased heart rate, sweaty palms — would provoke nothing in the children.
What alarmed the researchers most was the duration of the damage. Unlike other parts of the body, most cells in the brain cannot renew or repair themselves. The reason child-parent separation has such devastating effects is because it attacks one of the most fundamental and critical bonds in human biology. From the time they are born, children emotionally attach to their mother. If separated from her, a caregiver can mitigate some of that damage but not all of it.
“Our bodies secrete hormones like oxytocin on contact that reinforces the bond, to help us attach and connect,” Lisa Fortuna, medical director for child and adolescent psychiatry at Boston Medical Center said. A child’s sense of what safety means depends on that relationship. And without it, the parts of the brain that deal with attachment and fear — the amygdala and hippocampus — develop differently.
The reason such children often develop PTSD later in life is that those neurons start firing irregularly, Fortuna said. “The part of their brain that sorts things into safe or dangerous does not work like it’s supposed to. Things that are not threatening seem threatening,” she said.