Post Adoption Contact

Early on in my own trying to understand adoption journey (both parents were adoptees), I read a book recommended in my all things adoption group titled The Primal Wound by Nancy Verrier. I continue to learn almost every day and in this blog, I continue to try and share what I learn along the way. Today’s new concept was Post Adoption Contact Agreements. I already knew that open adoptions have been the more common approach over the previously totally closed adoption where often the child is lied to about their own origins and that lie is protected by closing and sealing the adoption records and changing the child’s birth certificate to make it look like the child was actually born to the adoptive parents. That was the way my parents’ adoptions were concluded, though thankfully, neither of my parents were lied to about having been adopted – at least that.

I have come across complaints that adoptive parents often renege on open adoption agreements. This is a reality, even today, even when promises are made to the expectant mother that she will be given updates, photos and even contact with her child post adoption. This is why my heart is more inclined towards doing what we can as a society to preserve children within the family they were born into. But it isn’t always possible and like war, adoption remains a reality that won’t end in my lifetime – if ever.

In trying to learn a bit more about post adoption contact agreements I did read In some states, when adoptive parents and birth parents sign an agreement called a “Post Adoption Contact Agreement,” it is filed with along with the adoption papers and becomes a legal, enforceable part of the adoption. However, in other states, it isn’t recognized as a legally binding contract. Therefore, the first thing to learn about is whether it will be enforceable in the state where the proposed adoption will take place.

According to one adoption attorney, Michael Belfonte, Missouri currently does not allow for enforceable post-adoption contact agreements. If either a birth parent or an adoptive parent breaks their post-adoption contact promise, there are no legal consequences that could be addressed in court. This is what he has to say about open adoptions –

You should not let this deter you from choosing an open adoption. In the majority of cases, both birth mothers and adoptive parents will keep the contact promise they made — as it’s just as important to them as it is to the other party. In fact, for many birth mothers, the possibility of an open adoption is why they made their adoption choice in the first place. They will want to see their child grow up and, more likely than not, will do everything they can to continue their contact.

Likewise, once they are fully educated about open adoption, adoptive parents will understand the importance of open communication for their adopted child throughout the years — and will do all they can to honor the choice the birth mother made and support her through her healing process. If you’re worried about a birth or adoptive parent continuing to stay in contact with you, there are some things you can do:

Choose a professional who will mediate post-adoption contact. When a parent begins to decrease the frequency of their contact, you may feel frustrated. Things can get complicated if you try to fix it by yourself, and you may end up doing more harm than good. If your contact is mediated by a professional, they will know the best way to speak to the other party about their lapse in communication and handle the situation going forward — without harming the relationship you already have.

Establish a solid relationship with the birth or adoptive parents. Open adoption can be more than just an agreement to send and receive pictures and letters every couple of months; before placement, it gives you the chance to get to know your adopted child’s birth parents or adoptive parents in a way that will be highly beneficial for the future. If you have the chance to build a strong friendship with the birth or adoptive parents before placement, it’s highly recommended. The more you understand, respect and trust each other, the less likely it will be that the other parents will break their agreement to keep in touch as the years go by.

Make your expectations known. While you cannot create a legally binding post-adoption contact agreement in Missouri, you can certainly create a written agreement that outlines contact expectations throughout your adoption process. In fact, this kind of written document is encouraged in any open adoption.

Remember, just because an open adoption contact agreement is not legally binding in Missouri doesn’t mean that you can’t have a successful open adoption relationship with your child’s birth or adoptive parents. More often than not, a prospective birth mother chooses adoption because she can watch her child grow up through open adoption — and has no intention of ever going back on her open adoption agreement. Similarly, adoptive parents understand how important open adoption communication can be and will likely do all they can to honor your contact agreement.

However, if a birth parent does break their post-adoption contact agreement, it’s important that adoptive parents continue to send the pictures, letters, emails, etc. that you agreed to. In many cases, if a birth parent decreases their contact frequency, it may be because they’re at a difficult point in their life — and fully intend to return to their previous contact frequency as soon as they can. It will mean a great deal to them that you continue to honor your agreement and give them updates on their adopted child during this time.

On the other hand, if adoptive parents miss a scheduled contact with you as a birth parent, it’s important that you do not jump to conclusions about their intentions. Like anyone else, unforeseen situations can come up that may delay their contact with you. If you’re concerned about them holding up their end of the agreement, we recommend you reach out to your adoption professional, who can approach them professionally and non-confrontationally about honoring their contact agreement.

I find this law on the books in the state of Missouri dated August 28 2018 – it is vague however about enforcement in my opinion. Still this is an example of one state in which I happen to be living. You should look into the legal decisions in your own state before agreeing to an adoption based upon promises that it will be open and you will be allowed ongoing contact.

Valentine’s Day for Adoptees

Searching for a topic for a day like this related to adoptees, I found this Huffington Post blog – Roses Are Red, Violets Are Blue, Adoptees’ Worst Fear Will Likely Come True – by Ben Acheson. The image I chose seemed to fit the sentiments of some adoptees that I have encountered. The subtitle of Ben’s essay notes – What if Valentine’s Day, or relationships in general, were a stark reminder of the most painful and distressing events that you ever experienced? What if they triggered a trauma so terrifically challenging that it forever altered your approach to life? Welcome to Valentine’s Day, and relationships, for adoptees.

Ultimately, Valentine’s Day is about relationships, or the lack thereof. It may evoke unpleasant memories of lost loves, but the nostalgia is normally forgotten by the time the flowers wither and the chocolates disappear. Or does it ?

Take a moment to balk at such a provocative, nonsensical claim; that saving a child through adoption could lead to a life of relationship problems. It is ungrateful and even accusatory to altruistic adopters. It is insulting to those battling depression, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and other psychological issues associated with adoption.

The development of intimate relationships can be a major challenge for adoptees. Their first and most important relationship was irreparably destroyed. The person supposed to love them most disappeared inexplicably. Then they were passed to strangers and expected to pretend that nothing happened.

The impact of that severed relationship is colossal. It permanently alters everything they were destined for. It alters how they attach to people. It causes bonding problems. It leaves them angry, sad and helpless. It interferes with emotional development and instils a persistent fear of abandonment within them.

This fear impacts future relationships. Many adoptees fear that what happened once might happen again. They fear that each new relationship, like the very first one, will not last. If their own mother abandoned them, then why won’t others?

It affects their ability to trust. Their trust in adults was shattered when they were most vulnerable. The idea that their mother loved them so deeply that she gave them away is a confusing paradox. Connection, intimacy and love are forever intertwined with rejection, loneliness and abandonment. Being unable to remember the traumatic events only compounds the problem.

Adoptees are sensitive to criticism and have difficulty expressing long-suppressed emotions. They have hair-triggers and lack impulse control, frequently overreacting to minor stresses. They can be manipulative, intimidating, combative and argumentative. Total absence of control over childhood decisions gives them an unrelenting need for control in adulthood. A counterphobic reaction of ‘reject before being rejected’ is a classic sign of stunted emotional development and unresolved trauma. That is not to say that adoptees do not want intimacy. They often want to ‘give everything’. They yearn for a close, trusting connection. They want to let someone ‘in’, but the openness and vulnerability is petrifying. Letting someone ‘in’ also opens the door to rejection.

Even if partners recognize that deep, sensitive wounds exist, they tire of walking on eggshells. The emotional rollercoaster is exhausting. They become sick of the ‘parent-role’ they often assume. Even if the adoptee matures and gains insight into their behavior, the damage may have been done. Partners may reach the breaking point and leave. But who is to say that failed relationships cannot be a blessing in disguise? For adoptees, the important lesson might be that you sometimes need to fail in order to truly succeed.

The Stories Adoptees Tell

This is kinda silly and heartbreaking and I don’t share it with people so for some reason I’ve been compelled to share here to see if anyone can relate. I have recently been watching a show called Homeland, I’m sure some here have seen it. The main character Carrie works for CIA so she has to leave her daughter behind many times. I am 41 now so bare with me on the reference- my mom left me initially when I was 3 but she’d come in and out of my life till age 11. Then she was just totally gone. I have not seen or heard from her since 1991. When I was little I’d tell people that my mom was Cyndi Lauper and she was away on tour (wild imagination I guess). I’m sure no one believed that but I told that story anyway. Now watching Homeland I realize maybe a CIA spy would have been more interesting?

Another acknowledges – You probably just wanted a good reason for her absence. I told my teachers and what not that my mom died in child birth. I guess it was easier that she died rather than admit that she had left me. Always protecting ourselves from people leaving for good.

And sadly – I was actually told (the lie) in my younger years that my 1st mom died in childbirth. I remember laying in bed at times and in my mind I used to pretend my mom was a beautiful movie star, such as Elizabeth Taylor. The lie was revealed in my teens and broke my trust with my adoptive mother and destroyed the comfort of that fantasy forever.

Someone else admits – When I was a kid I told people Chester Bennington from Linkin Park was my real dad and my mom wouldn’t let me see him. I didn’t actually know the truth about my biological dad until almost adulthood, so my kid brain tried to fill it in.

From yet another – I had elaborate fantasies where my mother was an alien and my father was maybe a famous actor I’d had a crush on. (All my celebrity crushes up until the past few years have been significantly older than me.) Like, sure, Harrison Ford might be my dad!

I find this one interesting because I have suspected my mom named my sister Lou Anne because at some deep level she had heard her birth mother called Lou. “I used to name every single Doll or toy Jennifer. My adoptive parents told me my mom’s name was Jennifer when I was 7. Sure freaked them out for a long time.”

Which reminded another one – I used to tell myself that Jennifer Lopez was my mom and gave me up for adoption lol. I’m not even Hispanic.

And lastly, this one – I used to watch this travel show, the ladies name was Samantha, same as my birth mother, it was a closed adoption, so I didn’t know much. I always thought it may be her and often wished it was, that I was adopted because she was single and busy with her show. Gave me a face and wonderful person to dream about.

Parentification

This was a new term for me and came out of one of the stories I read recently conveyed by a foster parent. Here’s the story –

I am currently fostering a 14 year old. They were removed because of trauma from a family member who is not their mom but who still lives with their mom. Mom refuses to ask this person to leave or to move into a different apartment, but is otherwise doing what is asked of her to work towards reunification. Today this kid told me they really want to be reunified, which makes perfect sense. I’m worried because this seems unlikely unless mom starts believing them and takes steps to cut their perpetrator out of her life. How do I support them? If you were in their shoes, what would you want from a foster caregiver? I’m also worried because many of the reasons this kid states for wanting to reunify are to care for their mom. It’s not my place to make the judgment calls, but it seems from the outside like a case of parentification. Add to this that I’ve heard this child talk about how much they wish they had been given the opportunity that their peers had to “just be a kid”.

So what is parentification ? Parentification is when the roles are reversed between a child and a parent, a toxic family dynamic that is rarely talked about and is even accepted as the norm in some cultures. However, research has found that it can have far-reaching negative psychological impacts. It is a functional and/or emotional role reversal in which the child sacrifices his or her own needs for attention, comfort, and guidance in order to accommodate and care for the logistical and emotional needs of a parent and/or sibling.

One response was this from experience – my parents put me in foster care briefly when I was suicidal from the pressure of being a “good kid” and experiencing their abuse. I wanted to go back to them to protect my brother. I feel for the teen. I would have this child in therapy now to begin processing those emotions of responsibility. I’m 24 and still struggle with guilt that my brother may have suffered when I was gone or what would have happened if I’d stayed gone. My mom would’ve likely lost her mind. She did – when I went to college. My best advice is therapy for the child while in your care, and perhaps talk to a therapist about how you could best talk to their mom about her removing that person in the home. My mom chose my dad over me often, so I feel for the teen.

Another one shared – Unfortunately this might be something that never fully goes away. I was like this, the eldest child who took care of the family from a very young age and getting rid of that guilt and the “needing to take care of them feeling” has been very very resistant to therapy. I think the best you can do is just try to be empathetic, don’t make them feel like they’re acting too old or whatever (mine did that and it really fucked with my head) just be kind and remind them they can relax and do things for themselves, even if they don’t listen.

This one touched my heart, because I am the oldest as well. I was not in an awful situation but I have always felt a sense of responsibility for my two sisters. Our parents died only 4 months apart (high school sweethearts married for over 50 years). From the first day I returned to my family after my mom died first, I found myself having to take over financial responsibility for my sisters that my mom had been financially providing, making me in effect “the mom”. Then, after our dad died too, I had to ask the court to appoint someone to assist my youngest sister with her finances. She is likely a paranoid schizophrenic with very weird ideas about the way money functions. The court agreed to appoint a conservator. My sister and I have struggled. What had been a really good relationship before was destroyed when our mom died. Our mom had a poor relationship with my sister for over a decade and my sister’s feelings about that transferred to me when my mom died and I had to take over the family finances.

Also this interesting perspective – I cared for a teen relative of mine last year similar situation. As soon as she could legally, she returned to mom and the abuser to care for her siblings again and her mom. This is what she had been taught was the only way to get attention, love etc from mom. The best way we found to help her was to enroll her in a group for teens about healthy relationships at our local Domestic Violence shelter. She also did therapy with someone she selected and equine psychotherapy which helped her with attachment a lot. While she was here, we focused on just reminding her of our unconditional love and building trust in our relationship. Even though she went back, it didn’t take long for all of that to help her see how to set boundaries with mom, identify unsafe situations with abuser and start to come out of some of the fog. It’s still complicated but she isn’t engrained and I see her setting more healthy boundaries. We (and her dad) are still safe people she can come too and does. It took about 6 months of us just watching from a distance and being supportive regardless. In your situation, maybe focus on staying neutral and asking for a CASA or Guardian ad Litem to help with the other side of the coin. Having a mentor also really helped my relative. It was someone closer to her age that she could confide in and she is still actively talking to that person now. Maybe your foster youth could use a mentor because they aren’t a therapist but can be a sounding board. Also a lifeline if the youth returns and ‘adults’ get cut off from that person. (I say adults because the mentors we have had are usually 25 or younger and parents don’t see them like they do a 40 year old caseworker).

Trust – Easy to Break, Hard to Recover

Today’s Story –

We have kinship placement for our nephews. Their previous foster caregiver is court ordered (at her request to the social worker) that she receive a visit once a month and weekend visits are okay. The judge agreed to her request. I didn’t argue simply because they did live with her for 18 months, while the parents were trying to to complete their case plan for reunification. That did not happen and the case is in the midst of a termination of parental rights process.

We are now only in the third month after the placement. She texted me her 3 available weekends. After our monthly team meeting, I message her back that the second option would work best for us. She counters back that the fourth would work better for her, which coincidentally or not is also Thanksgiving weekend. Her reason is that this is the weekend her daughter comes home and I quote, she’d “really like to see them”.

I take some time to think about it. Although I sympathize, I say no. Then I’m met with hostility – like I’m being unreasonable. Not that she has said this directly. It is just my own feeling but regardless. My own reason is that I believe she wanted to keep the kids from us. I also believe that she lied to our faces about it. There is definitely mistrust between us.

I’m trying to be reasonable but frankly I’m over it. She isn’t family, we are. Her feelings of entitlement are boiling my blood. I’m considering filing to remove her weekend visit allowance. Do I have to wait until the termination of parental rights are final ? I have written an email to the social worker but have not sent it. I am struggling because although this current issue has been resolved and she agreed to my second option, I am concerned about her general behavior.

Comment from a foster parent – I would NEVER get a court order for visitation. That is up TO THEIR MOM. No one ripped the kids away from the foster family. They were placed with RELATIVES. Where they belong, if they can not be with their mom and dad.

Some questions – So she’s not family ? How is she still getting court ordered visits ? I’ve never heard of that. I sometimes see a transitional period, but never continued visits. If it was me, I would email the caseworker and just ask, how long will the visits continue ? If the plan is for them to end soon, I wouldn’t rock the boat. If they are going to continue long term, definitely hire an attorney.

In a similar case – The mom got her child back and the court gave the foster parent visits. Mind blowing. Like wtf is the point ? The children are back home. If the mom wants to keep the foster parent in the child’s life, then by all means, the mom can make that happen. But for this to be court ordered ? And for the foster parent to be demanding visits ?

Someone else complemented her restraint – I think you handled it well. I think something needs to be done, but I would be careful how you approach it. For whatever reason they still have some power in the situation and until tpr or reunification happens, they could retaliate. 

What Is Safe ?

Disclaimer – Not the twins in today’s story

I have twin girls, their biological father raped me. That’s how I became pregnant. He’s been fighting for shared custody. The courts are wondering how I would feel about my girls having supervised visitation with him once a month with a 3rd party. I am trying to put my daughters needs above my own. They do have his DNA. I’m worried that if I don’t allow visitation, I will be stripping my daughters from their blood, but at the same time I’ll be putting them at risk of abuse from a man who abused me. I’m unsure what to do, I know my gut is telling me to keep my young children away from him at all costs but reading some of the experiences of adoptees causes me not to want to cause them trauma by being kept away from their biological family member. We have court on Monday to decide what should happen. I’m trying to think on both sides but honestly my trauma (Former Foster Care Youth) is pushing me very far one way and I’m not sure what the best decision for the children is. Currently I have 100% custody and placement. This wouldn’t change. He would just have court ordered supervised visitation once a month organized by Child Protective Services.

Some comments – DNA matters yes but not like this. Trauma aside he is a sexually violent human being and should go nowhere near those girls or you ever again.

One says this – All children have a right to their story. Of course, this truth will come out much later but it should be in a therapeutic way. Given that I would say in court – “No. I want my children to always trust that I will keep them safe and away from abusive people. I cannot agree to send them into the arms of a dangerous man. I want to be healthy for my children and I would like you to stop asking me to send my children to my abuser.”

Another recommended – You do have a dilemma going forward. I’d reach out to a professional regarding the children. A therapist with experience in the area of rape/trauma/absent parent.

One speaks from experience – As a child of incest and rape I lived daily with my abusers. Your having to be around him is traumatic for you and the fact that he has that history, I do not agree with him being around minor children. I can’t even believe a court system would allow this. These children deserve to be kids. When they’re old enough to understand how they came into this world, it should be solely their choice regarding whether to pursue a relationship.

Someone else writes – Keep them away from him if at all possible. Sometimes abusive men try to obtain custody of the children as a way to further humiliate or abuse the mother. Sometimes they fight for full custody, just to dump the parental responsibilities onto the mother. It’s just a game with them and getting their rights on paper. It’s not about the mother/child bond that’s certain.

Yet another writes – Keep them away. I’m big on family preservation and father’s rights but no child should ever be around a rapist. Please protect your girls.

Yet another shares from experience – A family member of mine found out this is how they were conceived. They have connected with their siblings from their sperm donor (some do refer to a father with whom they have no connection this way), and have a good relationship. They only met the guy once. That was enough. I would say, be honest with your children – when they are older but protect them in their youth.

Someone asks – Did he serve time for your rape? if no..nothing has changed. To which the woman responds – 6 months probation.

Another suggestion – Would put your mind at ease more or help, if there was a relative you were comfortable with supervising contact (one of his siblings, grandparents on that side, a cousin)? Someone who can represent the father’s side of the family and reassure the judge that you want the girls to know their heritage but still need to protect them from him? Also, is there any risk to him moving forward from supervised visits? If so, not sure that’s a risk you would want to take. For example, if he did 5 years of supervised visits with no issues, wouldn’t he ask for more time and unsupervised? He would have a length of time and proof that he is capable of parenting and that’s not something I would want to risk. So also something to consider now.

And this one is definitely a cautionary tale – I’m a former foster care youth and adoptee. My biological father raped my first mother. She kept me from him for years, then later encouraged a relationship with him. He raped me, too. Obviously, that can’t happen with a truly supervised visitation. However, he will keep pushing for more, asking for more, and could eventually get unsupervised. This is an instance where keeping your child safe from a biological parent is *actually* a valid concern and not just a made up worry.

Another cautionary tale – I was forced to allow visits with my rapist and my son is now in a psych facility because of the trauma.

Yet another noted – He will use your daughters. As bait for his next victims, or as his victims, as a screen to convince the world that he’s a respectable guy, or as tools to destroy your sense of safety and well being. Any man who will not respect your body won’t respect any female body.

Someone else writes that they are a former foster care youth and incest survivor. Their father is a rapist. My thought is nooooooooo – keep that man away from your babies, he’s not a safe person.

An adoptee adds – No. He’s an actual verified REAL safety concern. Keep him FAR away from your babies. I know it’s hard because you want to truly do what’s best for them and not what your own personal trauma tells you to do (and that makes you second guess yourself)… But you’re doing the right thing in keeping them safe.

Maybe all of this is enough – never trust anyone who has been inclined to rape a woman.

Fostering Babies Is Difficult

One of the hardest things to do was to let them go home to their natural parents but that’s what we as foster parents have signed up for. It’s what foster families are suppose to do. But the urge to parent and fall in love with babies is a strong one, even if you didn’t birth them.

A foster parent writes – Today’s the day I realized I can’t do this. Most of the 20+ foster kids we have had were teens who stayed with us until they decided otherwise. This is the first time we have fostered babies and today I realized this will be the placement that breaks me.

I went to the hospital and picked the twins up 2 weeks after they were born, my home was their first home. They have had 3 visitations from their biological parents, who are trying to get them back. I have had them for 4 months now and my family is the family they know.

Today the twins had a doctor’s appointment and their biological parents showed up. No one knew they were coming, so it was just me with the parents and the babies. During the appointment the babies cried and reached for me but the biological parent wasn’t having it and would try to soothe them. It was like watching a stranger try to comfort my own child.

Today, I wanted nothing more than to hold these babies and tell them it would all be ok and today I was told I couldn’t. Today was the day it really set it that they won’t stay with me. Today’s the day my heart shattered. Today is the day that being a foster parent sucks.

First things first. This foster parent was immediately given a reality check.

What got to me was her saying “they were reaching for me!” Babies don’t reach at 16 weeks…my daughter can barely control her arm movements yet. It’s so delusional!!

My daughter is 6 months and I didn’t even catch that but yes! She didn’t start reaching for her dad and I until this month.

I was thinking that too! That’s so little to be reaching!

Babies at 16 weeks know who mom is instinctively and recognize caregivers but they don’t even show a preference.

The only one who was ‘reaching’ was the delusional foster parent.

And well . . . I’m sure it must have been a painful experience for their birth mother too. Let’s hope that whatever agency is handling the return of the twins to their parents will help you and the parents to work out a transitioning period during which they can come back to feeling “at home” with their parents again. It takes lots of generosity of spirit by all the adults concerned, but it is possible–and possible to do well, for the twins’ benefit. (Said from experience.)

Our infant fosterlove was crying and crying in her mom’s arms at a social services meeting. So instead of just letting the baby scream I asked the mom if I could help. I showed her how her daughter liked being held like a football and bounced. Then I handed the baby back and had her comfort her. I reminded her that she will figure that all out once she goes home. She thanked me and it led to us having a good relationship while her daughter was with us. We had her until she was 14 months.

My Maternal Adoptive Grandmother

1989 among the Missouri Azaleas

I spent the afternoon yesterday reading through a thick stack of letters that I wrote to my grandmother. When my grandmother died, for whatever reason, when my mom found these, she thought to send them to me. I wondered why but now I understand. My grandmother adopted my mom from Georgia Tann and the Tennessee Children’s Home Society’s Memphis branch. I find it amazing that she kept all of these letters from me but they are very detailed about my marriage in the early days, what living in Missouri was like for me and what we were doing to promote our home-based business than I would have imagined. I wonder that I had that much time to write so much to her but then, there is only one, maybe two, in any given month and not even one for every month.

I could have been given up for adoption as my mom conceived me when she was only a junior in high school and not wed. My dad had graduated from the same high school the year before and had only just started attending the University of New Mexico at Las Cruces. I tend to credit his parents (he was adopted also) for preserving me in the family but as everyone who would know is now deceased, it is only a guess on my part. That is the reason I was born in Las Cruces and not El Paso Texas where my sisters were born.

I had the good fortune to chose to be born on this grandmother’s wedding anniversary. In January back in 1994, I acknowledged a memory she shared with me in a letter from her (I haven’t kept most, if any of hers to me). It was a “special memory” of hers about the sunlight shining upon me while she held me in her arms and some beautiful thought she had at that moment. It seems to have been a sign from God meant just for her and since I too believe in signs of that sort, I understood. I am now married to the man that I am because I received a physical, unmistakable sign to give him a bit more attention than I might have otherwise. Of course, discernment is very important when it comes to trusting the signs one notices.

In fact, it is quite clear in re-reading these very old letters from the early 1990s, that I was closer to this grandmother in my spiritual understandings than anyone else in my family. My dad’s parents were very conservative, traditional Church of Christ adherents. My mom was very much Episcopal and my dad wasn’t at all a church goer until all of us girls had left the home and then, he said to me that he went to “keep my mom company.” After she died, when I was there helping him with life in general, I went with him because he continued to go to their little church alone or with my youngest sister who was assisting him so he could remain in his home.

These letters are full of the most amazing details of my early marriage and life here in Missouri. I could share these things with this grandmother because she grew up in Missouri in a house much like the one I live in and an environment that is very similar. In one letter, I write – “I truly love the woods, hills and streams of my home here in the Missouri Ozarks. Knowing that you grew up nearby gives me the feeling that I came back home.” (I had grown up in the desert of El Paso Texas, where my grandmother spent most of her own life and where she eventually passed away.) I also shared a lot with her about our efforts to promote and grow our fledgling business.

When I found this thick packet, I wondered why my mom sent it to me and didn’t simply throw it away. I don’t know if she bothered to read all of these letters or not – I can’t ask her since she died in Sept of 2015 – but I’m glad to have them today. Only a few of them can I even bear to throw away but the details of our early business are as precious as gold and I hope we can preserve them in protective sleeves in a binder. Maybe someday, our sons will enjoy reading about our adventures before we decided to become their parents.

Is It Safe ?

Good intentions are not enough. Heartfelt desires could still be in a place where impairment makes it not yet entirely safe. Today’s story –

This weekend we had a visit with adopted daughter’s parents. Her mom has expressed to me several times that she wants to take her back some day and that she is willing to fight legally with another family that has her siblings to get her oldest daughter back one day too (as in adopt them back).

I have a few issues with this and I know you guys can help me put it into the proper perspective and stop centering myself:

1) her mom is still heavily under the influence to the point of extremely impaired judgement and does not have stable housing/income/jobs.

2) she has been asking for sleep overs (which I am not opposed to if she didn’t have impaired judgement and her daughter wants them)

3) she says this only about the youngest and oldest daughters and fails to express this sentiment for her youngest son and middle daughter

4) her daughter is sometimes extremely hesitant and afraid of her due to her past behaviors under the influence (think screaming/crying/hiding from her).

We maintain visits regularly with daughter’s parents and extended family. She should know her family, her history, her siblings, her heritage.

What factors would you consider before you allowed sleep overs? I would love for her to have this kind of relationship/time with her mother if it can be done safely and she wants it. Daughter is often hesitant to go to visits with her mom. I stress family is important, knowing them is important. I express that I am not a replacement for her mom and that I never expect to be. That her mom is her mom.

I’m not sure how to best navigate this. Daughter is 7. I want this kind of relationship for her but I keep seeing it as a “someday” kind of thing because of concerns about her physical safety and mental wellbeing. Daughter’s therapist thinks visits with her mom should only be at her request (I disagree) because she shows signs of fear towards her. I do often ask daughter if she wants to call her mom and she consistently says no. I ask her if she wants to visit and she often is on the fence, sometimes yes sometimes no.

I would love to get an adoptee perspective on this. I need to hear it. Thank you.

Some responses –

Safety and impairment are deal breakers. They are the fundamental necessities for any child. Agree with what was stated about the child driving this. Perhaps a middle ground would be to continue regular visits but remain present so daughter feels the safety of your presence and yet there is opportunity for them to develop their own relationship. You are her responsible guardian. Staying by her side, and yet allowing them to have an opportunity seems like it accomplishes all goals. You can provide safe get togethers that are fun activities. A park, a children’s museum, zoo, picnic, etc…

This may not be the popular answer, but here’s my take: If it were me, I’d take daughter’s lead on this. Let her have control over her visits. That said, if there is any safety concern whatsoever, I would absolutely not allow unsupervised visits. Child’s safety must be the number one priority.

In my opinion, one of the worst things a parent can do is force a kid to do something they’re uncomfortable with, especially if they have trauma in that area. It makes me very uncomfortable that she has to go see her mom because you feel that’s important. If my parents had forced me to see my biological parents, it would have undermined my trust in them and pushed me away. Just another adoptee perspective.

On a cautionary note – Adoptee loyalty is a huge issue. They can sense how you really feel. Unless you are able to develop a genuinely loving and caring perspective towards her mom and show that; your daughter won’t have the comfort level she needs to re develop that relationship.

As an adoptee, I agree with the therapist. Do the visits at her request. So often I tiptoed around my adoptive mom’s feelings and would lie and say I wasn’t comfortable with searching for my mom, I didn’t want to meet her, I didn’t want this or that, when in fact I really did. I was too worried about hurting my adoptive mom’s feelings to consider my own. I wouldn’t ask your daughter if she wants call, visit, etc. let her come to you when she wants to. Asking puts pressure on her.

A Life in the Shadow

Actors – Rose Byrne as Rebecca Skloot and Oprah Winfrey as Deborah Lacks

On Friday night, my husband and I watched The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks on dvd. It is one of those occasional unexpected finds that impacts me deeply. Oprah Winfrey plays Deborah Lacks in the movie based upon the book. Since my name is Deborah, I connected with this powerful, at times tragic, portrayal of Henrietta’s daughter. Since the title of my blog is Missing Mom and that is what drove Deborah, who lost her mom at such a young age and who she was always missing, needing the truth about her, felt somewhat like I how felt about my missing grandparents (both of my parents were adopted). So, I am happy to share Deborah’s story here. I highly recommend either the book or the movie.

The only surviving daughter and fourth child of David Day Lacks and Henrietta Lacks, Deborah “Dale” Lacks Pullum spent most of her early life wondering what happened to her beautiful mother and worrying about what it could mean for her own life and identity. Day was Henrietta’s first cousin, neither had living mothers and were being raised by grandparents who had them sleeping in the same bedroom. No wonder by the age of 14, Henrietta was pregnant. Day married her 6 years later when she was 20.

It is hard for Rebecca Skloot, an independent science writer, to gain Deborah’s trust given her early life of familial abuse, followed by the general disregard of the scientific community for Henrietta’s family. Deborah’s need to connect with her mother’s story is intensified by her difficult childhood and a non-existent relationship with her father, whose lack of attention has disastrous effects on her emotional life:

After Henrietta’s death, Ethel and Galen move in with Day to “help take care of the children.” But Ethel always had a hatred for Henrietta because Galen was attracted to her, and she transferred that with gusto to the children. She forces them to work the farm all day without food or drink and beats them if they disobey. In spite of Deborah’s protests, Galen sexually molests her as often as he can.

Despite the beatings by both of these guardians and the molesting by Galen, Deborah felt closer to Galen than she ever had felt with her father. When he wasn’t hitting or molesting her, Galen showered her with attention and gifts. He bought her pretty clothes, and took her for ice cream. In those moments, Deborah pretended he was her father, and she felt like a regular little girl.

Enter Lawrence’s (who was Henrietta’s oldest son) wife, Bobbette. She insists that they take in and raise the younger Lacks siblings to get them out of the clutches of the abusive Ethel and Galen. Bobbette makes it pretty darn clear that if that couple ever touches Henrietta’s kids again, she’s going to open up a can of ??? on them.

In Henrietta’s absence, Bobbette also acts as a mentor and inspiration to young Deborah. She tells her to stay in school because that’s what will get her success in life. She also encourages her to fight off the advances of her boy cousins because, she said, “That’s uncalled for.” She warns Deborah about the dangers of first cousins having children together.

Deborah reads articles about HeLa cells (named after an abbreviation of Henrietta Lacks name) with a dictionary in hand and learns to use the Internet to make sense of her mother’s immortal life. Her brothers don’t understand her need to pursue something that has been so hurtful to them. Deborah is quite clear in her mission: “All this stuff I’m learning,’ she said, ‘it make me realize that I did have a mother, and all the tragedy she went through. It hurts but I wanna know more, just like I wanna know about my sister (her sister Elsie had defects that eventually institutionalized her, where she later died young). It make me feel closer to them, but I do miss them. I wish they were here.”

The need to know and to be in control of her past is always stronger for Deborah than the need to forget her past and protect herself from future harm.

Her older brother, Lawrence, never stopped taking care of Deborah. He put $6,000 on his credit card to pay for her funeral. She died less than a year before the book, written by author Rebecca Skloot, about her mother was published.

“Henrietta had been chosen by the Lord to become an immortal being. The immortality of Henrietta’s cells had something to do with her telomeres and how HPV interacted with her DNA.”