Childhood Disrupted

Short on time with a crazy week but I saw this book recommended in an all things adoption group thread and so I went looking. LINK> Aces Too High is a website related to Adverse Childhood Experiences often abbreviated simply to ACE. There is a review there which I am using to quickly dash out today’s blog.

This book explains how the problems that you’ve been grappling with in your adult life have their roots in childhood events that you probably didn’t even consider had any bearing on what you’re dealing with now. Childhood trauma is very common — two-thirds of us have experienced at least one type — and how that can lead to adult onset of chronic disease, mental illness, violence and being a victim of violence. It also showed that the more types of trauma you experience, the greater the risk of alcoholism, heart disease, cancer, suicide, etc.

Donna Jackson Nakazawa is a science journalist specializing in the intersection of neurobiology, immunology and the inner workings of the human heart. She says, “If you put enough stress on the immune system, there can be that last drop of water that it can’t hold, causing the barrel to spill over, and havoc ensues. What causes the immune system to be overwhelmed is different for every person – including infections, stress, toxins, a poor diet.”

She goes on to note – People who have experienced childhood adversity undergo an epigenetic shift in childhood, meaning that their stress-response genes are altered by those experiences, and that results in a high stress level for life. Stress promotes inflammation. These experiences are tied to depression, autoimmune disease, heart disease, and cancer during adulthood. She says, “. . . no other area of medicine would we ignore such a strong genetic link to disease.”

She has much more to say and I do encourage you to read her interview at the link. My apologies for not having more time today.

Putting A GenZ Adoptee in Congress

Maxwell was adopted as an infant by a special education teacher, who migrated to the United States in the Freedom Flights, and a musician. The Freedom Flights were the largest airborne refugee operation in American history and operated between 1965 and 1973 from Cuba to Miami, twice daily, 5 days per week.

He was born in Orlando, Florida. His original mother was caught in a cycle of drugs, crime, and violence – while pregnant. She didn’t have healthcare and wasn’t able to see a doctor. She put him up for adoption because she would not be able to raise him. He reconnected with his birth mother in June 2021.

He said, “What changed everything for me was connecting with my biological mother, learning about her story, learning about the things she had been through.” He learned he has multiple siblings (and she wasn’t able to raise another child).

His grandmother, Yeya, came to the USA in the 60s with only a few clothes and without any money. His grandmother had to work 70 hours per week under harsh conditions. He was close to her and only a few days ago, the family buried her.

Frost says to have a better democracy, there should be more poor and working-class candidates in the political system. He became politically active early in his life organizing with March for Our Lives and not surprisingly better gun control regulations are among his most heartfelt issues. He also cares about climate change and voting issues. He notes that “The biggest generational divide isn’t the issues – it’s the urgency.”

Issues Change With The Times

Original birth certificates and name changes have been an issue for adult adoptees. Many adoptees still can not acquire their original birth certificates. My parents were adopted in the 1930s. In adulthood, both learned the names they were born as but nothing about their original families. I do have my mom’s original birth certificate which was very helpful as all she knew about her birth parents’ names was Mr and Mrs JC Moore (which reveals very little). I never could get my dad’s original birth certificate because California is one of those states that won’t release it without a court order. I did learn his birth mother’s name thanks to a handwritten note on a letter concerning the changed birth certificate in the state of Texas that his adoptive mother wrote down. Turns out she was unwed.

We still have new members come into my all things adoption group with questions pre-adoption about how to handle the birth certificate for pre-school children and name changes. In today’s modern society, most are over thinking what a more open and progressive society have made a moot point. While conservatives and evangelicals may not like these changes to marriage and family units, the changed nature of society is a positive development for adoptees.

Divorce, remarriage, blended families, single mothers and same sex partnerships, to name just a few of the complicating factors, have resulted in what once might have been a legal issue with schools and medical records, no longer matter regarding the child’s name. What does still matter is identity and true family origins. Keeping the original birth certificate intact still matters. Not sealing adoption records matters. Today, an adoption decree is all the legal documentation an adoptive parent needs to establish their responsibility to the child. A birth certificate and the child’s name no longer need to be changed. Some adoption agencies and social workers, perhaps even some legal authorities may still try to make changes a requirement but in reality, there is no longer a basis to do that.

There is one issue that did come up that could matter. That is where violence or some kind of public notoriety could follow a child throughout their life. One adoptive mother with just such an issue shared that she was able to get mentions of these events, where the child is also mentioned, removed from public access. She asked the kid’s attorney, the judge, assistant district attorney and the district attorney to send letters to the news outlets that covered the original story. They did that and it worked for this family. So, with some help, even news coverage can be buried. That said, as the child matures, they are still to be fully informed in an age appropriate way about these circumstances and if necessary, with the help of a trauma informed therapist. Never hide the truth from the child who it concerns.

One other adoptive parent of an older child mentioned that their child legally changed their name for reasons of their own. In their experience, the name change did not cause any problem with passport and Real ID, and even the change of gender did not cause a problem either. All that was needed was the proper documentation about these changes and they simply followed the rules related to those changes.

The Obstacles Are Daunting

I was reading through a story this morning. No idea of the reasons this young father is incarcerated but he seems to care about his child in foster care. I’ll do my best to sum up the situation and share someone else’s personal experience in a similar situation.

A baby girl was placed with a foster family. The father won’t be released for another 4 years. The mom has never shown up for court dates. The father was forced to since he is in the state’s control. The foster parents were petitioning the state for a ruling of abandonment on behalf of the little girl in their care. In court, this father said that he did want his daughter. He claims he has previously sent a list of family members who might be willing to care for her until he is released. The caseworker is now doing background checks on his family members to determine if any of these are suitable to care for his daughter until he is available. This foster parent is angry because this little girl has been with her since birth. So she claims that placing this little girl with anyone else will be traumatizing because her foster parents are the only parents she has ever known. She actually says, “I pray that none of his family are suitable.”

The response from experience – my dad was in jail when my mom lost her rights and the state REFUSED to keep me in foster care till he got out (less than a yr sentence). My dad was so mad about it he ended up flipping out in court and getting more time added onto his sentence because he threatened the lives of everyone in the court room once he learned they were forcing against his rights. My dad got remarried a few years after he got out and ended up having 6 more kids that he still has custody of. He and his new wife kept a portrait of me hanging in their bedroom my entire childhood but I never knew that because I had a closed adoption. My adoptive parents would speak badly about my dad for being in jail. They said he was violent, unhinged, etc etc. I definitely get some of my zest from him!! He was never the psychopath they made him out to be. Just a desperate young dad in a bad situation. He swears to this day that the state kidnapped his daughter. Fathers “rights” are hardly exist. The state could wait until this dad can get out of jail and acquire the stability to take care of his daughter. If there are other family members willing to help out, then great! The state should have been looking for them from the beginning!

If the state has someone in custody, they shouldn’t be hard to track down to discuss custody arrangements and extended family.

What Pro-Family Preservation Is And Is Not

I would NEVER advocate for ANY child to remain in an abusive or neglectful environment. That’s NOT what being pro-family preservation is about.

A family is a fundamental institution that provides a sense of identity and feelings of belonging. However, conflicts can affect the functioning of the family, which endangers a child’s development. In homes where there is a high level of conflict between parents, the children are at a greater risk of developing issues with concentration and managing their emotions.

A surprising 70% to 80% of Americans consider their families dysfunctional. While violence, abuse, and neglect are common forms of dysfunction, many families reported feelings of estrangement, emotional disconnection, and non-traditional family structures as well.

This has led to the development of family preservation services to strengthen the community and ensure safe environments for children. The aim is to create good quality parenting that advocates for emotional support and positive reinforcement within families to reduce conflicts.

Family preservation is a movement by state and child welfare agencies aimed at helping families cope with whatever stressors are affecting their ability to nurture children. This movement grew due to the recognition that family separation leaves some lasting adverse effects on the children. It’s possible to protect children from unwarranted traumas by offering information, guidance, and support to parents.

Millions of children worldwide live in care institutions worldwide, but a shocking 80% of kids living in children’s homes have at least one living parent. The increased number of orphanage-style institutions—coupled with an increase in people wanting to adopt babies—has motivated families in vulnerable situations to willingly take their children to the orphanage. Most of the parents who would do this are simply hoping this will give their children a better life.

Although these institutions offer refuge to such children, even the best caregivers can never replace biological families. The separation from family can harm the child emotionally and affect their cognitive behavior. The effects are worse the younger the child is and an infant is as much at risk of separation trauma as an older child. Do not think because they are preverbal that they don’t have an instinct for the mother who gestated and birthed them.

Family preservation services can benefit any parent who needs a non-judgmental environment to learn parenting strategies and other beneficial skills for their families. Typically, all families will face financial, employment, parenting, substance abuse, or illness cycles that affect the bond between members. In such challenging times, rather than giving up on your family, you need the proper support to help you safely stay together.

Much of the above (with some minor modifications from me) came from the source of my image – Camelot Care Center. There is more about their services at the link. I am not recommending them or do I have any complaint against what they do. I simply wanted to address that wishing to see fewer children adopted and more vulnerable families supported does not mean that I do not recognize that some families are in difficult straits for whatever reason. Some of those children will end up being removed. Some of those will be placed into foster care. Others may be adopted. If there is any good quality to their parents, that is where they need to grow up.

Not Of My Blood

This topic comes up repeatedly in my all things adoption group. It seems that the incidence of varying degrees of abuse is more prevalent on the part of adoptive parents. Adoptees often wonder and theorize why.

It started with this insight – So many adopted people I know have stories of child abuse by both of their adoptive parents. What is the mentality behind this, what is the psychological mechanism that results in so many adoptive parents getting a child just to abuse them? I don’t think every single case is where adults actively seek out children so they can have someone to abuse, but it’s way too common to just be a case of easy hunting grounds. Is there something that happens inside of the brains of adoptive parents that turns so many of them into child abusers?

Although, anything conceivable probably exists, I do not believe most couples go into adoption with the intent of mistreating their adopted child. There is something else going on.

One thought was this – Humans developed over millennia to raise their own biological/genetic offspring. Our biology knows whether the child is our own or not. Adoptive parents are preconditioned by social workers and adoption agencies to have expectations that “nurture” will adjust the child to be the same “as if” they had given birth to the child but it does not work that way.

Until very recently, and to some extent this remains true, adoption in the modern western version is predicated on treating adoptive parents like they are the original natural parents. Birth certificates are falsified to support that perspective. Often, in the past, adoptive parents lied to the child about their origins. Thanks to more accessible, inexpensive DNA testing and well reported adoptee reunions with their biological families, this fantasy can no longer hold dominance in adoptionland.

Raising kids is hard! They test and exhaust us. This is especially true when there isn’t shared blood and genetics. The frustration isn’t tempered by biology and deep parental bonds. My oldest son was very challenging at the age of 6, when his younger brother had had the lion’s share of my attention throughout infancy and his first 2 years. I actually would say to him, it is lucky for you that I love you. If you challenge other people the way you have challenged me, you could end up hurt very badly or dead. It was my maternal bond with him that stayed me from actually hurting him, though my anger could surprise me.

One adoptee shares – I can only speak for my adoptive parents but I was property to them. I was meant to fulfill a role and anything out of line with that expectation was punished. I recognize that they knew what the social worker looked for and how the system worked, therefore they were very good at hiding it. No one would ever believe me. It was clearly easier for them to take their emotions out on me (an adopted child) than on their own biological children.

Another adoptee shares – When I started calling my narcissistic adoptive mother out on her shit, it caused a huge fight with my whole family against me. And one of my aunts basically said it didn’t matter how they treated me, I just had to suck it up, take it, and thank them, because they “took me in” out of the “goodness” of their hearts when they didn’t have to. This implied they received a free pass regarding how they treated me. Which is obviously wrong. I think that is the mentality that a lot people have, when it comes to adoption, especially among the older generations. Like you could have/would have had it worse if they hadn’t come along, so you should feel “lucky.” It doesn’t feel “lucky.”

What happens when adoptive parents finally achieve the birth of a biological, genetic child ? One adoptee shares – we were all adopted and it was a loving safe environment until I turned 8. Then they had their only biological child and the rest of us had to scramble and grab for pieces of affection. I don’t know if it was regret for adopting, the satisfaction of finally having what they wanted, something else or a mix of it all but whatever the case, we went from cherished to easily replaceable.

Another woman adds – I think can be twofold. Either one, or a combination of, the psychological effects of infertility grief and the impact on an adopted child of emotional neglect as a result of the adoptive parent being unable to meet the needs of a traumatized, adopted child. (Note all adopted children suffer adoption related trauma, ie a belief they were rejected by their natural parents.) Chronic emotional neglect (causes more trauma) and has profound effects on an adopted child. It is worse when the caregiver doesn’t recognize or acknowledge that they don’t feel the love and acceptance for their adopted child that they expected to feel. It’s all too common then to blame the child for not meeting the adoptive parents needs, rather than looking at the emotional content in the adoptive parent. Throw in a societal saviorism belief related to adoption and there are the frustrated feelings of believing they are entitled to a child they didn’t receive.

Another adoptee shares – My adoptive parents were very physically abusive. I don’t know any science behind it but my honest thought was always that because I wasn’t flesh and blood, they couldn’t love me the same. There was no genetic connection… I don’t really know …. but that is how it has felt. I don’t think they adopted me with the intention of being abusive, but they couldn’t control themselves. It’s like if my daughter has a play date and that child is being awful, I’m like their parent needs to do something before I do…I just don’t have a motherly connection to anyone else but my own children…and it might sound super messed up but its literally how I rationalized all the physical and mental abuse I suffered … They didn’t even care if they hurt my feelings. Just like I wouldn’t care if I hurt someone else’s kid’s feelings, if they were little assholes. Of course, I know there are people who abuse their biological children…but I always think that’s generational and based on some mental health issues. The reason anyone abuses a child is complicated.

Someone else shares their perspective – I believe most adoptive parents adopt as a solution to their infertility and to “save a poor baby in need”. They are fed rainbows and unicorn stories that convince them that they are wonderful people doing a wonderful thing and that the adopted child it will be just the same as their own baby. So they treat a traumatized child just the same as they would their own. Except it’s not the same. If they don’t allow the child to have feelings, go to therapy, etc as soon as the child acts out, they won’t understand why the child is behaving that way. Most adoptive parents signed up for the “cute baby and matching sweater” they see on Instagram. Instead they get a screaming demon !! The more frustrated the parents become, the more they refuse to acknowledge their adopted child has trauma. That inability to empathize becomes more triggering for the adopted child. The parents eventually snap under the pressure and enter a cycle of abuse because “we tried love and it didn’t work”. When all they actually tried was to force the child to bond with them and pretend the child is the same as a their own biological child. It messes with the brains on both sides and often leads to the point of violence.

And finally, this perspective – every adopted child has a job. It might be to fix infertility or it might be to take the place of a dead child. Whatever it is, as adoptees we are given a job with no description and unfortunately, we don’t know when we miss the mark until we trip over it. That accounts for a lot of disappointed adoptive parents. Just as the adopted child does not recognize any genetic markers in regard to physical appearance and personality – neither do the adoptive parents. So on top of the heartbreak of infertility comes the heartbreak, disappointment and anger in having to continue living with why you adopted the child in the first place.

A Miscarriage of Justice

The origination of many adoptions is the traumatic experience of having a miscarriage. One miscarriage leads to another miscarriage – that of taking a woman’s baby for one’s own self. It is often an act of trying to overcome honest grief and sorrow by inflicting a lifetime of grief and sorrow on another woman. Our society condones this behavior by creating mythic stories that adoptees often call the rainbows and unicorns narrative of how wonderful adoption is. In truth it is not more wonderful than the realistic slings and arrows of everyday life and for some (the adoptee and the birth mother) wounds to carry forever. Some eventually experience a reunion with one another and while these are mostly happy stories (but not always), there is no way to make up for decades of life going on with different trajectories for each person.

If this society was a just one, we could be taking care of our mothers and our children instead of allowing money to drive the exchange of human beings to fulfill the thwarted desires of the people with the financial means to purchase a baby. Oh I know, most adoptive parents don’t view it that way. I know most adoption agencies and facilitators don’t want to view themselves from a perspective that they are baby sellers in it to make a profit. It is so easy for people to delude themselves with feel good stories.

I don’t have a lot of optimism that the profit motivated adoption industry will end any time soon. I am only heartened that some of us keep trying to make the point that children belong with the people who conceived them. Children need to grow up within the genetic, biological familial roots from which they emerged. Yes, sometimes parents die. This has happened to my own grandmothers – both of them – and we’ve lost more than one mom in my little mom’s group that has existed a bit more than 17 years now. We’ve also lost a couple of fathers too.

Orphans do deserve care within a family structure but there is no need to change a child’s original identity or name in order to provide for them. Some parents in our modern society get messed up – with drugs, with violence, with the criminal justice system. These people need intensive restoration into functioning members of our society. It is complicated and not a quick fix. I’ll readily admit that.

Today’s Teens Are A Lot More Understanding

Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) is believed to be caused by overwhelming experiences, traumatic events and/or abuse during childhood.  This came up today in association with a former foster care youth who had a terrible experience in foster care, is now in her teens and wants to share that with others.

One mature woman shared her experience – I went into the system at 3, taken from mom at 5, and emancipated through marriage at 16.  I tried to share my story.  I got a lot of rejection from other teens. That was a different time, though. Teens these days are a lot more understanding of trauma and mental illness and they welcome the opportunity to hold space for those who have gone through horrific experiences. 

Another person was very supportive of this teen’s desire saying, It’s her story and she’s old enough to share. Will she receive backlash….possibly. But I bet she’s going to get more support vs. backlash, which is what she is seeking. She’s seeking a community that says “I hear you and I understand”.

Foster care children have been stripped of everything.  It is hard to understand why people would take children into their home for foster care and not intend to make them feel at home.  Examples –

Only buying the child the bare minimum or giving them hand me downs. One mature woman who was once in foster care shares – It always made me feel less than or like a charity case.. often I was given her biological daughters clothes/school supplies from the previous year etc. I remember the first time I got my own winter coat at around 7-8 years old.  It was like Christmas to me.

It is no wonder children subjected to these situations develop personality coping mechanisms. Schizophrenia and DID are often confused with each other, but they’re very different things. Schizophrenia is a psychotic illness: symptoms include delusions, hallucinations, paranoia, disorganized thoughts, speech and movements and social withdrawal. It does not involve alternate personalities or dissociation.

People with DID are not delusional or hallucinating their alternate personalities. Individuals with DID may experience some symptoms related to psychosis, such as hearing voices, but DID and schizophrenia are two different illnesses. There are very few documented cases linking crime to DID. The idea of an ‘evil’ alter is not true. People with DID are more likely than the general population to be re-traumatized and experience further abuse and violence.

Personality disorders are a constant fixed pattern of feeling and behaving over time, usually developing in early adulthood. Personality disorders, like borderline personality disorder, involve extreme emotional responses and patterns of behavior which make it hard for the person with the disorder to have stable relationships and function in society.

DID is a dissociative disorder. Rather than extreme emotional reactions to the world, people living with DID lose contact with themselves: their memories, sense of identity, emotions and behavior. Unlike personality disorders, DID may first manifest at almost any age.

Evolving Approaches

There may come a day when adoption is a rare occurrence but that day isn’t here yet.  What is happening is that adoption is experiencing a more honest, truthful and open approach to the reality where adoption has already occurred.  And there is at least one group (I know because I belong to it) where the members seek to convince mothers-to-be who may be considering a surrender of their baby for adoption to at least try parenting first.  That is one of the ways that adoption may become rare someday.

One question may be – how young is too young to tell a child they are adopted ?  Some advice is – not to ever wait.  Putting off talking with your adopted child about how they came to live with you often becomes a never good time to tell.  I know of one case where that situation has become very very complicated and the truth is still not shared with young adult adoptees.  It has become difficult in an unusual way, so understanding this, I am not judging it, but it is an example of what can happen when telling is put off until the child is “older”.

One adoptee shares – I had an adoption story that was bare bones to start with, as I got older, more information and whys were added, discussions evolved from that retelling. So, create a short TRUE story of how you came to adopt your child – 4 or 5 sentences long at a very young age. Practice telling the story to a friend, in the mirror so YOU are comfortable telling it. Then ask your child if they want to hear about when you adopted them….and tell your child that story.

Waiting until the child is older means they’ve lived that many years without you being truthful with them about who the child is. Just don’t wait.  You want your child to trust you and they will if you are always telling them the truth. Set a date on the calendar to do it soon, a very short story of how you came to adopt them…

Another issue that often comes up with transracial adoptions is about teaching these children about their culture of origin.  It’s never too early to start introducing things from the child’s heritage. 

For example, a Puerto Rican child adopted by a white family. Some suggestions – Introduce Spanish as a normal part of your household, even if that means everyone learning it. Watch as much cultural content about Puerto Rico and its history as possible, and try to find opportunities to connect the child with their culture. Connect with the child’s biological family’s religious traditions – if that is a possibility – so it isn’t foreign to them. Always speak positively about their family, heritage, and culture. Plan a family trip to Puerto Rico when the child is of elementary school age, and then return as frequently as your finances allow. Bonus – learn about your child’s roots and connect to them in tangible ways. Try making some local friends who are Puerto Rican and see them regularly. If this all feels like too much, just recognize that your child is currently surrounded by American culture 24/7.

It goes without saying that this advice applies to all other ethnic groups and countries from which Americans adopted children on an international scale.

Even in those situations where the biological parents are addicted and may even be violent, or maybe the mother never wanted to keep her child, leaving the hospital as soon as she gave birth . . .

There is likely to be some extended family somewhere who would be open to some form of contact. Every child should have those biological ties as much as it is safe and of course, desired by the child themselves.  And don’t forget – people DO often change over time.  How they were at one point in their lives evolves and they become more conventional in their lifestyle and behavior.

Finally, it’s okay if a young child doesn’t understand what being adopted actually means.  An adoptive parent should openly talk about it anyway.  The child will always remember being told their story, about their birth or whatever is known and can be shared in a positive manner.  Adopted children will talk about being adopted, if they have always heard that, even before the child fully understands what it means. Truly, it IS simply a part of who the child is.

Tricky Situations

I get it.  Sometimes family isn’t really safe.  What’s a foster parent to do, in order to keep lines of communication with original family open ?  And do it safely ?

First of all it may take time to build trust and allow the original family members an opportunity to get to know you as a real and caring human being.  When the original family can see clearly that you are caring for their children in a manner a loving parent would want their child cared for that can go a long way towards developing that trust.  It is about having rapport with one another in common cause.

As a foster parent you may have to put aside your thoughts of worry and/or fears.  Begin by just engaging with these kids’ parent(s) from a perspective of one human being to another human being.  In other words, common courtesy and good manners. Don’t bring up conditions like – “you need to be safe for contact to begin or continue.”  Wow, is that ever a sure way to get anyone’s heckles up. Of course, if something dangerous actually happens, then as the responsible party you will have to make the appropriate call, but don’t anticipate it.

No finger pointing, looking down your nose at the original parent or assuming the worst about them.  Try to put yourself in their shoes.  Think about how hurt you’d feel if some stranger put conditions on seeing your baby.  If this parent does get violent, well of course, you are going have to end that visit.  Logic would dictate that you don’t need to tell a parent in this situation.  In child protective situations, they already know the issues.  As the foster parent that will just need to be the move you make IF the time comes.

Don’t  listen only to or form an opinion solely based on other people’s opinions.  Depend first on your own personal knowledge of the original parent(s).  Your direct experience.  Give this parent who has already suffered the worst possible loss a chance to redeem themselves.  People change.  People learn from mistakes.  It is terrible to be stuck into a permanent box over temporary behavior that was so very wrong – admittedly.  This is not to be in denial of danger or to reject out of hand what you’ve been told but balance that with what you experience for yourself.  Forewarned but NOT pre-judgmental.

Get away from the governmental system as much as possible.  Try navigating the first family relationships organically and as naturally as possible.  If possible, make contact with other extended first family members.  Extended family – aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents – can be absolute gold in a foster child’s life.

Realize that child protective services and social workers may not be motivated to assist you.  You may have to find the extended family yourself.  You can try searching on Facebook and reaching out to them privately and directly.  It would be a rare case that someone in the child’s genetic extended family didn’t want anything to do with these kids.  There would likely be someone who would love to be in their life and has been prevented with obstacles put in the way.

I want to be clear that I have never been a foster child or adopted, I have never been a foster parent or an adoptive parent and I have never been a biological/genetic parent who had my rights terminated.  I have been intensely educating my own self for 2-1/2 years (even since I began to learn the stories behind all of the adoptions in my own biological/genetic family).  I work very hard to gain an accurate understanding by considering and listening to ALL of the related voices and perspectives.  My desire is to be as balanced as possible, when I write blogs here.