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The Sisterhood of Birthmothers

Last year, a young woman down on her luck explored adoption options at Abrazo while she was pregnant, but after counseling, she decided to try to parent her baby herself. When her baby came, however, a positive drug screen prevented her from fulfilling her dream, so the State stepped in, and her baby ended up being adopted due to reasons not of her choosing.

Did she regret having not pursued her adoption plan at Abrazo? She didn’t say, but recently, when a friend of hers in a similar situation shared her desire to shield her coming baby from the State, she mentioned it to another friend who had placed a baby for adoption through Abrazo, and together, they called Abrazo, seeking help on behalf of their friend.

Meanwhile, across town, another Abrazo birthmom who was a working girl was talking with that same pregnant friend about her options, and within days, these two women also contacted Abrazo to initiate the adoption process for the baby that was due any day.

Abrazo met with the expectant mother to provide counseling and information about her options. She had previously abandoned a baby in a Baby Moses drop just years before, and she spoke openly of her regret at not having known about Abrazo’s services at that time in her life.

“I never forgave myself for just leaving my baby at the hospital,” she said, “but I didn’t know what else to do, and the nurses said ‘just walk away’ but it killed me to do that. I’ll never know what happened to my little girl and I can’t do that again.”

Her lifestyle and her history prohibited her from being able to raise the baby she was presently carrying, she said. She knew that much. But with Abrazo’s open adoption option, she would have the opportunity to handpick her baby’s new mom and dad, to get to know them, and to keep in touch over the years. She found comfort in this, and when her baby came just weeks later, that is exactly the plan that she made for her little one.

And none of it would likely have come about were it not for the three angels who were looking out for her and her baby– those two Abrazo birthmoms and the one who made other plans. They didn’t “get anything” for referring this mom to Abrazo, nor could they, under state laws. Still, they had the courage to mention the adoption option to a friend in need. They had the conscience to send their friend to an adoption agency they knew they could trust. And they had the integrity to lend her their support when she needed it the very most.

They were but a few of the members of a unique group worldwide of people who have helped to change the world– one child at a time. They are part of a secret sorority of women stronger than any others, yet largely hidden from the world for decades– and that is the sisterhood of birthmothers.

Birthmom Strong

The sisterhood of birthmothers has no secret handshake, and there is no special sportswear. They don’t have a big, beautiful sorority house in which to hold meetings or parties. There’s never been a group photo of them all in one place at one time, nor will there ever be.

Yet these women have all been through an initiation of sorts, they have definitely paid costly dues, and for them, Hell Week was likely the day of relinquishment and the grief that followed.

Historically, birthmothers lived in the shadows, afraid to share their experiences in public, except with those they knew could relate or who were likely to be sympathetic. With the advent of the internet and social media, however, birthmothers have been finding each other online, opening a whole new world of validation and empowerment to girls and women who have placed a child for adoption.

Groups such as BirthmomBuds and Brave Love now offer positive support from birthmother to birthmother. sisterhood-of-birthmothersBirthmoms Lorraine Dusky and Jane write an insightful blog called First Mother Forum, of interest to not only birthparents but also to anyone who approaches adoption with a conscience. And around the country, there are now birthmother retreats held to unite women who have shared the experience of placing a child for adoption. (Abrazo’s birthmother retreat, called Homecoming, is a biennial opportunity for Abrazo’s birthmoms to get together and share a day of fun, learning and laughter, and nearly 200 moms who have placed through Abrazo participate in a secret Facebook group just for first moms.)

Celebrities as diverse as Joni Mitchell, Roseann Barr, and Kate Mulgrew have “gone public” in recent years, sharing their accounts of having placed their children for adoption. Birthmother Amy Seek’s memoir, God and Jetfire, is a candid examination of the open adoption experience from a birthparent’s perspective. A Life Let Go, by Patricia Florin, recounts five birthmothers’ closed adoption experiences. Janet Ellberby’s Following Tambourine Man explores Ellerby’s journey as a birthmom who placed nearly forty years ago. Their stories are all different, of course, but common to all of these books is each author’s courage in coming forth to share their story, something that would not have been heard of just a few decades ago.

There is strength in numbers, and there’s healing in camaraderie. To be supported by those who have faced the same daunting choices and borne the same sorrows is to find affirmation, and can help lend new insights, promoting growth and resolution for the future.

Mothers of Loss

Yet birthmothers do not just band together or come together to advocate for adoption, either. A number of moms who refer to their experiences as not having “placed children for adoption” but rather, having “lost children to adoption” call themselves not birthmothers nor first moms but “mothers of loss” and devote themselves to sparing others the pain they themselves have endured. Saving Our Sisters is a growing movement of birthmothers whose purpose is to present moms contemplating adoptive placement with encouragement and monetary/material support enabling them to parent, instead. They caution mothers considering adoption about the burdens of birthmotherhood as well as misleading industry practices, as does the site ExiledMothers.com and Origins America. There is also a longstanding organization for birthmothers called CUB (which has had the unfortunate reputation of being an angry group of adoption detractors, due largely to the ravages of the closed adoption practices of yesteryear that were so injurious forced to place in that era.)

Folks are sometimes surprised that an adoption agency like Abrazo shares links to anti-adoption sources such as these, but our point is this: whether or not they “believe in” adoption, birthmothers in America finally have a voice, and that in itself is a good thing– no doubt about it. Those voices may be content or contentious, but the stories they tell all contain wisdom from which we all can learn.

The real power of the sisterhood of birthmothers is not that they all agree or disagree that their adoption experiences were healthy or positive or beneficial.

The power of the birthmother sisterhood is that they all deserve to have their say about their respective experiences, and to truly be heard, not just by each other but by us all.

The sisterhood of birthmothers has the potential to uplift, honor and defend women who have birthed and placed, who have for far too long been expected to suffer in silence, and to help educate and transform the world around them as well– if only we’ll let them?

Adoption Fairy Tales

Once upon a time, there was an adoptive couple who did everything right.

They went the extra mile to prepare to be good parents. They did their homework. They took babycare classes and went to counseling and went to adoption support groups to learn about birthparent needs and they took a parenting course and they prepared their relatives to use open adoption language and they childproofed their house, all before they ever even got matched with a prospective birthmother.

Their homestudy worker couldn’t say enough nice things about them, and wrote them a glowing report. Their adoption profile clearly depicted the good people that they were, and it attracted no small response from expectant parents considering adoption. So they talked with a variety of prospective birthparents, and several exciting placement opportunities came their way, rather quickly.

They chose the situation that seemed right for them, and fell madly in love with the potential birthcouple. adoption-fairy-talesThey built a caring friendship during the pregnancy, and they were in the labor & delivery room when the baby was born.

Two days later, all the paperwork was done and they took their new baby home. It was a glorious and exciting time for the adoptive couple as they learned the ins and outs of being new parents.

And no matter how busy they were, they never forgot to check in with the birthparents, to express concern for how they were doing, even though the birthparents seemed to take longer and longer to return calls or respond to texts. They got plenty of sleep and they couldn’t have been happier.

The adoptive father went back to work, and the adoptive mother resigned from her job, to stay home full-time with the baby, who was the child of their dreams in every way (except for having no biological connection to them, of course.)

Well, yes, but…

This tale should end happily-ever-after, right? Isn’t every adoption like a fairy tale of sorts?

Well, yes, but that’s not really how real life works, usually. It probably looks to the rest of the world like this is the perfect adoption story, but in actuality, there’s no such thing. (And any family would actually be an anomaly or an oddity in modern society if their lives were perfect.)

The real fairy tale ending is that they will eventually deal with the same imperfect factors everyone else may face in life.

The baby may be terribly colicky, or adoptive mom may suffer from post-adoption depression, or the birthparents may struggle terribly with post-placement grief, or the adoptee may question the choices made for him/her, or the adoptive father may lose his job. Down the road, the adoptee may have delays, or the birthparents or the adoptive parents may not remain a couple, or medical challenges may befall them or their economic situation may change, or a natural disaster may strike any of them… who knows? Any of these challenges don’t make an adoption less successful; it just makes it real, which is ultimately better than any make-believe adoption, after all.

adoption-fairy-taleIn the end, if that adoptee grows up secure in the certainty that he or she has four parents who love him or her, whether he or she is pleased with their adoption, that is in itself a fairy tale ending. If the birthparents are at peace with the tough decisions they made at a time when life may have felt nightmarish, that is a fairy tale ending. If the adoptive parents have parented their child in a way that enabled their child to know the truth of his or her adoption story from the start and have support him or her in seeking any needed answers to questions along the way, that is a fairy tale ending.

Because life is a journey, and adoption is simply one of the way stations along that long and winding road. Real-life fairy tales don’t always end with “happily” before the ever-after; sometimes, they conclude with “complicatedly ever after” or “unexpectedly ever after” and even so, there is still joy to be found along the way and throughout each family’s story.

Need a Fairy Godparent?

Here’s the thing: adoption is messy, even when it’s properly done. After all, nobody signs up to do an adoption because their lives are perfect. Adoption is a human construct borne of loss and need, and these are components that require great adjustment on everyone’s part. Plus change is never easy– not for anyone– regardless of whether you “signed up for it” or not.

(And even in fairy tales, there are complications, like grandma-eating wolves or grumpy trolls or witches with hot ovens or wicked stepparents or fire-breathing dragons, so how terrible can nit-picky social workers or lengthy Compact delays or even the occasional dashed hopes be, really?)

adoption-fairy-talesThis is not to make light of the very real challenges and risks that adoption can sometimes entail, of course. Children placed for adoption as newborns and as older children can struggle with separation and loss, as well as bonding and attachment issues. Birthparents may spend years learning to negotiate loss and grief after relinquishment. Adoptive parents may be confounded by parenting issues they never even anticipated, even despite having had the best of pre-placement training and education. And broken promises are hurtful for everyone.

Yet unlike Rapunzel or Sleeping Beauty or Hansel & Gretel or Goldilocks, those who find adoption to be less than a fairy tale are never required to go it alone. While some adoption-related issues may feel very isolating, there are resources available to offer help and support to birthparents, adoptees and adoptive parents at every stage.

Birthmothers nationwide can find post-adoption support online. In Texas, adoptive families can receive post-adoption assistance for up to two years after placement, or nationwide, check out find a parent support group here. Adoptees in need of post-adoption services across the country through American Adoption Congress. And there are plenty more resources to be found, so like the Prince with the glass slipper, don’t give up– keep searching, until you find what (or who) you need.

Because any adoption story can result in new growth with time, patience and effort… even without any guarantee of a “happily-ever-after” ending.

Adoption (and the Illusion of Control)

One of the things that’s rarely discussed in adoption circles is adoption and the illusion of control. (And yet, it certainly should be.)

adoption-and-the-illusion-of-control

Adoption professionals are sometimes hesitant to tell clients what they don’t want to hear, and in a process that focuses on helping clients feel empowered, discussions of control issues are not typically welcome.

After all, “control” is one of those human urges that’s gotten a bad name, although it is a perfectly normal human need to feel we are in control of our own destiny.

(It may be a futile quest, perhaps, but it’s still a perfectly normal human need.)


We need to feel that we are in control of our own decisions.

We yearn to believe we are in control of our bodies.

We long to be in control of our finances.

We want to think we have our families under control.

We all crave assurance that we possess the power to control our fate.

(Whether or not we really do.)

Yet as in most human endeavors like adoption: that which is within your control is invariably going to be limited by other variables— regardless of whether you’re placing or adopting or have been adopted, whether your adoption is open or closed, whether it’s domestic or international, and whether you’re using an agency or attorney.

We get it, if you find this frustrating. It’s a hard truth to swallow, sometimes, but knowing what you can and cannot control can ultimately help you pick your battles, so let’s consider both…

What You Can Control

If you’re planning on placing, you absolutely control the choice of whether you want to use an adoption agency or an attorney, where you want your baby or child to go, and you have every right to choose your child’s prospective parents. You can decide if you want your baby to be born at a hospital or at home. You can choose your own obstetrician or midwife (provided they accept your insurance or Medicaid.) You can choose whether or not you want the adoptive family to be at the hospital with you, and you alone get to decide what name you give your child on the original birth certificate. You can choose whether or not you wish to breastfeed, and it is entirely up to you how much time you want to spend with your baby after birth. You can decide if and when you sign the legal papers allowing your child to be adopted, and as long as CPS is not involved with you and your baby, you can also decide to take your baby home and try out parenting for awhile if you’re unsure if adoption is the right plan or not.

If you’re planning on adopting, you likewise control the choice of whether you want to use an adoption agency or an attorney. You have the right to control what information you do (or do not) wish to share about yourselves with prospective birthparents. You can self-determine what sort of child/ren you will or will not accept. You have the right of refusal over any match or case that is presented to you. You have the right to specify what case risks you do or do not feel able to accept. You can decide which homestudy worker or agency you wish to use. You can choose whether or not to involve the prospective birthparents in your selection of baby names. You can decide whether or not to prepare a nursery or child’s room in advance of placement. You can control whether or not you feel comfortable having a baby shower or whether you prefer to wait until after placement. You can decide if you want to share your journey with your friends and relatives, or keep it private until the outcome is known. You may also be able to decide whether or not to accept a prospective birthmother’s invitation to be present in the delivery room or at the hospital prior to placement.

What You Cannot Control

There are, however, just as many things you cannot control, and it’s important that adoption professionals be forthright in preparing prospective birth and adoptive parents for these limitations.

If you are placing, you cannot control what your child’s other parent will do, so you’ll save yourself some stress if you forfeit that illusion. You cannot control when the baby will be born, either, much as you may wish you could. The standards on what maternity support can or cannot be provided are set by the State, so you cannot control what financial assistance an adoption agency can give you. State laws will also determine how long you may have to wait to sign adoption paperwork (in Texas, for example, you cannot relinquish until at least 48 hours after birth,) and whether or not there is a reclaim period afterwards during which you can change your mind (note: in Texas, there is none.) Whether or not the State permits legally-enforceable open adoption agreements is controlled by the legislature (in Texas, unfortunately, open adoption arrangements are a matter of trust.) You cannot control whether or not the adoptive parents change the baby’s name after placement, whether or not they remain at the same address they reside in at time of placement, what religion they raise their child to be, whether they keep in touch with your both birthparents or other birthfamily members as well, or even whether their marriage will withstand the tests of time, or how your child will grow and develop in their care in the years to come.

If you are adopting, you cannot control how long it will take for the “right” placement opportunity to find you, however much you hope to minimize your wait. You are not going to be able to control the lifestyle choices the prospective birthmother makes during pregnancy, because the pregnancy choices are hers to make– regardless of whether she ultimately places or not. You know your budget better than anyone, of course, but the costs related to the birth and the adoption will likely be out of your control, as well, so be prepared for the unexpected. You cannot control the opinions of those around the birthparent/s who may disapprove of the adoption plan, much as you might long to do so. You may want to control who has access to the birthmother or the baby in the hospital, but prior to placement, those decisions rightfully belong to the baby’s mother. You cannot control the condition of the baby at the time of birth, you cannot “make” a placement happen, nor should you attempt to exercise any control of any kind over the mother’s relinquishment proceedings. As many savvy adoption veterans could warn you: the more you try to control things in the hospital, the less positive the ultimate outcome is likely to be. You cannot control the length of time the state officials take to process Interstate Compact paperwork so don’t even try. Patience is definitely a greater virtue than control when it comes to adopting, so please try to keep this in mind. And prepare yourself for the reality that there’s no foolproof way to control your child’s medical prognosis in the future, however careful you screen for issues now.

The most important takeaway from all of this is to learn to make good choices where you can, and learn to surrender that which is out of your control. (Easier said than done, we know.) Good choices may not always result in your desired outcome, and surrendering does not mean forfeiting your right to continue making your own best decisions. But it does mean to be realistic about what is in your control, and to be pragmatic about what is not, for the sake of your own sanity.

Because when it’s all said and done, most folks come to realize that this is a lesson that eventually serves them well as they face the many uncertainties of parenthood, as well. And because despite our very normal human desire to be able to control our children’s perceptions of the choices we’ve made on their behalf, neither birthparents nor adoptive parents have any real control over how adoptees will feel about their stories. Learning to cede control in order to honor adoptees’ rights to draw their own conclusions and to form to their own sense of identity is essential.

So if you’re presently grappling with adoption and the illusion of control, take heart– because all that you’re learning today will surely continue to be of benefit, for years to come.

Give to Abrazo

When you give to Abrazo, your contribution goes farther and matters more.

give-to-AbrazoThat’s because Abrazo is a nonprofit social service agency that (unlike big United Way organizations) does not operate on a huge budget. Nobody on Abrazo’s staff has ever earned a six figure salary. Abrazo doesn’t have a $3.5 million dollar endowment (unlike one well-known, well-funded adoption agency in Fort Worth.) But here is what Abrazo does have: heart and soul. (In abundance.)

And that’s why the people of our community and the gifts they give make a bigger difference here.

What Our Donors Have Done

When one of Abrazo’s babies died of SIDS at the beginning of this year, that child’s birthmother lacked the means to travel out of state for the funeral, and she didn’t have anything suitable to wear to it, either, Because of the donors who support Abrazo’s Angel Account, our agency was able to help her and her family get to the funeral (and to feel appropriately-dressed for it, as well.)

Ally was a birthmother who placed elsewhere, through a private adoption. This year, she learned that her son’s adoptive dad had abused both his children, causing law enforcement to get involved and precipitating an ugly divorce. Ally was devastated. She felt guilty for choosing the adoptive family that she did, and she did not know where to turn for support, or how to break the news to her family. By chance, she happened upon Abrazo online, and because of the donors who support Abrazo’s Angel Account, our agency had the means to provide Ally with late-night access to a professional therapist who was able to help her in her moment of need.

One Abrazo family was struggling with issues related to their adoption of older children. Their insurance didn’t provide the needed coverage that would afford them the help they needed. Because of Abrazo’s donors who support the Angel Account, our agency was able to get them professional care.

Each year, because of the donors who support Abrazo’s birthmother scholarship fund, we have the capacity to help three birthmothers who have placed children for adoption attend college or trade school, through our scholarship program, which is handled through the San Antonio Area Foundation. We have another scholarship program pending, which will likewise provide an annual scholarship for an Abrazo adoptee and for the birthsibling of an Abrazo adoptee; again, all because of the donors who support Abrazo’s charitable giving programs.

When a series of hurricanes hit Abrazofolks in Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico this fall, Abrazo’s adoptive families and birthfamilies alike were impacted by the devastation. We launched an appeal on Facebook, and because of the generosity of our supporters, our agency was able to provide gift cards to help multiple families begin to gradually rebuild their homes and their lives.

The birthgrandmother of an Abrazo adoptee learned this year of our desire to create a special charm bracelet to honor our adoptive mothers and birthmothers, and being a jewelry designer, she donated her time to create lovely sets, and because of the donors who support the Angel Account, the costs of the needed materials were covered, as well.

A local mother of five was in a desperate place this summer. She’d just had surgery, and there was no food in the house. She feared that Child Protective Services might take her hungry kids away. She wasn’t wanting to consider adoption, but she desperately needed help. Because of the donors who support Abrazo’s Angel Account, our agency was able to deliver groceries to Mary and her family, thus enabling her to feed her children and to keep her family together.

After a small film production took a big chance to promote the story of an African businessman who adopted hundreds of destitute children in his country, the folks behind the movie “Mully” found themselves challenged with how to meet Charles Mully’s request that his story be used to help facilitate the adoptions of American children, as well. Abrazo got a call from his American press agent, and because of the goodness of the Abrazo community, our agency was able to find volunteers to donate their time to help promote Mully’s mission here in America as well as his work in Africa.

How You Can Help

This is just a small sampling of some of the extra lengths to which Abrazo has been able to go to help those in need, just this year, thanks to those who give to Abrazo.

This Giving Tuesday, we know there is no shortage of worthy causes and organizations in need of your support.

Yet if you want to contribute in a way that will enable your gift to make a very real difference in the lives of children, parents and families who have been touched by adoption, please: give to Abrazo.

After all, when you give to Abrazo, you help change the world in the biggest of little ways.

Thankful

Given that November is the month that we honor adoption and celebrate Thanksgiving, what better time of year is there to be thankful?

January will mark Abrazo’s 24th birthday, and in the nearly two-and-a-half decades since our agency opened, Abrazo has served 2839 birthfamilies and adoptive families.

ThankfulWe are thankful for every one of them; for the trust they have placed in us and for the love they have demonstrated for their children.

These are parents who have truly “gone the extra mile” on behalf of their kids. They faced down some of life’s greatest challenges and completed mountains of paperwork and jumped through countless hoops to ensure that their child’s fate would never just be left to chance.

Each of them are people of grace and integrity, who have been true to their word and who rarely get the thanks they deserve for being the amazing people they really are.

So if you are one of these parents: thank you. Your sacrifices are much appreciated… truly.

Bragging Rights

We are thankful for every single adoptee who has been placed and/or adopted here since 1994.

Each is so very loved. So valued. And so unique.

We wish we could tell you how proud we are of all of them… here’s just a sampling of their many achievements:

Lindsay is earning her Master’s degree in Social Work and works in child welfare.

Michael is winning rave reviews on the East Coast for his proficiency in ballet.

Kate competed for the title of Miss Maine in the Miss America system.

Kevin won no less than 4 gold medals in the 2017 Special Olympics.

Lexi, who’s a high school volleyball star, is already being scouted by college recruiters.

Tyson got his driver’s license, and his brother Teyler won early acceptance to two different colleges.

Elektra came in third at her gymnastics meet, and big sister Tasia’s team placed second in their soccer tournament.

Henry is mastering tummy time like an old pro already, and he just rolled over for the first time.

Roxanne just learned to ride a bike. Her brother was the Star Student of the Week at school this fall.

Reece was one of the 2% of Boy Scouts who achieved the rank of Eagle Scout this year.

Ollie made people cry with the precious letter he wrote his birthfamily and shared on Facebook.

Maguell, who has Down Syndrome, has just learned to stand by himself.

Emma Claire and Grace Ann and Mia are all accomplished cheerleaders.

Mikayla finished in the top 40% of track stars at the UIL State Championships this month.

Joshua, who’s a high school football star, recently sang a solo at his church.

(And this list could go on and on, of course.)

Let Us Also Remember…

There are many other Abrazokidz with equally-important accomplishments, like those who have already become proud parents themselves; and the ones who have chosen to join the military to serve their country; and the ones who were failing a class at school but made a genuine effort to improve and pulled their grade up; and and those who befriend the unpopular kids at school, and who stand up to bullies.

We honor our many adoptees who go out of their way to help out the elderly or care for small animals or children; and those who have proven to be safe drivers; and the ones who attend their youth group at church; and them that help around the house without complaining.

We hail, also, the merciful few who have bravely weathered the grief that comes with the death of a parent; and those who contend with mental health issues yet still bring joy to those around them; and the ones who persevere in life despite chronic health conditions.

And we commend our adoptees who have had the courage to share their adoption stories at school, along with those who appreciate their parents’ efforts to keep them connected with their birthfamilies, and we voice support for those who struggle with questions about their adoptions, for those who value and respect all their parents, and for those who never give up hope of reuniting with lost or missing birthfamily members.

This Thanksgiving, we give thanks for all the members of the Abrazo community, all across America. We are grateful for our staff, past and present. We are thankful for every one of our parents-in-waiting, expectant parents, birthfamilies and adoptive families. We appreciate the many extended family members who support them (and us.)

Most of all, we are thankful for each and every child within the Abrazo community, big or small; for every birthsibling, for every homegrown sibling, and for every adoptee.

May they always know how beloved they are, and how thankful we are for them and their proven potential to change the world for the better.

Dealing with Change

Ask anybody who has ever placed a child for adoption, adopted a child or been adopted, and they can tell you plenty about the adjustments that are required when dealing with change in life.

As we have often mentioned at our Parents of Tomorrow Orientation Weekends, it’s often been said that the only constant in life is change, and with change comes stress, because what we already know is our “normal” and anything new or different requires adjustment to the unknown, and that is almost always stressful.

Mental health professionals teach that there are basically two kinds of stress: there’s the negative stress that is commonly known as “distress,” that icky, gnawing feeling that something is unfamiliar or out of our control. And then there’s the less commonly-known term for positive stress, which is “eustress,” which is that exciting-but-nervous feeling that propels people going through change forward, into new growth.

dealing-with-changeSo the lesson to be learned is that nothing ever stays the same, that change requires adaptation on everyone’s parts, and that this is likely to invoke both positive and negative feelings along the way, as we get to wherever we’re going.

Anyone who ever survived nine months of pregnancy knowing that in the end, they intended to place can probably relate. So can anyone who ever hoped to adopt and waited through a match, only to discover how quickly everything in life can change afterwards, regardless of the outcome. And adoptees surely know this feeling, as they grow up with answers provided to them by others and eventually embrace their own sense of identity.

Adoption Has Changed

On a smaller scale, if you want an example of how big changes can occur in a relatively short span of time, you could look at the more than 1400 infertile couples who have come to Abrazo over the past 23.9 years. Despite documented infertility, they still harbored dreams of building their families, and at Abrazo, they succeeded in making those dreams come true, most in less than 12 months time, and a startling number of them did so in six months or less.

On a larger level, though, consider how drastically adoption has changed over the century. It was one hundred years ago that the first state in America implemented closed adoption records (in Minnesota in 1917,) in hopes of sparing foundlings and orphans the public indignities of being “born out of wedlock” and discriminated against, as a result. A whole adoption industry grew out of such laws, as orphanages and adoption agencies and adoption attorneys and adoption facilitators began serving as the gatekeepers that arranged adoptions and hid the parties from each other under a cloak of “confidentiality.”

Society’s love-hate relationship with illegitimacy and birth control gave rise in the fifties, sixties and seventies, to what came to be known as the “Baby Scoop Era,” in which tens of thousands of unwed-but-pregnant American women dealing-with-changewere hidden away in maternity homes in anticipation of secret (aka closed) adoptions. By the ’80s, however, social workers and adoption professionals had begun questioning the liabilities of secrecy and shame in adoption, thus the pendulum swung back towards a more open approach to adoption. Many who feared such transparency sought to complete costly closed adoptions internationally, yet the corruption sometimes entailed in such arrangements led to global prohibitions that have since curtailed foreign adoptions drastically.

Nowadays, the vast majority of privately-arranged domestic adoptions do entail some level of openness, and a growing number of state legislatures are mandating open records access for adult adoptees, righting a civil rights injustice that has prevailed for far too long already. Likewise, a growing number of adoptions nowadays are being arranged independently by attorneys or via the internet. Some of America’s largest, best-known adoption agencies are battling to stay relevant in an ever-changing society, in which single motherhood is increasingly common, abortion rates continue to rise, and the numbers of babies being placed for adoption drops every year.

Changes at Abrazo

All of these changes do not happen in a vacuum, of course, and the changes around us invariably require changes within Abrazo’s programs, as well. Our agency struggles to keep fees as low as possible, even as overhead costs for rent and health insurance continue to skyrocket. Many small nonprofits like Abrazo find it difficult to keep staff salaries competitive with a booming for-profit job market. In just the past decade, outreach options such as the Yellow Pages have disappeared, as more and more prospective clients use the internet to explore their adoption options. Open adoption relationships are changing, too, as technology changes commonly-preferred means of communication from phone calls to texts and emails, and as Skyping and Facetime begin to replace in-person visits.

Like most adoption programs nationwide, Abrazo is facing a season of change, dealing-with-changeas well. Staffing changes necessitate the hiring of a new social worker, and our part-time post-adoption caseworker is retiring this week, so a “changing of the guard” is already in the works. The agency website is about to undergo a major revision, and we hope to re-evaluate all our policies and program requirements before the year’s end, in order to identify needed updates and make timely adjustments. Abrazo has always prided itself on being “the little adoption agency that can” and much as we hope to continue doing great things with a tiny budget, it may be necessary to redefine our agency’s goals in light of limited resources and ever-changing societal needs.

On top of all this, the State of Texas has made a recent decision to completely overhaul its Department of Family & Protective Services and the Residential Childcare Licensing division, so big changes are in the works that will inevitably impact every licensed adoption agency in this state in the year to come. Yet as a longtime Abrazo board member, Karen Stumbough, reminds us: “Adoption– and adoptees– prove to be resilient in an ever-changing world.” Truly, this wisdom should serve as inspiration for us all, as we contemplate adoption’s future in America.

Dealing with change, whether in our individual lives or in the workplace, is never easy, but hopefully, all the growing pains will prove beneficial in time. Thank you for your loyalty, patience and support as we work through upcoming changes and strive to make adoption at Abrazo even better for all.

Being “Woke” in Adoption

Being woke in adoption is a new concept, but it’s definitely worth the time it takes to get there.

The Urban Dictionary describes being woke as having a new awareness, leading to an evolved understanding of a current condition previously understood in a different way.

But ask the average American on the street about adoption, and you’re bound to get an overwhelming sense of how many folks are not woke when it comes to adoption.

After all, myths and misunderstandings abound, being-woke-in-adoptionwhen it comes to adoption in America. Here are just a few: “mothers who give up babies for adoption are all teenagers who cannot possibly raise a child, or crack whores who shouldn’t be allowed to parent. Every adoption costs $30k or more. Open adoption means the birthparents can come take the baby back whenever if they want. All adoptees secretly long to be with their birthfamilies. Healthy adoptees don’t have any interest in meeting their birthfamilies. Giving a baby up for adoption is something every birthmother deeply regrets. People with infertility were never meant to become parents. Once you adopt a child, you’ll get pregnant with one of your own.”

We’re guessing you’ve heard a few of those yourself, and we sincerely hope you know better.

Being Woke: Hard Truths

Still: being woke in adoption means much more than being able to identify fallacies. It means having a deeper understanding of the issues involved, and being genuinely concerned about making those issues better-known in the world around you.

Here are five facts that are commonly known to those who are truly woke in adoption:

* Adoption doesn’t ensure a better future, just a different one.

Nobody can guarantee that adoption will make the adoptee a better person. Nobody can promise that the adoptive parents will stay together, or that the home will be better for the child than remaining in the family of origin. The only certainty is that the adoptee’s life will turn out differently than it would had they remained with the birthfamily, and only they can decide if that was good or bad.

* All adoptions are borne of loss, and all losses must be grieved in order for healing to occur.

Many birthparents ultimately come to the adoption decision as a result of loss of reproductive control, and ironically, so do many adoptive parents. Yet whatever their origination point, to have to forfeit parental rights constitutes an inherent loss for the birthfamily and for the adoptee, and adoptive parents can also feel that loss acutely, when their lack of biological connection alters their ability to fully meet their adopted child’s needs.

* The kids most desperately in need of adoption rarely come wrapped in baby blankets.

For every adopting couple who longs to adopt a newborn, there are countless older children (bonafide orphans as well as foster kids freed for adoption) who have an even more urgent need to be adopted. If you want to see who the children are who are in most desperate need of adoptive homes right now, and whose adoption costs are nominal and/or covered primarily through state-funding, click here.

* Adoption can cause trauma, the results of which can affect adoptees and parents across the lifespan.

Adoption should always be a last resort, because separating a child from his/her mother causes trauma, which is why adoption should be an option reserved for those instances when it is impossible for a child’s needs to be safely, fully and permanently met by their birthparent/s. Trauma does not just impact kids who are “old enough to know what’s going on,” but also (and perhaps especially) newborns; each child may respond to adoption trauma in different ways, which is why it is so essential that adopting parents be prepared to recognize and respond to the effects of adoption trauma.

* It is a human right to know where and to whom you were born, and all laws should honor that right.

Every adoptee should be raised to know the truth of their origins, and whenever possible, they should be allowed age-appropriate access to information about their birthrelatives. At Abrazo, we strongly believe that state laws should grant adult adoptees access to their original birth certificates, and that adoptive parents must join in the fight for adoptee rights and adoption reform.

The Impact of Being Woke

Being woke in adoption can be downright painful. (Just ask the Abrazo staff, who could use about a month of therapy to recover from all the pain we witness every time we attend an annual conference sponsored by the American Adoption Congress.) It hurts to bear witness to the damages of adoptions that began well but ended badly; or to acknowledge the harm that the adoption industry sometimes wreaks through carelessness, negligence or greed; or to understand that even the best-laid plans don’t always render the most hoped-for results, and that the most loving of parents cannot always meet the deepest needs of the most wounded of adoptees.

Yet only by honestly recognizing adoption’s flaws can we hope to work towards the institution’s redemption, and that’s going to take all of us, working together. Being woke in adoption can also be healing for birthparents, for adoptive parents, for adoptees, and for adoption professionals, and when you know better, you do better. So why not begin here and now? After all: the whole world stands to gain from it, one person at a time.

There’s no time like November (National Adoption Month) to be woke in adoption. Listen for adoptees’ voices and consider their perspectives, even (especially?) when it hurts to do so. Honor your adoption promises, even when it seems hardest to do so. Teach the world around you how to treat parents who place and parents who adopt with respect. Take up for adoption professionals who do adoptions right, and challenge those that don’t. And never, ever assume that you don’t need to keep learning all you can about adoption and its effects, because there’s always more to be learned and somebody who will benefit.

Being woke in adoption is well-worth your effort, so please: make it your goal, and begin today.

Choosing Open Adoption

If you are choosing open adoption, then kudos to you, because even before your adoption happens, you are making a commitment to a lifestyle with the potential to enhance your child’s future.

And that’s a really big deal. (So good for you!)

You may not understand exactly what this means, though? That would be perfectly understandable, because open adoption is defined differently by different people and agencies. Yet in order to know what you’re committing to, it’s helpful to be able to see the big picture, so let’s take a look at what choosing open adoption really means?

At Abrazo, we don’t just see open adoption as a means to an end, unless that end is about ensuring that adoptees here can grow up always knowing their adoption truths and the people connected to them. It’s about sharing information and sharing love and recognizing that only the adults can commit to this relationship for themselves, because ultimately, every adoptee has the right to decide for himself or herself if they want to actively maintain these relationships for themselves, once grown.

choosing-open-adoptionChoosing open adoption means choosing to not shame your child by making his/her adoption a secret to be hidden at all times. It doesn’t mean necessarily “going public” with his/her adoption story, because that’s the adoptee’s decision to make, of course. But it does mean always acknowledging your part in the first chapter of the adoptee’s life story and answering his/her questions honestly in an age-appropriate manner, because that’s part of being open, after all.

And know this: choosing open adoption will not make everything easier. It doesn’t ensure that the adoptee will never struggle with having been adopted. It will not ensure that nobody has to grieve any losses. In fact, agreeing not to pretend the adoption never happened may be harder on the parents, even if it ultimately makes things better for the adoptee. But this is all supposed to be about whatever is best for the adoptee, right?

So if you’re going to do this thing, then do it with openness and honesty and integrity and empathy for all parties.

Openness Before Placement

If you’re placing, you might be thinking this just means you’re going to choose your baby’s new family and maybe get to know them beforehand. (And yes, that’s part of it.) If you’re adopting, you may be thinking this means you’re going to have some idea of who is planning to give you her child and maybe have some contact with her before. (And yes, that’s part of it.) So far, so good.

There are some uncomfortable truths that go along with openness, though, and it’s important to know these. For starters, openness means transparency, which means recognizing that however appealing an adoptive family may look in their profile or however sure of their plan an expectant couple considering adoption sounds on the phone, you’re going to (hopefully) get to know each other really well before placement, and you’re not always going to like everything you see. Nobody is perfect, and the stress of the adoption process can amplify anxieties and fears along the way, so keep this in mind.

And no matter how well you get along, or how pleasant your visits are, the awkward truth is that you likely wouldn’t be building the friendship you are if you didn’t both need something from the other. And neither side can promise that the end result will be what either side hopes it will be, because the future is never guaranteed.

So keep in mind that all plans are necessarily subject to change, and trust each other to make the best possible decisions, no matter what that may mean after the birth.

Openness After Placement

If placement does happen as planned, then expect that your roles and your needs are going to change dramatically, and that’s going to mean an adjustment on everyone’s part– but no less concern for each other’s needs. Becoming new parents is stressful, no matter how long-anticipated a dream it has been; bearing witness to the sorrows that adoptive placement entails is never easy. And losing a child (no matter how it happens) is always going to incur grief, however certain a birthparent may be about “what needed to happen.” So be gentle with yourselves and with each other. Birthparents and adoptive parents often feel they have to “put on a brave face” for the other after placement, but the more honest you can be about what you’re feeling and what you need from the other, the better it is. (For everyone.)

Adoptive parents in open adoption can sometimes struggle with feeling guilty after placement, because they are acutely aware of the collateral losses that their dream unintentionally caused the birthfamily (and, yes, the adoptee, too.) Birthparents in open adoption sometimes find themselves feeling envious of or resentful towards the adoptive parents they genuinely love, for getting to take over their parenting roles. These are all normal feelings as everyone adapts to their new roles, and having a trusted adoption caseworker or counselor to talk to can help put these emotions in proper perspective.

Hopefully, your adoption professional (whether that’s an adoption agency or an adoption attorney) will have helped you work out a written post-adoption contact agreement, whether it’s legally-enforceable or not, so that everyone knows what can be expected to happen and when. (Please don’t just go “free-style,” because however awkward these negotiations may seem, it’s way better when there’s a voluntary contract that helps everyone feel more secure.) It’s okay to have more contact than you have committed to, but please don’t do less. And if you need to change the arrangements that were made, make sure you make those decisions together, for the child’s sake.

The irony of open adoption is that if you do it right (and you keep that relationship healthy,) the person who is likely to appreciate it the least is the adoptee. Why is this? It’s not because openness doesn’t matter to the adoptee or doesn’t make a difference in his/her life– it’s because he/she has never not known the benefits that come with truly open adoptions. And that means his/her parents (all of you) did things right.

Choosing open adoption doesn’t mean the adoptee will never take issue with the decisions that were made on his/her behalf; in fact, it means you may not be shielded from the fallout if the adoptee doesn’t agree with what was done or how things unfolded. (But that’s okay, too.) Because an adoptee who feels empowered to be open about his/her feelings about the adoption, whether positive or negative, is an adoptee who truly has gleaned the benefits of openness. This means that openness achieved what it was supposed to. (And that you and the other parents can weather any discord together, as the committed friends-and-family that you are.)

Adoptees are not a gift that parents can ever give each other. However, choosing open adoption can become an act of love on the part of the placing and adopting parents, when they all work together with their child’s best interests always in mind.

Her name was Annabelle

Her name was Annabelle and her life ended yesterday, at the tender age of fourteen.

Annabelle Pomeroy was the adopted daughter of the pastor of the First Baptist Church at Sutherland Springs.

Yesterday, after Sunday School, Annabelle went to the sanctuary for worship. Although her parents were out of town, her church family was there and so was she, as every good preacher’s kid should be.

And that was where she was, when an angry gunman with local ties to that congregation shot up the church in the worst mass church shooting in America (yet.)

The world is full of dangers, we all know that.

And Annabelle likely knew it, too. her-name-was-annabelle

She was said to have been in state care, prior to being adopted by the Pomeroy family, and Frank and Sherri Pomeroy had made it their mission in life to keep her safe from harm.

Their youngest daughter was flourishing in their loving care, undoubtedly.

But yesterday, it was allegedly the father of two other children who took her life– and that of a reported 25 other innocent victims in that church.

A military veteran who lived outside San Antonio, he’d reportedly faced charges in the past for domestic violence, and his wife was friends with members of the Pomeroy family.

We won’t repeat his name here, because he’s also dead, now, and to add to his infamy serves no purpose.

Yet our hearts go out to the family and friends of the 26 churchgoers killed by this man, to the twenty or more who were injured in the attack– and yes, to his family, also.

It’s all too common to offer up platitudes in the wake of a tragedy like this, because certainly there are no plausible answers to explain the slaughter of innocents in a house of worship. (Churches are supposed to be a safe refuge from the world in times of trouble, after all?)

This latest massacre is sure to fan the flames of social dissension about the need for fewer guns (or more of them, depending on which side of the debate one supports.)

Our intent is not to fan those flames, however. We’re not here to debate the politics of gun control nor to dispute the sovereignty of God or to preach about the power of prayer.

Our intent is simply to offer support to a small town in Texas that has been rocked by an evil act, and to offer comfort to dozens of families who have been forever changed by this tragedy.

There’s a blood drive in San Antonio to help victims of the Sutherland Springs; there’s a taco sale being held at the school in Floresville Friday morning to help raise money for the funerals; and HEB is collecting donations, as is a nonprofit disaster relief organization called HHFRF.

Is any good to be found in the midst of such evil?

This being the month known for thankfulness, we’re struggling to find anything for which to be grateful in light of yesterday’s news.

So let us just say that we’re thankful for small, rock-solid churches like that one in Sutherland Springs. Being built of people of faith, we trust that their faith will sustain them in the days and weeks to come, as they lay their parishioners to rest, as they heal from their wounds, and as they struggle to make sense of the horror that befell them on a sunny Texas Sabbath.

We’re thankful for the members of law-enforcement and for the first responders who are ministering to the people of Sutherland Springs in their time of need, who sprang into action on the weekend and who continue to investigate this terrible crime that occurred.

We’re thankful for the medical professionals who are caring for the wounded; for the doctors and nurses and nurse’s aides who are seeking to fix all that the bullets tore asunder. And we’re thankful for the funeral directors and their staff, who are taking care of those that the medical providers could not.

We lift heartfelt prayers for those left to mourn all the lives of those who were lost yesterday, for the friends and families who held them so dear.

And just days into National Adoption Month, we pause to remember some very special adoptive parents named the Pomeroys, and the beloved daughter they lost yesterday.

Her name was Annabelle, and she will not be soon forgotten.

The Power of One

This being National Adoption Month, we can’t help but be reminded of the power of one.

What is the power of one? It’s the amazing potential that every single living individual has to effect meaningful change in the life of another, given the right intention(s) and some effort on their part.

All it takes is one person to change the world– one child, one family, one case at a time.

How One Person Can Make a Change

For example, there’s this one woman we know. We’ll call her “Maria.”

Years ago, Maria’s teenage daughter was facing a catastrophic diagnosis; she was battling a brain tumor, when the family discovered she was also pregnant. Maria and her husband came to see adoption as the best possible option for the coming baby, and their daughter agreed. An open adoption through Abrazo gave them all the opportunity to continue a lasting family bond with this beloved child and her adoptive parents, but Maria’s commitment didn’t stop there. Maria, a skilled jewelry maker, now donates some of her artwork to help raise funds for the Angel Account at the Camp Abrazo raffle in the summer. Beyond that, Maria has spoken at Abrazo’s orientation weekends, and also is one of the Elite members of our Forum, mentoring others in the adoption process. Maria’s generosity in continuing to support her adoption community is just one example of the power of one birthgrandmother to positively impact the world around her.

Then there’s a couple in Abrazo’s program, who had prayed for years for a child to love. the-power-of-oneThey were good, hardworking people. They didn’t live in a gigantic mansion. They don’t travel to exotic places on vacation. They weren’t certain that adoption would work out for them any better than fertility treatment did(n’t.) Yet they longed to be parents– and all it took was one special birthmother, who saw in them the stable, secure home she wanted for her child. “Alexis” worked in fast food and she didn’t need her child to grow up as a trust fund baby; rather, she wanted for her child to have the traditional, down-home kind of life she wished she could’ve had. “Alexis,” in making the enormous sacrifice she did on her baby’s behalf, demonstrated the power of one birthmother to change not just the life of her own child, but the life of her child’s new family, as well.

That family, in turn, has found their own way to harness the power of one to do good for others. After their prayers were answered and their baby came home, they opted to pay it forward by creating a series of lovely “baby baskets” as a welcome gift to celebrate the arrivals of other babies in the Abrazo community. Each month, their generosity has enabled another Abrazo couple who has taken placement to start out their parenting journey with some extra supplies and provisions– again, illustrating the power of one family to touch the lives of others in the course of adoption.

Another father-by-adoption named Walt Manis contacted Abrazo this week to encourage our agency to share the message of his adoption of their beloved daughter Chloe. Walt and his wife now live in Austin and since adopting, they have made it their mission to help others better understand how adoption works. As Walt wrote Abrazo: “We love adoption and have talked to so many people who have come to us who are having fears or questions. It’s been good to walk alongside them.” They don’t do this because it benefits them in any way. They do it because they believe in The Power of the One whose love inspires love to be shared, all through the power of one.

Year after year, here in Texas, one former foster kid who finally got adopted summons the troops and marches up to the Texas State Capitol for a cause near and dear to all our hearts. Her name is Connie, and she is the reckoning force behind S.T.A.R. (Support Texas Adoptee Rights.) Connie already has found her own birthfamily, so this isn’t just about her. It’s about helping make adoption better for generations of Texas adoptees (past and present) who are denied access to their own original birth certificates, and come 2018, Connie and S.T.A.R. (including Abrazo) will again prevail upon the Texas Legislature to use the power of one bill to finally make things right for all adoptees (past and future) in the Lone Star State.

What Can You Change for Good?

We are reminded of the power of one person to educate the world around them when we see all the Abrazofolks posting adoption quotes and photos and memes online for National Adoption Month. If just one person sees one of those posts and comes to understand open adoption in a whole new light, then the power of one will have proven itself again! This week, one brave Abrazo birthmom even went public with the story of her adoption decision for the very first time. On her Facebook page, she wrote “I wanted to share something with y’all that is so personal to me. For a long time, I was afraid of the back lash I would receive but I’m not afraid anymore. (Five years ago) I made a decision, the hardest decision I have had to do” and shared a picture of herself and her children with her birthson and his adoptive family. It was an amazingly courageous act depicting the power of one first mom to bear witness to the fact that even out of life’s hardest choices, good things can grow.

And speaking of pictures, next week, on November 9, all across America, moviegoers will have a remarkable opportunity the-power-of-oneto witness what the power of one can do, as the movie Mully makes an encore presentation in select theaters around the country. It is an extraordinary documentary about the power of one abandoned child, Charles Mully, who grew to be a millionaire yet sacrificed nearly everything, to open his heart and his home to children in need… and lots of them. We encourage you to take your family and go see this remarkable movie, which will surely leave you inspired to unleash the power of one in your own special way, whatever that might be.

Not everyone can adopt thousands of homeless children, we know that. Not everyone makes jewelry, or can go public with their adoption story, or can find the resolve to place a child for adoption, or has the time or means to gift others with baby supplies. Not everyone can donate money to launch a birthmother scholarship fund at Abrazo as novelist and adoptive mom Jackie Mitchard has done, and not everyone can seed an adoptee and birthsibling scholarship as basketball legend Dominique Wilkins once did for Abrazo. We understand that. Not everyone can click on a link for the Texas Heart Gallery and pick out a needy child in state foster care to love and parent for a lifetime.

But everyone can do something, and that is the magic of the power of one. Every single individual reading this blog right now can think of one way, however small, to help meet the needs of children or to spread the word about adoption or to support those touched by adoption.

You have the power of one– yes, you! How can you help change the world?