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Another Mother Gone

This weekend, news broke of a tragic death that has left two little girls with another mother gone.

September is national Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, which makes the reported suicide of adoptive mother Michelle Rounds all the more poignant.

Michelle Rounds was just 46. Best known for her brief marriage to and contentious divorce from Rosie O’Donnell, Rounds had adopted her first daughter with O’Donnell and was reportedly forced to terminate parental rights to that child as part of the couple’s divorce settlement in 2016. Since then, she was said to have married another woman and adopted another little girl.

Our hearts go out to both children, to their birthfamilies, and to the family and friends of Michelle Rounds. We know that Ms. Rounds’ untimely passing leaves a compounded loss in the lives of all of them.

Don’t let suicide tragically destroy that which adoption can potentially fix

Adoption being so focused on new beginnings, it is understandable why we cringe at any discussion linking it with a tragic and painful end like suicide. another-mother-goneThe factors that lead to suicidal actions are varied and complex, but we know that mental health issues such as depression, substance abuse and genetics are leading causes; all of which are concerns in adoption, as well. Adoption does not cause suicide, of course, but for those who are emotionally-fragile to begin with, the losses so prevalent in the adoption process can pose special risks.

The adoption community shudders at the fact that adoptees are more likely to make suicide attempts, although those with open adoption can take comfort in the research that documents that high family connectedness is identified as a “protective factor” decreasing the likelihood of suicide attempts in all adolescents, whether adopted or not. (Curiously, international adoptees seem to be at lower risk for conduct disorders than domestic adoptees, although they are more prone to anxiety and depressive disorders than are non-adopted persons.)

Suicidal ideation can present a lethal risk for birthmothers, as well, when they are struggling with post-partum depression and post-placement grief and do not have adequate support from adoption professionals nor continued contact with their children’s adoptive families. One late mother who placed, only to be shut out by her chosen adoptive family, was Cindy Jordan, whose tragic post-placement suicide should serve as a cautionary tale for any adopting parents who may be approaching adoption as a means to their own ends and discounting the potential impact of broken promises. Amber Sanders, the American birthmom of a son adopted by Hugh Jackman and Deborah Lee Furness, likewise took her own life, after addiction and broken adoption promises destroyed her ability to hold out hope that things would get better for her.

And adoptive parents (although statistically the least likely triad members to succumb to suicidal thoughts,) are also subject to post-placement depression, of course. Homestudies do (or should) address whether or not adopting parents have family histories of mental illness and explore support systems and coping skills as a means of assessing how effectively any family may deal with the stressors of parenthood and adoption; however, adoption professionals should continue to carefully monitor adoptive family adaptation after placement– not just beforehand.

Four years ago, in Belarus, a highly-honored psychologist and adoptive mother named Katsyarnya Onakhava inexplicably took her own life, leaving her husband to fend for their 11 children. She had been the recipient of the coveted Order of Mothers prize, but found her efforts to promote foster care and adoption were leaving her feeling depleted, as she’d written in her blog, prior to her death: “I no longer have the strength to stand at the barricades, smiling and waving.”

If only these mothers had known they were not left to stand alone… and if only every adoptee, birthparent and adoptive parent knew there truly are better days ahead, when depression threatens to get the best of them!

Help for those feeling hopeless

It is essential that those whose lives have been touched by adoption know they are not alone, that there is support available when they feel unable to carry on, and that they know where to turn for help. The national suicide prevention hotline is 1-800-273-8255 and can be reached any hour of the day or night.

How can you help? Take the time to ask how someone is doing, and to listen without judgement. Learn what warning signs to look for, and contact authorities such as local police or suicide prevention organizations if you believe that someone you care about is at risk and has a plan for how they will take their own life. (For more helpful advice on preventing a family member or friend in crisis from harming themselves, click here.)

And if you are a birthparent or adoptive parent of a child who is at risk, please know that reaching out for help and telling someone that your son or daughter needs help does not make you a “bad parent”… rather, it means you’re one of the better parents out there, because you are willing to go the extra mile to help your child and keep them safe, no matter what.

All through September and in the months that follow, let’s dedicate ourselves to the cause of suicide prevention, within the adoption community and beyond it. After all, if doing so helps to save even one child from the sorrow of another mother gone, any efforts we can make will surely have all been well worth it.

Adoption for children

Every so often, Abrazo gets random phone calls in which it’s necessary to explain that we do adoption for children, not for pets.

We appreciate that people are concerned for both children and animals. We know that both require loving care. We know for some animal lovers, their pets are like their babies.

Yet we wish folks wouldn’t equate adoption for children with the acquisition of stray critters.

It’s not “just the same” and suggesting that it is has disturbing implications for some adoptees and their parents (birth and adoptive), as well as for our culture at large.

Adoption is a legal proceeding adoption-for-childrenin which a licensed social work certifies an adopting family’s readiness to parent a child not born to them, a biological parent is legally relieved of their duties and obligations by the courts, and a judge grants permanent legal custody to the adopting family only after they have proven their suitability and demonstrated their commitment to the child in question.

That is typically a lengthy process which includes hours of counseling, interviews, home inspections, fingerprinting, reference checks, court appearances, written reports, sworn testimony, months of supervision, and plenty of tears (both of sadness and joy.)

This is not a brief transaction. It is not a simple exchange.

It requires a lifetime commitment– in human years, not just dog years or cat years.

Getting a pet isn’t just like adopting a child

Nearly all of Abrazo’s staff have pets who were rescues. (Although we readily acknowledge that “who rescued who” may be an open-ended question?) So we get it: animals need care, too.

We fully appreciate the importance of providing a nurturing environment for those without a home.

Yet none of us underwent a full-blown homestudy in order to take our pets home from a shelter. None of us obtained the consent of the pet’s parents to ensure that they were making a fully-informed decision for their offspring’s future. None of us underwent extensive preparations to ensure that our home would stand up to the scrutiny of shelter staff, nor did we undergo a half-year or more of post-placement supervision. None of us went to court to obtain legal guardianship, and none of us swore before a judge that our commitment was forever.

So, no… we didn’t “adopt” our pets, and frankly, it’s unfair to adopted children for anyone to conflate the two processes.

Adopting a child is not as easy as going to an animal shelter and picking out the four-legged creature of one’s choice. Children available for adoption are not strays. And adjusting to being adopted is not as simple as an animal adapting to a new caretaker, either.

adoption-for-childrenThere may be similarities, but please, stop using adoption language to describe pet acquisitions. (You don’t refer to having “married” Fido or Fifi, even if your pet does require nearly as much care and feeding as your spouse, right? But equating your husband or wife with your chihuahua or pitbull or tabby or hamster would likely be insulting, and the same is true for children who were once adopted.) And while debating pedigree may be perfectly fine when choosing a pet, this is not an appropriate priority when considering children for adoption.

Adoption language is for people, not pets

See, positive adoption language is not “just pretty words,” nor is it merely about marketing. The language we use really matters to people– not to pets– and that’s why it’s so essential that we use the language of adoption appropriately and don’t shortchange our most sacred rituals of building families by equating adoption with the purchase or pickup of a pet (however much we love our animals.)

How we talk about adoption for children shapes how they feel about it, and children who have been adopted deserve to view their origins with pride, not shame. They need to know their birthparents and have continued access to them. And they need to be know that the process by which they joined their forever family was in no way just like a visit to the pound to pick out a pup.

We’re not telling you not to acquire a pet, if you want one; we agree that rescuing stray animals is an important endeavor and should be supported as such.

But if you’re looking to adopt, then please remember that adoption is for children.

At Abrazo, adoption for children changes children’s lives for the better– and the addition of a child to any home through adoption is something even the most beloved pets should likewise welcome with joy.

To Be Remembered

Sixteen years after 9/11, we are reminded once again of how vital it is to be remembered.

When the World Trade Center was attacked on 9/11/01, over three thousand children under the age of 18 lost at least one parent in that tragedy. Countless lives were lost or changed forever, and among them were birthparents, adoptees and adoptive parents, as well.

There were birthparents who had not yet had the opportunity to reunite with the child/ren they’d placed, like Tom Burnett, who left behind an unfinished letter to his birthdaughter that she received only after those towers fell. There were birthparents who died that day having never told anyone they had placed a child for adoption, and there were others whose passing devastated the adoptive families who wouldn’t exist were it not for them.

There were adoptive families affected, like that of three-year-old adoptee David Gamboa-Brandhorst, who died with his adoptive dads on Flight 175. Another adopting dad Jeff Mladenik knew he had a new daughter waiting for him in China, but he lost his life in a fiery plane crash, forcing his wife to complete their adoption as a single parent, meaning daughter Hannah lost her adoptive dad before she’d even met him.

And there were other adoptees impacted, like Laura Dennis, who had reunited with her birthmom 6 months before the attack but lost her adopted uncle in the Twin Towers, and Lisa Paterson, who lost her own adoptive dad at age 11 and then had to explain to her twins why their dad would never return home from work on 9/11/01.

There were also children who were actually or effectively orphaned by the events of 9/11. to-be-rememberedChildren like Rui Zheng, who lost both her parents on Flight 77, and Kahleb Fallon, the son of a single mother who was adopted by his aunt and uncle after she died in the World Trade Center. The daughter of the late Catherine Gorayeb was only adopted in recent years, after the conclusion of a lengthy, painful battle between her aunt and her birthfather. (Edward Kranz had reportedly forfeited custody prior to 9/11, but later contested her aunt’s quest to adopt her seven years later– two weeks after $2 million in victim’s compensation had been awarded to the child.)

There were birthparents and adoptive parents and adoptees amongst the helpers, too; the firefighters and police and paramedics who responded that fateful day, as well as the brave troops who have gone on to battle terrorism here and abroad.

Even the unborn children of pregnant 9/11 survivors also bore the trauma of the experience, according to researchers. Undoubtedly, America as a nation was forever changed by the experience; airport security became a multi-million dollar industry. Military action ensued against terrorist factions in Iraq and Afghanistan, and tens of thousands have lost their lives as a result.

And the ripples left behind by the 9/11 atrocity have continued to impact scores of others who will never be able to pursue the DNA tests needed to confirm relationships with those lost on 9/11. It even affects adoptees who were not even born here nor visited the Twin Towers, like Adam Crapser and the late Phillip Clay, because of changes in immigration law enforcement since 9/11 that have unfairly targeted international adoptees whose adoptive parents failed to secure their citizenship here in the US as should have been done.

To be remembered is to live on in the memories of others; to be valued by those whose lives you have touched, or to be honored by those who never knew you yet do not forget your existence. We remember the 9/11 victims and survivors through memorials, such as the National September 11 Memorial & Museum. The name of each victim is read aloud at the 9/11 memorial service held each year, because to say each name and have it heard is to pay tribute publicly to those whose lives have mattered. Survivors still get together for reunions, because those who have been through a life-changing event together draw strength from time spent with each other.

This is not unlike the things that are routinely done in open adoptions to honor kinship connections and to treasure our shared experiences by celebrating “A-Day” and the relationships that brought us together. We recognize the importance of raising children to know the relatives (by birth and by adoption) who are significant to us, through photos and videos and phone calls and visits, and we do all we can to preserve family memories and create new ones through reunions such as Camp Abrazo.

The heartaches survived by those impacted by adoption are different, of course, than the horrific traumas of those who experienced the losses of 9/11, yet whatever life challenges and tragic losses have been endured, it is the resilience of the human spirit that enables both to remember the past, yet look with hope to the future.

To be remembered is, perhaps, the lingering blessing that can outlive any loss in this lifetime, thus we honor the memory of all whose personal tragedies on (and since) 9/11/01 still grieve us so deeply.

What Adoptees Need

Adoption is supposed to be all about what adoptees need, yet so much of the adoption process seems focused instead on the needs of their parents, doesn’t it?

Part of the reason, of course, is that most adoptions begin before the child to be adopted is even known to anyone.

Adopting parents shop for adoption services based in large part upon whether those services can likely deliver what they are hoping for, which is usually the successful adoption of a healthy infant. (And if you’re surprised to learn that adoptive parents “shop” for adoption services, know that this is not at all unusual, considering the burgeoning numbers of adoption resources vying for the business and the financial investment involved in the average adoption.)

Prospective birthparents have also been known to explore multiple adoption resources, as they search for help. Some search for the adopting family that looks the most able to offer their child a good life. Some look for the attorney or adoption agency that offers the most maternity support. Many look for someone who will provide them with an open adoption or a closed adoption, as fits their wishes.

But at the beginning stages, adoption is largely a consumer-driven quest, in which the adults’ desires and wishes are the primary motivation for what is to follow. Lost in translation is any real focus on what adoptees need, and what they might tell their parents, if they could somehow speak with them before any placement ever occurred?

In a child-centered adoption, which is what every adoption is supposed to be, what would the adoptee want us to know, if they had a voice in this process?

Dear Potential Birthparents…

You are, of course, nothing but my parents before I’m born and placed, so I need you to take that role very seriously, even though you don’t know me yet, because right now, I need nobody more than I need you. And if it were all up to me, knowing what I know about you right now (which is everything and nothing,) there is nobody else I would rather be with, so please take this into consideration as you ponder my future. Adoption has got to be your last resort, chosen only when you’re absolutely sure no other alternative will truly be best for me.

See, even if adopting parents and adoption professionals assure you that my needs will all be met, the truth is that in a perfect world, every kid would grow up loved and cared for by their first parents, and I would (of course) like to be just like every kid, if possible. If you cannot parent me yourself, however, and meet my every need, then I’m going to need you to take your time to be sure of this and to check out all the options before coming to any final decision.

what-adoptees-needI will need you to find me the family that seems the most like you and yours, if all things were ideal, and I need you to really know them personally before you send me off with them. I’ll need you to spend quality time bonding with me after I’m born, so I will know how to form secure attachments right from the start of my life, since you are the only people I already know. And I’m going to need you to be sure that whomever you choose to raise me is secure enough to honor our connection in a very real way, all my life long.

I cannot be responsible for your grief or for any regrets you may carry in life. I need you to understand that I will need to have information about and access to both my birthparents, whether or not you two still get along or keep in touch. I will need to be reminded that the adoption decision was made “for my best interests,” based on what you thought you knew at the time, but that I am not responsible for your choices in life. And I’m going to need you to get your act together, so that I have tangible evidence that you actually made good on your promises at the time of my adoption to better your life and mine, as a result of all this.

There are going to be times when you’re not sure where I fit in your life or your family, and I may have the same uncertainties, but I need you to always be there for me if I need you, and to give me my space if I don’t. I realize this may seem rather unfair, but this is supposed to be about what I need, and sometimes, what I’ll need most is time to find my way and the freedom to ask my own questions.

Thank you for understanding this, and for wanting to do everything just right for me.

Dear Prospective Adoptive Parents…

I genuinely appreciate your interest in becoming my parents. I realize that ultimately, the decision is out of my hands (even though, it really should be up to me, when you really think about it?)

I need you to find it in your heart to truly care about my first family, to forgive any shortcomings they may have, and to embrace them as my relatives. I know this might be asking a lot, but if you cannot welcome them into your lives, then how can you ever really welcome me? Those are my people and they have to become your people, too, on some level, if we’re ever really going to become a family.

This is a huge commitment you’re taking on, I know. what-adoptees-needAnd if you’ve found me after weathering the wrenching losses of infertility, then I know you have sacrificed much to become parents. I know I will become the beneficiary of all the hopes and dreams you carry in your heart for the children you could not have. Yet I need you to remember that I am not a stand-in, nor can I be their replacement. I hail from another family’s tree, and I am going to have my own traits and talents and differences and I will need you to truly embrace those, as well.

I will need plenty of time with my first mother after I’m born, even if you’re longing to cuddle me nonstop, and even if she wants you to do that. You want to be able to be my everything, and I will love that you love me that much. Still, I need you to remember that I will need some things that can only come from my family of origin, and I will need you to honor them, even if there are times when they test your patience. My love for them is not a betrayal of my love for you. And it will be vital that neither of you ever fight over me nor expect me to prove my loyalty to either of you.

I’m not going to be a perfect kid. (There isn’t any such thing, of course, but you wouldn’t know that I already know this.) There are going to be times when I hurt you by questioning whether you’re my “real” parents, and there will be times when I don’t make us proud of me. There will be times when I grieve over being adopted, and there will be times when you hurt for me, too. There will be times when I make mistakes, and there may even be times when you question if adopting me was the right choice, although I hope you never say this aloud? But please know I will always need you to never give up on me, no matter what.

Thank you for wanting to give me the best possible life. And thank you for giving me plenty of room to grow and become whomever and whatever I choose, even when you long to be able to hold onto me, or protect me forever.

Remember: what adoptees need must always be at the forefront of all our plans– whether we are placing or adopting– and over all the years that follow, as well.

There’s a reason they call it “labor.”

When it comes to the process of becoming a parent, there’s a reason they call it “labor.”

And yes, this applies whether you become a parent through birth or through adoption.

Let’s be honest: “labor” is never any fun in any sense of the word. To labor is to work at something, and nothing good comes easy.

Just because you’re placing a baby for adoption or just because you’re adopting a child doesn’t mean you get a pass on the labor part, unfortunately.

So this Labor Day, let’s take a look at labor in adoption and consider some pointers for those going through it.

Labor for Birthparents

When you’re pregnant and placing a baby for adoption, labor basically means two things: you’re about to complete a pregnancy that has probably been filled with mixed emotions, and you’re about to face one of the most overwhelming experiences of your life.

You may be feeling more than ready to have the pregnancy over with, or you may be dreading all the feels that lay ahead. These are both very normal responses, so don’t feel bad about either.

You may be in labor for hours– or for days or even weeks, before you’re ready to give birth. You’ll want to have a plan in mind for how you want things to happen, so talk with your doctor or midwife about your preferences, and have a bag packed in advance, and know how you’ll get to the hospital or birthing center (and what your backup plan will be if your original plan isn’t possible.)

theres-a-reason-they-call-it-laborHopefully, your adoption agency or adoption attorney has already alerted the hospital staff of your plans, so the nurses will be sensitive to your situation. If you encounter anyone who gives you attitude, be sure to get their name and let the adoption professionals or charge nurse know. You deserve respect and the very best of care, whatever your decision, so expect nothing less.

You also deserve support; you are the patient, not the adoptive parents, so you get to call all the shots about who you do and don’t want in Labor & Delivery with you, how you want things handled when your baby is born, and how much alone time you do (or do not) want with your newborn. If you feel awkward about voicing those decisions, then just let your caseworker or counselor or nurse know your preferences in private.

You will want to help the adoptive parents know how they can help you best, if they’re going to be at the hospital at your request. If you need them to go get you magazines or you want them to help cover your feet with the blanket or go get the nurse, just ask– they’ll be happy to be needed. (And if you don’t want them there at all, that’s your choice, too.) If they get on your nerves for any reason, just ask your caseworker or counselor or a nurse to help them understand that you need a little space, and don’t feel guilty about asking for this, either. (By the same token, don’t feel abandoned if they need to get out of the room or get some fresh air at some point, as well.)

Labor for Prospective Adoptive Parents

The first thing you need to remember is that you are the birthing parent’s guest, if you are included in the hospital experience, and you must make no assumptions about your role (nor allow the hospital staff to do so, either.) This is really hard, when you’re so close to what you’ve longed for, for so long, but you have got to stay focused on the goal, which at this point is not about becoming parents but about being the best support you can be for the mother who is delivering her child.

This is likely to be a stressful and emotionally-exhausting time for you, as prospective adoptive parents, so be sure to discuss in advance with your adoption caseworker about what is and is not appropriate, talk with the mother about her desires, and be as well-rested and as healthy as possible, so you can manage effectively the many emotions that come with labor and delivery.

If the mother has invited you to be present in the birthing room, be sure you’ve taken Lamaze or some sort of childbirth prep course in advance so you know what to expect and how best to help. Wear flat shoes and comfy clothes. Bring gum or breath mints, along with reading materials for those long hours when it seems nothing is happening, and cash for the hospital cafeteria or vending machines. Do not make extra work for the nursing staff, and remember that they cannot give you confidential patient information about the mother nor baby, so don’t put them in an awkward position by asking questions they can’t or shouldn’t answer, under the law.

Take time-out as you need it, to leave the birthing room or to give the laboring mother some space. Be sensitive to her needs and to her modesty, and if it seems the hospital is getting ahead of themselves by treating you as the baby’s new parents before the baby is born and the paperwork is done, pull the nursing staff aside and explain that in any adoption, the mother is the only lawful parent for the first two or more days, and should be treated as such. Because (in Texas at least) your labor will continue for at least 48 hours past the actual time of the birth, and during that time, your role continues to be that of a guest at the hospital and nothing more (yet.)

Do NOT (we repeat, do not) post photos from labor & delivery online; whether or not they picture the mother, this is not “your” birthing experience to share publicly. (And we’re sorry if that sounds harsh, but please get this right.) Even “checking in” to a hospital online is bound to either alarm your friends and family or elicit inappropriate comments and premature congratulations, so refrain from doing so, and do not “announce the birth” online until placement paperwork is done and it’s officially “your” child to show off.

If you’re reading this and feeling overwhelmed by all that is to come, know that everything you’re feeling is normal. It’s not all going to be simple and it may not all unfold in a picture-perfect fashion. (Labor rarely does, after all.)

Because whether you’re placing or you’re adopting… there’s a reason they call it labor, you do have to go through it, and once it’s done (just like any other parent,) you’ll surely be glad it’s over.

Find a Family to Adopt

If you want to find a family to adopt your child, by finding Abrazo, you have definitely come to the right place.

Abrazo is blessed to have the very nicest adoptive families of all, we think. (And we’re not just saying that because they’re ours.) We’re saying that because after 23 years of tens of thousands of conversations and meetings with adoptive families, we’ve seen all kinds.

There’s no shortage of people out there who are trying to adopt, after all. (Ever since Russian adoptions got shut down and gay marriage became legal, there seem to be more and more folks trying to adopt than ever before.)

If you’re pregnant and/or placing, you can find prospective adopters online by the thousands, on sites like ParentProfiles and Adoptimist, among others. Adoptive parents pay hundreds of dollars to create cookie-cutter profiles on those sites, whether they’re adopting through licensed adoption agencies or through lawyers who do adoptions on the side or whatever.

Yet these sites that just host adoption profiles for a fee usually don’t really know those adoptive families in real life. That means they’ve never met the people they’re recommending to you.

At Abrazo, we know every single one of our adopting families personally, and we’ve met them and spent a weekend together, even before we put their profile on our website.

Why is choosing an adoptive family at Abrazo safer?

When you review adoption profiles on Abrazo’s website, you know we’ve already gotten their homestudies in (that’s the official report on them and their home, that certifies them as being ready to be great adoptive parents.)

We’ve already run their background checks and gotten their fingerprints done, just to be sure they’re who they say they are. We’ve already investigated their medical histories and made sure any pets in the home are child-friendly and reviewed their marital records and checked out their housekeeping standards.

We know who their priest or pastor or rabbi is. We know their plans for childcare and discipline and education. We know how their families and relatives feel about their plans to adopt, and how the extended family is going to react to the child who joins their family. And we know what their friends and employers say about them.

We know how much they earn and how they spend their money (we even know what they pay in taxes.) We know the dimensions of every room in their home. We know what (and how) they drive. We even know about their infertility diagnoses, and yes, about their sex lives, too.

We know all this (and more) because if you’re going to trust your child’s future to Abrazo, then we want you to know you truly can trust the adoptive family you choose through our agency, as well.

What makes Abrazo families better?

At Abrazo, we truly get the “best of the best,” when it comes to adopting families.

The people who come to Abrazo aren’t coming here because adopting here is easier. find-a-family-to-adopt(It’s not.) At Abrazo, we don’t let adoptive parents cut corners or call all the shots when it comes to open adoption. And we don’t permit them to treat our parents that place as just a means to their ends.

We go to great lengths to make sure that our adopting parents spend ample time learning about who birthparents are and what they go through when they decide on adoption for their children. We teach them about the needs of adoptees, about the not-so-happy parts of adoption (like separation and loss and grief) so they respect the importance of birthparents and adoptees having lifelong connections, and so they’re not threatened by openness, but instead, see it as the asset that it truly can be.

Abrazo’s families don’t just make one trip here to meet us and you and the child they’re adopting and the judge. Unlike other adoption agencies who think “drive-by adoption” is just fine, Abrazo requires its adopting families to come to meet our staff, then to come spend time with the prospective birthparent(s) before placement, then to come for placement (when the child goes home with them,) and then to return again for finalization, half a year later (or more,) when they go to court and also enjoy a reunion with the birthfamily, too, if everyone is in agreement.

The families who adopt through Abrazo voluntarily commit to continuing direct contact with their children’s birthparents in the years that follow the adoption, sharing letters and photos and texts and calls and visits– not because they “have to” at that point, but because they want to. Because you’re family to them (and because Abrazo has taught them how important “forever families” really are.)

The very best of our adoptive families come back in the summertime, too, and bring their children and their children’s birthparent(s) to Camp Abrazo— year after year. (See why we say Abrazo has the very nicest of families?)

If you want to adopt one of Abrazo’s families and support them in their journey towards becoming parents, find a profile of a couple still waiting to be chosen, and keep them (and their future child’s future first parents in your daily prayers.) Forward that Abrazo couple’s profile to your local ob-gyn and to your church and to the local crisis pregnancy clinic, and to anyone you know who’s considering adoption for their baby. (You can even send Abrazo a note of encouragement to be forwarded to them while they’re waiting, or a baby gift after you see they’ve taken placement, if you’d like.)

And if you’re looking to find a family to adopt your baby or child or children and you want nothing but the best, then you can start right nowclick here to find adoptive parents for your little one, then call Abrazo (1-210-342-5683) to get in touch with them today.

Make Today Matter

Having just returned from the funeral of a child whose days were tragically-limited by cancer but so beautifully-filled by the family who loved her so, Abrazo’s message for this week is simply this: make today matter.

Veronica was the beloved daughter of Mitch & Chrissy, the birthchild of Walker & Jessica, and the sister of Simon. Hers was an open adoption, so her forever family knew and loved each other, and she was blessed to know and love them all.

Just around the time of her first birthday, little Veronica was hospitalized for what was thought to be dehydration. Tests were run, and the child was found to have an aggressive and malignant brain tumor. The baby underwent an intensive surgery, which went well, but doctors discovered the tumor had already spread, and warned her parents that a lengthy course of chemotherapy lay ahead of her (one that they anticipated would need to continue for months/years.)

Veronica had the very best of medical care. Her parents tirelessly tended to her every need, and they had the support of their entire faith community. Her big brother kept her entertained. She was lifted in prayers all around the world, and the Pope himself said a mass for her.

And God heard those prayers and lovingly responded to them– even if all those prayers weren’t answered with the earthly healing for which we had all so fervently hoped.

Veronica’s specialists cautioned her family in April of this year that a full recovery was not to be, and that the end was but a week or two away. Against all odds, Veronica still lived to see her second birthday on August 1 of this year.

“Make today matter,” God whispered, and so her parents did. Hospice came in, and Veronica’s parents gave thanks for another hour, another day, another week.

This month, knowing their time together was drawing to a close, the adoptive family undertook the remarkable challenge of taking a family vacation together to the Grand Canyon.

It was most surely not an easy road trip, given the demands of traveling with a busy preschooler and a terminally-ill toddler, but they made family memories they desperately needed to have, they reveled in God’s handiwork, and when after the family got back safely, Veronica went Home, as well.

Our hearts break for all four of Veronica’s parents, for her brother in the home and those who live elsewhere, and for her extended family, also.

make-today-matterWe know they filled her days, brief as they were, with all the love and nurture and security and attention that every child deserves in life.

Her adoptive parents are people of faith, and they had taken every step to raise her in the faith, as well, so her funeral was filled with friends and relatives and church members who have been strengthened by their faithful witness in the face of unimaginable tests.

It’s human nature to question why bad things happen to good people. It’s normal to feel angry that God did not see fit to cure Veronica as we’d hoped.

Yet as the priest at her funeral reminded the mourners, “we asked God for a miracle, and I still believe our prayers were answered.”

For Veronica has been spared the continued sorrows of this life. She is now freed of the cancer which so limited her earthly body, and she has been released from the painful burdens of the continued treatments which would have been necessary to prolong her days.

She lived as pure and full a life as any two-year-old could, and it was a life filled with love and joy and blessings.

Yet those of us left behind cannot help but grieve her passing, and we are painfully aware of all the potential that has been lost.

We may never know why pediatric cancers happen. We’ll never know what Veronica’s life accomplishments may have been, had she been given more time here on earth. We will never understand why she and her family had to undergo this sorrow. We cannot begin to make sense of such tragedies.

But there is something we can do, in little Veronica’s memory, and that is to make today matter.

Put down your phone and make today matter by truly focusing on the people around you.

Take time out to appreciate the beauty of the world around you and make today matter.

Make today matter by going the extra mile on behalf of somebody else in need.

Because all our days are limited, so we owe it to our ourselves and our Creator to recognize our many blessings, share these whenever possible, and end each day with the certainly that we did all we could to make today matter.

When the Storm Hits

Here in South Texas, preparations are underway to prepare for when the storm hits, and Hurricane Harvey has us thinking about how the storms of life affect those we know through adoption.

And it seems particularly timely, this week, in particular– not just because of the turbulence heading this way in the Texas Gulf Coast.

Preparing for the Storm

Obviously, if you’re anticipating a catastrophe, preparation is key.

If you’re aware of storm warnings or you’re in the path of a hurricane, learning what to do is a vital part of being prepared. (Click here for valuable information on preparing for a storm.)

The same is true in adoption. Learning all you can in advance and having an idea of what to expect is a great way to empower yourself for whatever may lie ahead.

For expectant parents who don’t know yet whether or not they’re better off parenting or placing, even an unplanned pregnancy can feel like the calm before the storm. They are quite literally the “mother ship” for the little mariner floating around inside them, and there’s a comfort in knowing that for right now, all you can do is (in the immortal words of Dory) “just keep swimming”– even if it’s an unsettling feeling to not know how big the waves might be, up ahead.

Any parents-in-waiting surely know this feeling. To have weathered the ravages of infertility for years, only to find themselves waiting (again/more) to be found by prospective birthparents who need them on behalf of children about whom they know nothing, is like anxiously watching the sky waiting for signs when one has great plans for the weekend yet the weather forecast is completely unpredictable.

when-the-storm-hitsDo you pack for good weather, or for bad? Do you shop for provisions now, or wait until later? Can you get where you’re going as planned, or should you brace for the worst and plan for contingencies? Are you ready for whatever the storm may bring, and how might it change you? Do you know how to reach out or where to go for help, if needed?

Everyone answers these questions in their own way, based on their own life experiences, but knowing what to ask is one of the best ways we know to be ready to deal with whatever the storms may bring.

Riding out the Storm

Once you’re in the eye of any storm, it’s important to remain calm. Anxiety is a normal response to any situation that feels out of your control, of course, but it’s counter-productive, so strive to minimize anxiety to whatever extent you’re able, whether through prayer or exercise or distraction or activity. (This applies whether the storm you’re riding out is meteorological or adoption-related.) If you’re finding weather reports upsetting or in-law questions intrusive or Lifetime movies on adoption disturbing, then turn them down, and focus instead on the positives and what you can control.

Self-care is one of the things that is very much within your control. Taking good care of yourself as well as others around you is essential. Whether you are buffeted by winds and rain or by adoption fears or whatever, you need to be attuned to your own thoughts and feelings and needs. Eat healthy. Get enough rest. Exercise to stay fit and enhance your own mental health. Take time for yourself, and learn to love yourself; these are vital tools for survival.

Another key to survival and self-care is being able to ask for support when needed. Whether you need a neighbor’s help to secure a leaky roof in the middle of the night or you need an adoption professional’s assurance when you’re unable to work through problems on your own, asking for help is not a sign of weakness. If you’re impacted by Hurricane Harvey, the Red Cross stands ready to help; if you’re in need of adoption support, Abrazo’s Forum is a ready source of answers around the clock.

Picking Up the Pieces

No matter how fierce the winds or how heavy the rain, always remember this: every storm in life is time-limited.

Eventually, the clouds will clear and the sun will come out again. When it does, you can come out of your safe shelter, assess any damage, count your blessings, and start to rebuild again, if needed.

You may find, emerging from the storm cellar, that everything was just a bad dream, or you may find that the landscape as you knew it is forever changed.

You may discover that truly, the worst thing you had to fear was fear itself, or you may learn that you actually are stronger than you knew.

Whatever the nature of the storm, you will have been changed by it, to some measure. And whether that change is positive or not is largely up to you, for you alone control your response to the outcome.

Life is constantly in a state of change, even if some changes occur more obviously or expediently than others. Know this, though: if you survive the storm, then it will not have broken you, no matter what the damages may be. Anything lost can be replaced, short of human life. Anything destroyed can be rebuilt. And the lessons you take from this experience are yours for a lifetime.

We’re not saying it’s all going to be easy. We’re not claiming that storm recovery always comes cheap, We don’t mean to make light of the very real dangers you face when life’s storms hit.

But what we are saying is that there will be brighter days ahead. And we’re all in this together. Make this song your recovery anthem: You’ll Never Walk Alone. (If there was ever a Southerner who knew a thing or two about the storms of life and the power of faith, it was surely Vernon and Gladys’s boy.)

Because although it may be hard to remember when the storm hits, you’re not alone and there is a rainbow up ahead, so stay safe– and call Abrazo, if our help is needed.

Tragedies in Adoption

There are occasionally tragedies in adoption for which there are seemingly no answers, and yet, we all struggle to make sense of them in hopes that doing so may help avert such misfortunes from recurring.

So it is that we attempt to make sense of the tragedy unfolding in Missouri this week, as the remains of a 16-year-old adoptee have been found in a burn pit on the farm where her birthmother lives.

In Minnesota in 2001, Donald Pluff, Jr., a contractor, and a trucker named Rebecca Ruud had a baby girl who was named Savannah. Rebecca’s neighbors were David & Tamile Leckie, a former trucker-turned-concert-promoter and his wife. They’d had infertility, and somehow, a decision was made to place Savannah with them, in a private adoption two months after the birth. The adoption remained open, and by all accounts, the Leckies’ continued relationship with the birthmother had been a positive thing.

tragedies-in-adoptionTwo years later, Rebecca placed a second baby girl with the Leckies, and thereafter, the Leckies gave birth to a son. The Leckie marriage did not last, however, and the couple divorced in January 2011.

David Leckie remarried, and reportedly sought custody of the children, but did not prevail in court. The Leckie children remained in the care of their mother, Tamile, who went from a live-in relationship with one man to an engagement to Cary Steeves. According to Steeves’ ex-wife Laura Pittman, Cary did not get along with Savannah and “didn’t want her” as Savannah reportedly had autism and depression, and had made several suicide attempts.

As Tamile explained later to the media, Savannah had started “experiencing problems” in her teens, and felt unable to get the attention she needed in the newly-blended family home. This was the reason Tamile and her fiance gave for their decision to send the teen back to live with her birthmother and her boyfriend in Theodosia, a rural community in Missouri. As Steeves recounted in a television interview, “We have been co-parenting (Savannah.) The farm just seemed like a really good place for her to explore and find herself.”

Was it, really? Had the Savannah’s adoptive parents even seen it? Savannah’s birthmother Rebecca drove from Missouri to Minnesota in August 2016 to pick Savannah up, and she took the teen home to live alone in a camper trailer; Ruud and her boyfriend lived in another metal structure on the farm, and the property’s power came from a generator, according to court documents.

Rebecca home-schooled Savannah, and she and Savannah went into business making soap together, marketing it under the name Our Hidden Holler Farm. On July 20, 2017, Rebecca reported that Savannah had gone missing during the night. An extensive search was launched. Savannah’s birthfather had died of a terminal illness in 2013; his obituary listed his wife and children, but did not mention Savannah. (At the time of Savannah’s disappearance, her birthmother told authorities she had likely run away and may have gone off in search of her birthfather’s family.)

On August 4, 2017, Rebecca and her boyfriend Robert Peat, Jr. were married– on the same day that human remains were discovered in a fire pit on the property. Those remains have been confirmed to be those of the late Savannah Leckie, age 16.

Rebecca Ruud, who was a volunteer firefighter, is now in jail and charged with murder. Her new husband, also a firefighter, has reportedly fled the state. David Leckie, Tamile Montague and their families are left preparing for a funeral, and later, a trial.

How do we unpack this tragic case?

There is so much about this case that is troubling, it’s hard to know where to start.

But let’s start with a positive thought: Savannah, although troubled, was very much loved— by her adoptive dad and his family, by her adoptive mom and her family, by friends, and yes, by her birthparent(s) and birthfamily.

tragedies-in-adoption-3Whatever happened on that Missouri farm, Savannah and her sister had benefited from being able to know the truth of their origins, and the people involved.

Open adoption is not to blame for Savannah’s death; tragedy is. Whether that tragedy occurred in the course of an accident or as a result of an evil act, Savannah knew who all four of her parents were. And they had worked together to make it possible for Savannah and her birthsister to grow up together.

Rebecca, who had previously elected to not parent more than one of her children, was likely ill-equipped to meet the needs of caring for an autistic teenager. (According to the search warrant, Rebecca had admittedly engaged in abusive disciplinary acts involving her birthdaughter.)

We can surmise that Tamile likewise felt overwhelmed, given her daughter’s issues and her partner’s alleged ultimatum. (And while it may be tempting to ask why she didn’t just let Savannah’s adoptive dad take her in, remember that a court had apparently already found it was in the children’s best interests to remain with their adoptive mother, for whatever reason?)

It’s well-known that adoptees are often highly-susceptible to rejection and abandonment issues. Whether or not Savannah was capable of making a mature and informed decision about where she wanted to live, she very likely struggled (like most teens) with wanting to feel wanted and needing to fit in. Her family may have tried everything to help her and were likely at their wit’s end when they agreed to let her move back in with her birthmom. (Who knows? She may have even been one of those very normal adoptees who tormented her parents with daily pleas to “let me go live with my ‘real mom’ where I belong.“) Still: nothing Savannah ever said or did (and nothing any of her parents ever wished for her) would have justified her tragic death. It breaks our hearts just thinking about it.

What should be learned from this?

If there’s any lesson we can take away from this, perhaps it is this: open adoption is not co-parenting, and adoptive parents must never abdicate their role in the open adoption relationship, especially when the going gets tough.

Please understand: it’s not our intent to assign blame here. Every parent who shares a child with anyone (be it ex-spouses, birthparents or adoptive parents, camp counselors or coaches) knows the pressure involved when your kid gets old enough to argue with you about where they think they’d rather be.

tragedies-in-adoption2Yet the commitments made in any open adoption involve the adults, right from the start, and it is the adults’ responsibility to set appropriate boundaries and to clearly define everyone’s roles. Kids don’t get to “call the shots” until they are adults and can decide for themselves by law how involved they do or don’t want to be. Birthparents are not obligated to help “save” adoptive families from their child’s issues, nor are adoptive parents owed a pass from parenting when those issues seem too hard to handle.

These are strong words, and we apologize to those who may find them offensive. We know that parenting can be incredibly trying and that resources can be hard to find, especially when teens are troubled. We appreciate that birthparents may want to “help an adoptive family out” and that adoptive parents may even believe their child would be better off with birthfamily, on occasion.

Yet in open adoption, everyone needs to be “all in” in order for it to be all in a child’s best interests. When any adoption is finalized and the judge says to the adoptive parents “I hereby grant this adoption and from this day forward this child is yours, just as if he or she had been born to you” that means just that: your child is yours, for better or worse, and you must be a full participant– fully-present in open adoption visits (and in your child’s daily life.)

Whatever mistakes may have been made, Savannah’s adoptive parents were not at fault for allowing Rebecca to know her daughters. Her daughters were not at fault for wanting to know her. And whether or not Rebecca is indeed at fault for the death of Savannah, it does not negate her loving decision to choose adoption for her children. Savannah surely deserved better; then and now.

As an adoption community, we are called to lift all of these people in our thoughts and prayers and to withhold judgement, for “there but for the grace of God” go any of us. Let us strive, however, to learn from such tragedies in adoption, in the hopes that doing so might somehow save ourselves (and those we love) from ever having to endure a similar heartache in our lifetime.

Teen Pregnancy in Texas

Cutting the funding for programs working to reduce teen pregnancy in Texas? (Seriously, lawmakers, what were you thinking?!) Here at Abrazo, we try not to get involved in political debates, being that we’re a state-licensed nonprofit organization. But the news that government officials in Washington have quietly slashed $213 million (yep, read that number again, that’s $213 MILLION) from federal grants supporting teenage pregnancy prevention utterly astounds us.

teen-pregnancy-in-TexasBecause as you may or may not know, teenage pregnancy is still a Very Big Problem across the US, and particularly in Texas, where we have the fifth-highest teenage pregnancy rate in the country, and the highest repeat rates of teenage pregnancy.

The more cynical among us may be asking: why should an adoption agency care about this?

(After all, the majority of mothers who place children for adoption are not teens. But wouldn’t more unwanted pregnancies just potentially mean more parents in need of adoption services?)

A 7/24/17 Dallas Morning News editorial said it best: “When babies have babies, the cycles of poverty sadly become systemic and increasingly difficult to break. Girls — and the burden falls overwhelmingly on them — quit school to raise children without a father in the picture; they get stuck in low-paying, dead-end jobs and become statistics. And, too often, their children face the same fate.”

How Can Society Help Teens Parent Better?

There’s not going to be one “right” option for every teen mom, of course. A mature teenager with a faithful partner and a strong support system may be well-suited to grow into a healthy parenting role, in time. In San Antonio, even teen moms without strong family support can find free services (including housing for them and their newborn) at Seton Home. (Additional readings and resources can be found at Healthy Teen Network, which is likewise where the helpful graphic below comes from; click it to view a larger version.)

teen-pregnancy-in-texasTeens who become parents need a wealth of support, from housing to childcare to parenting classes to job training to education to medical care and more, and such services should rightfully be provided to both the mother and father and their child, too– not just in the weeks following the birth, but for months (or even years) to follow.

Parents of teen parents often struggle with the unforetold realities of raising two generations of offspring under one roof, because when the challenges of being a teen conflict with the duties of being a parent, all too often it falls to the teen parents’ parents to step in and help– or take over completely. It is important to under how adolescent parenting affects children, families and communities; sex education (before and after a teen pregnancy) is an essential tool in not only preventing repeat pregnancies but in breaking the cycle that too often causes the children of teenage parents to become teen parents themselves. Family counseling may also be a useful endeavor in helping parents and their parenting children renegotiate household responsibilities and set appropriate boundaries tot help all parties better understand who should be doing what, for whom, and when and why?

Why Don’t More Teen Parents Consider Adoption?

Given the enormous complications that can come with children raising children, why is it that more teens don’t ever even consider the option of adoption?

A 1993 study by Marcia Custer of adoption as a teenage pregnancy option found that less than 5% of pregnant teens choose adoption for their child/ren, despite prior findings that teens who place are more likely to enjoy educational advantages, to delay marriage, to be employed with a higher income, and less likely to have a repeat out-of-wedlock pregnancy, and to abort in the future (McLaughlin, 1988.)

Teens who become pregnant often view being someone’s mom as something that elevates their status and makes them more “adult” (missing entirely the irony that becoming a parent before they’re ready may actually make them more dependent on their parents than ever.)

Studies suggest that the vast majority of teen parents are often themselves the product of teen parents, which can impact their pregnancy planning in a variety of ways. Some feel pressured to parent as their parents did, for fear of offending their parents if they consider other alternatives, such as abortion or adoption; for others, however, their parents may be young enough to now feel ready to raise a second family and opt to raise the grandchild themselves. Cultural biases and misconceptions about adoption also often come into play.

Many teens who have chosen to make adoption plans have found themselves shamed or bullied by their peers for doing so. “Everyone I know is keeping their baby, and they give me crap for giving mine away,” said one sixteen-year-old Abrazo birthmom who placed. “But just because they’ve got free daycare at school or a tia who watches the baby for them, that doesn’t mean their babies have everything they need. They say I’m selfish for wanting to go to college and make something of my life. I think they’re selfish for thinking their kids don’t deserve better.”

It’s crucial that teens who do opt for option be fully appraised of their rights, their responsibilities, their options and alternatives, and at Abrazo, that’s a duty we embrace fully. Adoption is never an easy choice for anyone, and the emotions that follow any adoption decision make counseling an essential component of the experience. Open adoption arrangements, while more inclusive, cannot mitigate all of adoption’s losses, so it is important for teenage birthparents to understand healthy boundaries, to engage in effective communication with the adopting family, and to have comprehensive post-adoption support services as part of their placement plan. Adopting parents matched with expectant teens must be diligent about treating the prospective birthparents as the responsible young adults they are, even if it’s tempting to relate to them as a parent figure, or to see the teens’ parents as being adult peers in the adoption process.

At Abrazo, we welcome pregnant teens and their parents to explore what open adoption means and to consider how it might serve the needs of all the children involved in any teen pregnancy. Teen pregnancy in Texas is a longstanding problem with ever-shrinking public funding, true! but it’s still an issue that impacts us all, one way or the other. By working together, perhaps, we can seek solutions to alleviate some of the burdens that teen pregnancy in Texas places upon our state’s youngest and most vulnerable citizens.