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When Love Is Not Enough

Everyone wants to see themselves as a loving parent, for obvious reasons, but where is a desperate parent to turn when love is not enough?

It’s a question Juana (name/s changed) found herself asking, when she and her kids lost their home and got kicked off a friend’s couch and began staying under a north Texas bridge.

“I never thought that would be me,” she said. “I used to see moms whose kids looked dirty and think geez, clean your kids up, why don’t you? But that was back when my husband had the pipeline job and we had the house and things were good. A few bad choices later, and look where we were?

Her husband had begun drinking too much and walked out on the family. Juana had begun seeing another man, but when she told him she was pregnant, he admitted he was married and went back to his wife. Juana got on public housing, but lost eligibility for letting some relatives move in, and by the time the new baby came, Juana was dealing with an addiction and trying not to lose her other kids to the State.

“If love was all it took, then no, I would never have done what I did. But being a good mom, it takes so much more. My baby, he needed more than I could be or give. And even messed up as I was, I knew it.”

Considering adoption

That’s when she found Abrazo’s number and called for help.

That’s how she found Troy and Sabrina, the couple she chose to be her baby’s parents.

And that’s when her life and that of her children really started to turn around.

“The baby’s parents, they’re the best!” Juana smiles big, just thinking of the relatives adoption added to their lives. “The first time we talked, it was like we just always knew each other. Sabrina is like my sister, and Troy, he’s just like a big ‘ole kid himself. My kids took to them right away, and ever since they came down to meet us for the first time, I knew they were the people we needed to have.”

Juana had not known about open adoption when she first called Abrazo. She admits that the idea originally freaked her out, but she says after seeing them with her baby, she knew she wanted to stay in touch and see how things turned out.

when-love-is-not-enoughThat was eleven years ago. With Troy and Sabrina’s encouragement, Juana found the inspiration to kick her addiction, and she even went back to school for her GED.

Her kids look forward to the adoptive parents’ visits, and that “baby” has grown up proud to be a die-hard Dallas Cowboys fan, since that team represents the city of his birth.

Says Juana: “I tell everyone I know: if you can’t feed your kids and keep them safe, then love is not enough, you gotta think about adoption, and call Abrazo. You guys saved my baby, and you saved me and my kids. I don’t know where we would have ended up if it wasn’t for you. But I know where my son did end up, thanks to Abrazo’s open adoptions. And that changed everything.

Changing everything

Life changed for Troy and Sabrina, as well, of course. For one thing, Troy and Sabrina found that knowing their child’s birthmother was an advantage, in ways they’d not expected.

“After we got to know Juana and her kids, we realized that having birthfamily in your lives is really a bonus,” Sabrina admits. “It’s hard to believe there was actually a time when we’d thought of adopting internationally, so we wouldn’t have to know anything about where our adopted child came from? We’re so grateful to Abrazo for teaching us about open adoption and helping us get over our fears.”

And Troy (who had himself been adopted in a closed adoption) found the courage to go looking for his birthfamily, too… and in doing so, he discovered that his birthmother shared his penchant for practical jokes, and he also learned (to his son’s sheer delight) that his own birthfather had once tried out with the Dallas Cowboys, bringing things full circle, in a way.

Troy says “I’m so grateful they did what they did and gave me the family that I had. And here’s the thing: I know without Juana and her kids, we could never be the family that we are. I used to worry about whether I could really be a good dad to a kid that wasn’t my own. But from open adoption I learned that love just multiplies. The more people that love a child, the better.”

When love isn’t enough, keep searching for options and answers… because when you mix caring hearts and open adoption, what you find just might help grow you in all sorts of wonderful new directions.

Here’s to you, Dad(s)!

Here’s to you, dads! As Father’s Day draws near, we are mindful of all the fine men of Abrazo’s community who make fatherhood look so good, in all its forms.

We think of brave birthfathers like Bryan and Timo and Joe and Mike and Shawn and Walker and Derek and Josh and James and Dante and Alex and others, guys who surely never foresaw themselves “being the kind of men” whose kids would ever need adopting, yet who honored their girlfriend’s wish to choose adoption for their baby and who stepped up to be fully involved in the process. These men have added so much to the lives of their placed child/ren and their families, and they are all to be commended.

We think of new adoptive dads like Glen and Rene and Matthew and Daniel and Robert and Chad and Steven and Justin and Andy, men who have seen their lives change dramatically in just a matter of months and who have risen to the challenge with courage and grace. They have supported not just their wives and children but their children’s birthfamilies, too, and we are so proud of each of them.

heres-to-you-dadWe think of our fathers-in-waiting, like Neil and William and Jason and Chad and David and Bert and Clint and Miguel and Eric and Patrick and Scott and Dean. We know how eager they are to experience the joys of fatherhood and we pray that by this time next year, each of them will be proud parents of new sons and daughters who will surely be fortunate to call them “daddy.”

We think of beloved grandfathers and birthgranddads within the Abrazo community, gentlemen like Bruce and Rich and Bobby and Dick and Dan and Roger and Steve and others. They have loved on their kids and ours, over the years, and set a fine example for all others to follow.

We think of the multitude of fantastic Abrazodads we have been blessed to know over the past 23 years, far too many to mention individually, and the countless ways that they have sacrificed on behalf of our homes and enriched our community.

And we think, too, of some other special fathers who have contributed in some way over the years to the work we do here at Abrazo, like Clint and Bob and Paul and Fred and Calvin and Steven and Willie, and we give thanks for each of them, as well.

In a nation that too often focuses on deadbeat dads, there just isn’t enough that’s said about the good fathers who man up and make the world a better place– and we feel very blessed to have known so many of them.

At Abrazo, our fathers have been clergymen, farmers, sports stars, musicians, journalists, engineers, doctors, artists, businessmen, teachers, firemen, soldiers, ranchers, law enforcement officers, attorneys, truckers, scientists, software developers, writers, piano tuners, plumbers, WWF wrestlers, news anchors and weathermen, bartenders, actors, bankers, CEOs, realtors, inventors, and yes, stay-at-home dads, as well.

They come from all different walks of life, different backgrounds and different faiths. They have different skills and gifts and challenges in life. They have varying incomes and accomplishments and a vast assortment of life experiences.

Yet what they all have in common, surely, is that they could not have guessed that life would lead them to Abrazo and to adoption– but when it did, they embraced this cause and made it their own.

And their children, whether placed or adopted, are truly blessed to be able to call each of them “…father.”

Happy Father’s Day to all the fine men of the Abrazo Nation. Here’s to you, Dad(s)!

Staying in Touch After the Adoption

One of the most important tasks in any open adoption is staying in touch after the adoption is done.

And this just might be– paradoxically– one of the simplest and hardest things you ever have to do.

Because whether you have placed a child for adoption or adopted a child, maintaining a healthy relationship with your child’s other family takes real work on your part.

Why do you do it, especially if you’re not certain the other parents really appreciate your efforts?

You do it for your child. And you keep doing it for your child, whether or not your child seems to need or want it, because you know it is the right thing to do, and it’s one of those acts of responsible parenting that really is all about paying it forward.

staying-in-touch-after-the-adoptionOne of Abrazo adoptive parents stopped by our office for a visit, with her children in tow. She had traveled back to Texas from out of state in hopes of being able to visit with members of both her children’s birthfamilies. Why? Because it’s that important to her and her husband that their children grow up always knowing their people.

She talked about others in her life not always understanding why they go to the lengths they do, and what she wants for her children.

When contact is lost, or communication seems sporadic

Google “when open adoption doesn’t work” and you usually find plenty of complaints from heartbroken birthparents who trusted the promises of adoption professionals or adoptive parents that an adoption would stay open after the papers were signed, but found they didn’t. To use promises of open adoption as a false lure merely to persuade parents to place is unconscionable, and in some venues, may result in prosecution if it meets the legal standard of inducement or coercion. (All too often, however, the defrauded birthparents have insufficient evidence of the promises made, and far too few states provide the protection of laws that enforce open adoption agreements.)

At Abrazo, we practice full-disclosure open adoptions, in which the parties typically exchange identifying information (such as last names and home addresses) and commit to direct, ongoing contact in the years that follow each placement, until the adoptee is an adult. Because of this, we have much less of a problem with adoptive parents keeping their promises, and we spend a lot of time impressing upon our adoptive families the value of openness as it pertains to our adoptees, in particular.

Yet a number of our families find it a challenge to keep their children’s birthfamilies in touch with them, and so we asked former Abrazo birthparents for their insights as to why birthparents who undoubtedly love the child/ren they placed sometimes find post-adoption visits hard to show up for?

Birthmoms offer insight about keeping in touch (and what can make this difficult)

Jessica, who placed as a teenager, had this to say: “For me it’s really difficult to see and talk to him. I don’t know how to act or what to say. My biggest fear is confusing or hurting him. I’m afraid of crossing a boundary. I don’t know what’s an appropriate amount of contact. My son’s parents are wonderful and always tell me there are no expectations. They are always letting me know I am welcome anytime, but I’m nervous that he’ll get used to me contacting him and then what if I can’t handle it or something happens where I can’t talk to him? What if he feels rejected? I feel like I need to be the absolute best person I can be, and I’m not. I don’t know if I’ll ever be. And I don’t want know if I can face him knowing I have nothing to show for the decision I’ve made.”

Amanda placed a couple years ago, in her twenties, and she admits that contact can still be hard, no matter how excited she is to see how her son is doing. “It can be very hard at times to go through the photos and see everything that they have been able to do for him, knowing I wanted to do all that and more but could never be able to. It’s nothing against the family whatsoever, they are doing what I couldn’t do but sometimes the depression and sadness hits so bad that I close up. I have (an anxiety attack) every time it’s close to when we meet up, even while we are together, because what if they think bad things because I gave my child up or had a child just to give it away? So many things go through your mind when you are a birth mom. Sometimes it’s so overwhelming that you just want to run away, even if you don’t want to. I’m still truly happy that I made a family so happy and that my son is healthy and given everything he deserves, but not many will understand the pain we go through every day because we wanted the best for our little ones.”

This doesn’t mean that it would be better for these mothers to have done closed adoptions, of course. (They would be the first to tell you that openness is still a lifeline for them.) But as Riley points out, it is most beneficial if the adoptive parents and birthparents enjoy a friendship that extends beyond their shared adoption experience: “I (worry that) my daughter barely knows me and I have no real place in their lives. I know it’s silly, but I feel sad and almost jealous that I couldn’t provide for my daughter like they can. I love them so much, but when I get in this mindset, it takes some time to shake it. It might help if we talked about something other than just (our child) from time to time, just to reestablish a personal friendship outside of our adoption bond?”

Lisa has had sporadic contact since her son’s adoption, and while she appreciates updates, she doesn’t feel the connection is all she wants it to be. “My son just turned 18 & while he is everything I hoped he would be, I still struggle. The communication is either peaceful & polite or non-existent. I rarely get a call, text or email & over the last ten years or so, it has become difficult for me. Their time has come to be in short supply & the lack of effort makes me doubt my choice, my place & if I even deserve any part of him.” (No parent in an open adoption wants to feel the other parents’ commitment to keeping in touch is strictly obligatory, after all.)

For Karen, whose placed daughter is now a young adult herself, visits were not an opportunity her child’s adoptive parents ever offered. Yet she understands why other birthparents may sometimes lack the courage to enjoy such events. “I always felt like I had made such an ultimate sacrifice and that I owed her to better myself because of the experience…and yet there were many years that I was not a better person or in any better circumstances so I always felt like I had somehow betrayed her, and was embarrassed.”

Advice from those who truly know

So how can adoptive parents help bridge the gap, when their children’s birthparents seem ambivalent about post-adoption contacts?

Lauranda, who has a very open adoption relationship with her daughter’s family and sees them often, had this to say: “I think sometimes because the birthparents need time to heal, it may be easier to disengage both physically and emotionally, rather than (to revisit all) of the emotions that came with relinquishment. Personally, I don’t think adoptive parents can do much to change that? It comes with time for the birthmom. All the adoptive parents can do is give her that time and space, not pushing for contact but leaving that door open.”

And when asked what birthparents can do to help adoptive families feel more at ease with post-placement contact, ____ offered this advice:

We are grateful for the input and shared experiences of all Abrazo’s adoptive parents and birthparents (and especially to the many birthmoms who responded for this piece, with more wisdom than we have space to share here, but will in upcoming blog posts.)

Remember this: staying in touch after the adoption is definitely worth the effort it takes on the part of all the parents involved, for ultimately, it is the adoptee they love so who stands to benefit the most.

Elegy for Amanda Hawkins’ girls

an-elegy-for-amanda-hawkins-girls
How does one write an elegy for Amanda Hawkins’ girls?
At just one and two, they were like tiny seed pearls.
Their lives lay before them, sweet young innocents…
but one youthful error later, police reports name them “decedents.”

Their mom was a teenager, and their fathers the same.
These girls died of neglect, and their loss is our shame.
Addyson and Brynn both were left in a hot car to cry.
Their mom wanted to party; she didn’t intend them to die.

Amanda had grown up fast. (Too pretty for her own good?)
She was proud of her girls, yet didn’t parent as she should.
From June sixth to the seventh, her kids steeped in their waste;
others knew where they were, too, but no help came in haste.

It wasn’t the first time these girls were left alone.
And evicted in May, the Hawkins clan had no home.
The State had investigated– not once but thrice.
Each time, though, it seems the parents somehow made nice?

Thus each time, files were closed; seems these kids none could save.
(“Why didn’t you try harder?” come soft pleas from their grave.)
Now Amanda’s been jailed, while both fathers walk free.
An angry public wants vengeance; they’d hang this mom from a tree.

But the Lone Star State abounds with families just like theirs.
We’re all quick to judge, but in truth, who really cares
about children in need and these parents on the edge,
when matters like “bathroom bills” consume lawmakers at our Lege?

We want to believe Amanda’s kids didn’t die in vain,
yet the deaths of these angels leave all Texans in pain.
It’s too easy to blame such parents for all they were not,
yet much harder to help them make the changes they ought.

Dear Addyson and Brynn, you are now safe at rest.
Your lives were cut short, but in Heaven, you’ll be blessed.
We won’t soon forget you, and we promise to make tracks
to try to keep other Texas kids from falling through these cracks.

Rest in peace, little ones…

To the guy who may or may not be the babydaddy…

This is an open letter to the guy who may or may not be the babydaddy… to the man she allegedly slept with… to the one who sees himself as a player, who specializes in the hit-and-run kind of relationship with females who are too kind or too trusting to see him coming:

We see you. We know what you’re doing. (Even if we don’t necessarily know what you’re thinking…)

We’d like to give you the benefit of the doubt, and we’ll try to do so.

But we will not do so at the expense of our client and her baby.

We’ve heard her side of the story, and we know you have yours, too.

to-the-guy-who-may-or-may-not-be-the-babydaddyWhether you were just one of several guys with whom you suspect she may have slept, whether you were just having fun and never intended for a pregnancy to occur, whether you thought you or she could not get pregnant– the fact is, there is a baby and there needs to be a secure plan for that baby’s future.

And that’s the bottom line, at least the way see it.

We believe in fathers’ rights. And we believe in fathers who take responsibility for their children. We also believe there is a difference between making a baby and being a great dad. Some men do the first part well, some do the second part well, and some manage both. But not everybody is cut out to father well, and when fathers fail, it’s usually their kids that pay the biggest price.

Adoption isn’t always the best decision for every situation. But it is always an option worth considering if a child needs a loving and stable home with committed parents who are ready in every way to be his/her family forever.

What we can do for you…

We’re happy to listen, if you want to ever call us (or return our calls) or even stop by our office for a visit sometime?

In fact, we’ll even provide you with free counseling, if you have any interest in talking.

(That’s what we do, here. Along with adoptions and homestudies and case supervision.)

If you got a mother who is working with Abrazo pregnant (or if you’re being told that you did) and you want to be a part of our compassionate open adoption plans, we welcome your involvement.

Even if you and the babymama aren’t together anymore, if you truly are committed to the child’s best interests and want to be able to keep in contact with the adoptive family, we’ll welcome your participation.

If you want nothing to do with the mother, the adoption agency or the baby, we will regretfully respect your right to opt out. We won’t hound you. We won’t allow our adoptive family to be calling you without your consent. We’ll respect your privacy, to the extent that the law will allow you to not be involved, provided that is your choice.

But here’s what we won’t do.

We will not allow you to victimize any woman in our program by acting in a way that is abusive. (And that means physically-abusive or emotionally-abusive or verbally-abusive.) If you cannot talk to her (or about her or to us) in a way that is respectful (if not kind,) then stop talking. It’s that simple.

We will not put your needs before the best interests of the child in question. This may sound cold, and if so, we apologize. Yet we’ve known some guys over the years who have wanted to play games (with the babymama or with the agency staff) at the expense of the child, and that is never, ever acceptable. If you do not agree with the mother’s adoption plan, then exercise your right to get your own attorney and pursue your legal rights, but understand this: the child’s needs come first, in our book. And if Abrazo is the legal guardian of a child whose best interests clearly require that we protect his or her legal rights in court, please know that we will faithfully do that, to every extent that we are morally able to do so.

(Please keep in mind that you’re not the legal father until or unless you are recognized by law as the father. So if you are not legally married to the child’s mother or you’ve not yet been legally-adjudicated as the father in a court of law and you’re wanting to begin the process to claim paternity here in Texas, then start here. And do it now.)

Our agency does not pay for DNA nor paternity testing, unless the court orders that this be done. If you wish to pursue paternity tests after the birth, please make your own payment arrangements and obtain your own court order to compel the child’s caretaker to cooperate, whether that is the agency or somebody else.

Likewise, while the laws in Texas do allow Texas adoption agencies to help expectant mothers with basic living needs and to provide limited maternity assistance on the basis of documented need, we cannot pay your rent, groceries, clothing or other prenatal needs unless you can prove that you are the baby’s mother. (So… no. Take it up with the Texas Legislature if you think it’s not fair. We don’t make the laws but we absolutely do follow them.)

Finally: we will not enable you to use an open adoption as a ploy to get her back, nor to get back at her. If your relationship is over, it is not appropriate to use the child nor the adoptive family as an excuse to try to rekindle that relationship. Don’t ask the agency or adoptive family to relay messages to her for you and don’t pump either of us for information, because we will respect her privacy– just as we will yours.

We know the old saying: “mama’s baby, papa’s maybe.” We understand that neither laws nor adoption practices have always been kind to birthfathers, and it’s not our intent to deprive any committed and proven father of access to a child he loves and/or is fully prepared to parent exceptionally.

See, we’ve “been places and seen things” over the past 23 years, and at Abrazo, we believe that children’s needs are best met when parents set aside their own agendas and issues and agree to work together to put what a child needs first, no matter what.

So our advice to the guy who may or may not be the babydaddy is this: let’s agree to deal respectfully with each other (whatever your relationship with the babymama may be) and let’s work to find solutions that honor the child involved– whatever that ultimately may mean?

Adoption Guilt

If you struggle with this emotion, please know this: adoption guilt is really a thing. (And adoption guilt can be a really big thing for some folks who are afflicted with it.)

You won’t find many adoption agencies addressing this, because (quite honestly) most of us who work in adoption still want to believe that child-centered adoptions really can make things better for everyone in the end, and the concept of adoption guilt doesn’t fit into that, somehow?

Yet ask any group of birthparents, adoptive parents, and even adoptees what the words “adoption guilt” mean to them, and you’re likely to rouse an in-depth (or even heated) discussion of the very mixed emotions that people feel when their lives have been touched by adoption– for better or worse.

See, that’s the thing about adoption guilt: it doesn’t mean an adoption turned out badly.

Sometimes, it just means that someone once involved in an adoption later struggles with hindsight.

(And that, in itself, may not be a bad thing, either, if it leads to new growth?)

Adoption guilt can have many layers, and one’s awareness of it often grows over time. It seems that our ability to face adoption guilt expands exponentially, as we accrue empathy, wisdom and/or maturity.

Adoption guilt is different than buyer’s remorse or garden-variety adoption regrets. Adoption guilt is typically fear-based, and it is often characterized by the nagging sense that one’s participation in an adoption was inherently flawed, and therefore lacks any means of being repaired for the common good.

But there are things you can do about it– so take this as a bright-shining beacon of hope.

Who gets adoption guilt and why?

Adoption guilt can affect birthparents who placed a child or children for adoption voluntarily, those who were coerced or forced into placing involuntarily, and even those who didn’t place but have come to realize or believe that perhaps they should have?

adoption-guiltParents who choose to place are often susceptible to adoption guilt because their relatives, friends or society fail to understand the selflessness involved in a truly child-centered voluntary adoption. Many birthparents fail to find the post-adoption support and validation they deserve, and end up second-guessing the choice(s) they made and/or blaming themselves for any negative outcomes of it. Some parents who place sometimes feel guilty about regretting an adoption that even the adoptee may perceive was a good thing.

Parents whose placement decisions were involuntary may fault others for rendering them powerless and see themselves as victims as well as their children. And some parents who planned to place but reneged– like those who didn’t place but wish they had– may feel beset with adoption guilt at the realization of what opportunities their child potentially missed out on in life.

Parents who adopt may struggle with adoption guilt, as well, particularly when they witness the pain of a birthparent’s relinquishment, or an adoptee’s sense of abandonment. Adoptive parents who later become unexpectedly pregnant may suffer adoption guilt thinking that their changed fertility status was a betrayal of the birthparents, or knowing how many other couples wait to adopt with no hope of ever overcoming infertility. Some adoptive parents suffer adoption guilt as they learn about the trauma of adoption loss, while still others quietly regret having adopted the child/ren that they did and suffer tacit guilt over this painful truth.

Some parents who adopt feel guilty about the lengths they went to pursue the outcome for which they’d hoped, which may have been excessive or unethical, while others are felled by adoption guilt at realizing their child/ren’s birthparents were actually better equipped to parent than they understood at the time of the placement. It’s not uncommon for parents who adopted to worry that they are not living up to the birthparents’ expectations, or to feel inadequate, or blame themselves for an adoptee’s developmental challenges or for their adopted child’s social or academic shortcomings.

And sadly, adoptees too can suffer from adoption guilt. Sometimes, adoptees feel guilty that they are not sufficiently grateful for having been adopted, or for fearing they cannot live up to their adoptive parents’ expectations, for harboring a deep-seated longing for (or indifference towards) their birthfamily, or for having grown up with far greater opportunities than their birth-siblings who were not adopted.

So what’s an adoption guilt grappler to do?

Whether you are an adoptee, a birthparent, an adoptive parent or someone else who grapples with adoption guilt, the first step to dealing with this burden is to recognize that it exists, to know that it’s real, to understand that what you are feeling is normal, and to realize the load can be lightened.

It’s important to be able to talk about it with somebody you can trust. Whether that somebody is an adoption therapist, another adoption triad member, a support group or even just a friend or relative, it helps to be able to say “hey, I’m really struggling with this” and to have someone you trust just hear you out.

Keep in mind that adoption guilt is a feeling, and every feeling is subject to change, once we learn to understand them and reframe our thoughts in a manner that may be more productive and healthier for us.

Some therapists prescribe positive mantras or thought-stopping exercises. (A Stuart Smalley skit on SNL years ago referred to the value of eliminating “stinkin’ thinkin’“, and while this was a punchline to a joke, it can be important to self-identify our own negative internal messages and replace them with positives, ie., changing a thought like “I was wrong to think adoption was right” to “I did the best I could with what I knew at that time.”)

Self-love is an essential antidote to adoption guilt, as is the ability to forgive (others, as well as oneself.) Adoption may be an imperfect solution to age-old child welfare issues, but any adoption constructed of loving intentions has within it components of which to be proud– even if there are also elements of the experience which one wishes that one could change.

It may be a normal instinct for those who suffer adoption guilt to seek to make amends, and if that helps you, then go with it, but seek to pay it forward, not backwards. (Overcompensating someone you may feel was wronged years ago is unlikely to effect genuine and lasting change now, for example, but contributing to changes in the law or supporting organizations that back adoption reform just might?)

The late Dr. Wayne Dyer believed that the only two useless emotions are guilt and worry. “If you believe that feeling bad or worrying long enough will change a past or future event, then you are residing on another planet with a different reality system,” Dyer wrote in his book Your Erroneous Zones.

This is fitting advice also for those who suffer from adoption guilt. Being steeped in guilt merely keeps you obsessed with the past, rather than motivating you to change your tomorrows.

Recognizing your own self-worth (adoption or no adoption) and forgiving the limitations of past actions, events or choices has the power to free you from the burden of adoption guilt, so let go and release yourself to pursue an even brighter future– for you and for those you love.

Coming to Camp

This is the week that folks from all across the nation are coming to Camp Abrazo and we are so very excited to see all of our favorite campers again.

Unlike most of the summer camp experiences around the nation, in which parents drop their kids off for a week or more, this is a family camp.

And unlike most family camps, which are usually church-based gatherings for nuclear family units, Camp Abrazo is an adoption-triad based reunion of children, birthparents and adoptive parents who have been connected in some way with Abrazo over the years.

Abrazo is one of the few (only?) American adoption agencies to host an annual triad reunion, so while open adoption may be nothing new, an annual weekend event dedicated to celebrating the people who live their open adoption promises is still a Pretty Big Thing.

Camp Abrazo typically sells out months in advance, and the majority of families who join us have been coming for years, so they see each other’s kids growing up, camp year after camp year.

There are “old-timers” like Scott & Karen, whose daughters used to be the “little girls” at Camp, yet who are now in high school and college. Faithful attendees for years, they brought their birthfamily, and even brought along Karen’s stepdad, Bruce (who was adopted, himself, in a closed adoption) and his wife. After witnessing Abrazo’s open adoptions and hearing our Camp keynote speaker one summer, Bruce launched a search for his own birthmom and found her in her late eighties, then brought her with them to Camp Abrazo for the next three years, until her passing.

There’s Abrazo’s board president, Marjory, and her husband, Bob, who are the parents of two beautiful daughters (whose birthfamily has also come with them to Camp in years past.) There are loyal Camp regulars like Gary & Monika, whose children’s birthparents have never opted to attend Camp, yet Gary & Monika still come for their kids’ sake, and they overwhelm us with their annual generosity in providing mountains of snacks for the Camp goody bags. Nate & Alicia and their daughter and Jim & Mary Helen and their girls and Jim & Andrea and their kids and Shawn & Jennifer and their boys fly in, because coming to Camp has become part of their family’s summer routine, just as it is for Matt & Betsy and their kids, and Eric & Tara and their boys, Joey & Lana and the twins, Tommy & Heather and their sweet daughter, and Brad & Amanda and their son, who all drive in from different corners of Texas. Because it matters to them to be there.

There are Yankees like Bill & Susan and their girls, who travel from the East to come to Camp and bring their eldest daughter’s birthgrandmother and the birthsibling she is parenting, and they reunite at Camp each summer with their daughter’s other birthsister and her adoptive parent, and sometimes with their other daughter’s birthbrother and his adoptive parents. Attending Camp has required a valiant effort lately, as Susan battles ovarian cancer, yet she says she still wouldn’t miss it for the world.

There’s Bruce & Stephanie and their clan, and his sister Paula & her husband Scott and their daughter, who provide their special brand of family comedy each summer. There’s Carine and her son and his placed sister and her parent/s, who bring with them their birthfamily, who could not otherwise enjoy the pleasure of an annual summer vacation. There are local families Stephen & Teri and their kids, and like Glenn & Dyna, who are bringing both their children’s birthfamilies to Camp this year. And there are out-of-town families like Brian & Cindy, and Chad & Charlene, and Kyle & Michelle, and Chris & Judy, whose kids are just as excited to spend the weekend with their birthparents, again. Andrew & Sara make the Herculean effort of coming to Camp from the East Coast each summer and bringing their sons’ birthparents and their four kids, because they recognize the enormous importance of honoring these birthfamily connections.

And we’re thrilled that we have “newbies” coming to Camp this year, too, like former staffer Kelly and her children and their birthmom, and Bob & Lisa and their newly-adopted son, and Dan & Heather and their son and his birthparents, and Ed & Katie and their newly-adopted son and his birthmom, and several other birthparents who will be at Camp for the first time this year.

Every one of these parents and every one of these children is an integral part of the magical experience we call Camp Abrazo, and we genuinely appreciate the gift of each camper’s presence.

Because for all the wonders of the Mayan Ranch, it’s not the pool or the food or the horses or the fireworks or the rodeo or the longhorns or the cowboys or nature nor even the AbrazoChicks that makes coming to Camp the unforgettable experience that it is.

It’s the people. It’s each of you. You are the gift that keeps on giving year after year, and we truly love you for it.

It’s you, who come join us at Camp and share hugs and swap stories and marvel at each child’s growth and laugh at their antics and cry at the candlelight ceremony, who make the magic of Camp Abrazo happen.

It’s you who help create lifetime memories for each of our adoptees and their birthsiblings, too. (And oh, what special memories these are for the children of open adoption and all the parents that love them.)

So thank you, in advance, to every one of you who are packing this week and coming to Camp this weekend. The time goes by so quickly, we may not get the chance to say this again, but we truly treasure your presence and all of us at Abrazo are so very grateful for all of you who are coming to Camp… safe travels, coming and going… and y’all come back now, y’hear?

Birthmothering

Abrazo has coined a new verb, to describe the process of upholding one’s role after placing a child in an open adoption, and it is this: “birthmothering.”

Unlike in a closed adoption, in which an adoptee’s first mother is expected to slink away quietly into the shadows after placement and never be seen nor hear from again, birthmothers in open adoptions are expected to somehow occupy a position of honor in the lives of their child and his or her family, a role most fulfill with little preparation and even less definition.

Birthmothering is actually harder than most people would suspect. You are expected to demonstrate ongoing interest in the child the legal paperwork says you surrendered forever, yet never overstep your welcome.

You still get all the feels that any parent does, of course, when you see photos of your child or hear of his/her latest achievements, or get all-too-brief opportunities for visits. Meanwhile, you are always mindful of the fact that you are a guest in your child’s life, and that your access is always at the adoptive parents’ discretion.

You have a lifetime connection to people with whom you made a lifelong commitment, when you chose them to parent your child, though you may come to realize over time you really didn’t know them that well, and you might occasionally wish you’d made some other choices.

Seeing the child you placed over the years means you can never pretend the encounter or relationship that led to his or her existence never happened.

To be perched on the periphery of your child’s life and yet to have no formally-recognized relationship to your child and his/her family anymore is precarious, and made even more so by the lack of laws enforcing any open adoption contact agreements in most states.

These, perhaps, are some of the downsides of birthmothering.

And now the good news…

The good news, though, is that as a birthmother in an open adoption, you don’t have to go through life worried that your child has been lost to you forever. Birthmothers in closed adoptions never knew who their child was with or how they were doing, or where they were. Birthmothers in open adoptions get to witness the joys of adoption, too, and not just the sorrow-and-grief parts.

Birthmothering in open adoptions means having a place at the family table; birthmotheringyou don’t eat every meal there, but you always know you’re welcome. You have a relationship with your child’s parents, and you know where they are. You need not worry about the child/ren you are parenting ever accidentally dating or marrying a sibling without knowing it. You don’t tense up every time there’s a horrific news story on TV, wondering if the child you placed was involved– because you already know where your child lives, and who their parents are.

Birthmothering means getting to be the “cool” parent; the one who is usually closer in age to the adoptee than the mom and dad who raise him/her, the one who doesn’t harp at them about doing their homework or brushing their teeth or improving their grades. It means enabling the children you are raising to have a lifelong connection of some sort to the child/ren you placed. It means getting to take pride in all your children, not just the ones you raise yourself.

Birthmothering means finding a healthy balance between your loyalty to the adoptive parents with your devotion to the child you share. It means reserving a space in your life for the adoptee and his or her family; making yourself available for calls or visits, finding a way to explain to newer people in your lives who the adoptive family is to you and why they matter, and growing into that relationship over time. It means learning to communicate respectfully when differences arise (as they will; every authentic relationship requires us to deal with challenges now and then) and yes, learning to pick your battles, when necessary.

But birthmothering also requires that you learn to forgive yourself, too, and to be willing to receive the adoptive family’s love as well. This can be especially hard for first moms who tend to beat themselves up for having placed a child for adoption; they sometimes think they don’t deserve to still be in their child’s life, and they struggle to believe that their presence is truly welcome– or needed.

Birthmothering like the best of them

A few ideas, for mothers who place, about birthmothering effectively:

* Learn all you can, upfront, from other birthmothers who have placed. The internet has done much to help get birthmothers out of shadows, so learn from those who have gone before you. Birthmothers from the closed adoption era harbor more anger and shame about their losses, perhaps, yet still have important perspectives to share. Birthmoms who have placed more recently may have more experience with negotiating post-adoption contact and adoptive family relationships, but may also be still learning their way. Remember this: both possess wisdom from which you can benefit.

* Make use of open adoption counseling, which is always free to birthparents at Abrazo. Good counseling is not about telling you what to think or feel, but rather, helping you find answers that work for you. Any open adoption is always a work in progress: it will be what you and the adoptive parents decide to make it, so getting a great adoption therapist to help you all work out what arrangements fit your needs can go a long way towards avoiding problems, and preparing you all to effectively address any issues that do arise over time.

birthmothering* Remember: the adoptee’s needs must always come first. This doesn’t mean that your feelings don’t matter, of course. But it means that in all things, all the parents involved must always be mindful of their duty to honor the adoptee’s needs at all times. The adults (birthparents and adoptive parents) can attend to each other’s needs and to their own, but they must all agree to work together to meet the adoptee’s needs, always (even when they may not agree on how best to get the job done.)

* Commit to communicating effectively.When you don’t have all the answers, it’s okay to admit it (and if it’s the adoptee asking something you don’t know how to explain, feel free to say “hmmm… that’s a good question; I’d need to think about that.”) If you’re not feeling up for a visit, it’s all right to say so, but be certain that you are not shutting the door on the entire relationship by doing so. If you’re feeling forgotten or left out, then own those feelings and find a way to respectfully express your needs to the adoptive parents in a way that compels them to want to help make things right. This is scary stuff, we know– birthmothers are never being sure of their footing, for fear of intruding or offending, but birthmothering well means building relationships out of trust and a rock-solid shared commitment to the child you all love.

* Set and respect boundaries. This is really important– not easy, but important. Everybody has their own, of course, so being “in relationship” with the adoptee and his/her family means learning theirs and teaching them yours. When you choose an adoptive family, you essentially subscribe to their values, too, by picking them. So whether or not you choose their values as your own, you need to agree to the standards by which they live in your contact with them (which may mean avoiding profanity in your conversations because you know it’s not how they talk, or not showing up for visits if you’re under the influence, because you know they don’t want your child to see you like that.) Likewise, you set your boundaries with them as you see fit (by asking them not to tag you in social media because if there are people on your friend list that you do not wish to share your adoption story with, for example. Or telling them that you are not comfortable with them sharing any information about your current whereabouts with the birthfather. Or asking them to limit the religious language in their letters to you, if it makes you uncomfortable.)

* Be consistent. Demonstrate that you’ve got your child’s adoptive family’s back, and nearly always, they’ll do the same for you. Whatever name you may have chosen for your baby in the beginning, good birthmothering means using the name the adoptive family chose when you address the adoptee. Honor the adoptive parents’ titles by referring to them as “your mom” or “your dad” in conversation with the adoptee; refer to yourself as “your birthmother” (never as “your real mom,” because you know biology is not all that makes a mom a mom, right?) When sending Christmas gifts to the child you placed, include a gift also for any other child in the home, if you’re able? And please, don’t forget your child’s birthday, even if it involves painful memories for you, because adoptees need to know their birthparents have not forgotten their special day.

Good birthmothering means continually tending the garden you planted at placement. You may not always see it yield results, and yet, it will, in time. (Trust us on this.) It may not change anything in ways that seem to matter right away, but it will make a difference, and you’ll see it in the ways that you (and the child you placed) blossom and grow, as the years go by.

When your family opposes adoption

Adoption is never an easy choice to begin with, but it can become even more difficult when your family opposes adoption.

Whether you are thinking about placing a child for adoption or adopting a child, it’s normal to want your family’s approval.

It’s not required, of course. Your family’s consent is not required in order for an adoption to occur.

There is no “age of consent” in Texas, so legally, any teenager old enough to get pregnant can make an adoption plan without her family’s knowledge or permission. And while homestudy workers are required to ask adopting parents what their family’s feelings are about the pending adoption plan, the negative response of extended family is not considered a “deal breaker,” per se.

And yet. (And yet…)

It’s hard to go through placing a child or adopting a child without the support of the people you love. Family opposition to adoption is not uncommon, but that does not make it any less painful.

When family doesn’t “get it”

For birthmother Monique, knowing her mother disapproved of her adoption plan added untold stress to an already-difficult situation.

“She told me she gave up everything to raise me as a single mom and me deciding not to do the same thing for my baby felt like a slap in the face to her,” she says. “I tried to tell her this isn’t about her, it’s about me and my child and what I want for us both. But to her, it seems like I’m saying what was good enough for her isn’t good enough for me.”

For Dave and Shari, who came to Abrazo to adopt, their family’s refusal to back their adoption felt like a rejection of them, as well. when-your-family-opposes-adoption“They knew all we had gone through with the infertility treatments that didn’t work! For them to suggest we hadn’t tried all we could to have a baby of our own was totally unfair. And then to say they weren’t sure they could love a child who wasn’t related to us by blood just made us look at our own family in a whole different light. (And not a good one.) It took awhile to get over that, for them and for us.”

In time, of course, Monique’s mother came to realize she would rather be a part of her grandchild’s open adoption than lose her access to her grandchild forever. Dave and Shari’s relatives, too, came to love the adopted baby just as much as their other nieces, nephews and grandkids.

In both instances, however, Abrazo’s clients found that their families’ resistance to adoption and their initial lack of support did have some lasting impact on those family relationships.

For Juanita, who came from a very traditional family, choosing adoption meant offending her family’s cultural mores. Initially, her parents, who hailed from Mexico, told her she would bring shame upon the family name if she shirked her parenting responsibilities by placing a child for adoption. Her father went so far as to tell her she would be dead to him if she went through with the adoption. Her sisters told her they would blame her for breaking their father’s heart by placing.

However, it was eventually her mother who showed up at the hospital to support her after birth, revealing that her dad’s aunt had once lost a child to closed adoption, and that in time, her father would surely come around. Juanita found the courage to allow her child’s adoption to proceed, and although one of her sisters still bears her ill will for doing so, her parents have forgiven her and even participate in visits with the adoptive family when they come back to see Juanita.

Not all relatives’ hearts do soften over time, however, nor does every relative always find it in their hearts to embrace an adoption after it happens. This is a painful truth, as one adoptive parent discovered, when a deceased relative’s will was read in court, revealing the inheritance was divided among all the grandchildren except for the adoptee. It is also hurtful for birthparents who must never display their placed children’s photos nor utter their names for fear of offending family member who disapproves of the adoption decision that was made.

If it becomes clear that the child you place or the child you adopt will be treated unfairly by your relative(s) as a result of the adoption decision, then it is your responsibility to shield that child to whatever extent you can– not denying the truth, of course, but rather, aiming to minimize the child’s exposure to those who would reject him/her.

How to break the news

There is, unfortunately, no magical formulation by which you can reveal an adoption plan and be guaranteed a positive response every time from every relative.

Generally, Abrazo recommends breaking the news in a private setting, one-on-one, using I-statements: (“I know you know how hard things have been for me/us lately and I know you want the best for me/us so I hope you will find it in your heart to support me/us because I/we have been feeling that adoption is going to be my/our best option, given my/our circumstances.”)

Keep in mind that the first response you get to this news doesn’t have to be how the listener/s will always feel about it. They may respond with shock or anger or horror or disgust or compassion or confusion or hope, and any one of those reactions would be normal.

Know, too, that most relatives’ resistance is likely rooted in concern for you, and that they may come to feel differently about the risks involved once they learn more about the open adoption process, how it works and why it matters.

Be prepared to get different responses from different relatives; one set of in-laws or birthgrandparents may feel very differently than the other, and that’s okay, too. Adoption practices were handled very differently in yesteryear, so be prepared to help educate your relatives about what open adoption is and isn’t, if you find this would be helpful.

Give them time to come around. Assure them that you are carefully exploring your options, that you are not making any snap decisions, and that you are only working with the best of adoption resources. Welcome them to ask you questions, if you do welcome their interest, or invite them to join Abrazo’s Forum if you prefer that they get information within our community. (A couple books that may also be useful for relatives of adopting parents are In On It, Adoption Is a Family Affair, and for birthgrandparents, check out Meeting the Adoptive Parents and Walking the Open Adoption Trail.)

If your relatives oppose your plans and drag out the heavy artillery (ie., offers of financial support in exchange for your commitment to keep the baby or to pursue additional fertility treatment,) consider getting a counselor involved to help you evaluate to what extent those offers would or would not impact your decision– and potentially, your future. A few joint counseling sessions with your relatives might also be a good idea, if the family dynamics have any bearing on your decision-making process?

Ultimately, however, you are responsible for your fate (and that of your future child/family,) so keep this in mind, whatever you decide. When your family opposes adoption, that says much more about them than it says about you, so make your own best choices and know that the kinfolk who truly love you unconditionally will come around eventually, whatever choice you make, and regardless of how they feel about it from the git-go.

Dear Texas Adoptee…

Dear Texas Adoptee…

We regret to inform you that (barring any last-minute miracles,) the Texas Legislature has once again drawn to a close without responding to the cries of thousands of Texas adoptees, birthparents, adoptive parents, adoption professionals and other concerned citizens who plead every year on behalf of adoptee rights.

The average Texan may think that our dear Texas adoptees have the same civil rights as any other American, yet that would (sadly) be wrong.

Sure, you can attend public school here, vote and pay taxes here.

You can register for the draft as required by law.

You can even come testify before a Senate subcommittee hearing about what it’s like to be an adoptee in Texas.

But if you were adopted in Texas and you’re over the age of 18, you cannot see nor have the piece of paper by which the State of Texas documented the true facts of your birth.

Read that again: if you were adopted in Texas, no matter long ago you became a legal adult, you cannot obtain a copy of your original birth certificate— not unless you already know your birthmother’s name or you paid an attorney to get a court order signed by a judge allowing you access under extreme circumstances.

Now, mind you, every other American has access to their original birth certificate, if they were not adopted.

But not you– not if you were born and adopted in Texas. You’re different, according to the State. You are not entitled to the same civil rights as everybody else born here in the Lone Star State, through no fault of your own.

Why not?

That’s the question that gets raised by adoption reform advocates in every Legislative session, every other year, since 1991. Why is the average Texas adoptee of age 19-109 not permitted to access the one unaltered legal document that is unarguably “theirs” from the day of their birth, onwards? Why shouldn’t adult adoptees in Texas have the means to obtain updated family medical information? Why can’t adult adoptees in Texas know the truth of their ethnicity? Why shouldn’t they have the ability to avoid dating or marrying birthrelatives? Why aren’t they be able to apply for passports as easily as any other adult legally-born in Texas?

These questions were given voice by a large contingent of citizens concerned about adoption rights. Many were part of S.T.A.R. (Support Texas Adoptee Rights), an advocacy group that has worked tirelessly for years in its efforts to secure original birth certificate access for adopted adults in Texas, educating the public and lawmakers alike about the need for adoptee rights legislation here.

This legislative session, Senator Brandon Creighton filed SB 329 in hopes of resolving these questionsDear-Texas-adoptee for once and for all, and we thank Senator Bettencourt, Senator Birdwell, Senator Estes, Senator Garcia, Senator Lucio, Senator Menendez, Senator Miles, Senator Perry, Senator Rodriguez, Senator Seliger, Senator Van Taylor, and Senator Watson for having the integrity to join him in this quest. We thank also Representative Joe Deshotel, sponsor of the companion bill HB547, and his honorable cosponsors, Representative Metcalf, Representative Minjarez, Representative Thompson, Representative Parker and Representative Farrar.

Tragically, however, the best intentions of many were once again seemingly foiled by the opposition of few. It seems that something about truth and transparency is somehow threatening to those who still subscribe to the outdated concept of adoption being a dirty secret best kept hidden. And the power apparently wielded by the individual(s) that feel(s) this way is costing thousands of Texans born and adopted here to yet again be denied their own truth, for yet another two years, until the next Texas Legislature reconvenes in 2019.

What can you do?

As any adoptee can tell you, some of the worst feelings are those of insignificance and being powerless; having your voice disregarded by those who should be listening, and being as powerless as an adult as were you were as a baby to influence the choices being made on your behalf.

We genuinely apologize for the State of Texas’ failure, once again, to bring this adoptee rights bill to the floor for a vote, as it should have. This is inexcusable, in our opinion, and we cannot fathom how we are to explain this lack of regard for your rights, as a Texas-born adopted adult citizen of the United States.

However, we want to assure you that you are not powerless– and we (those who support adoptee rights in Texas) are not giving up. You can (and should) help in the quest to enact legislation in Texas that will uphold the rights of all Texas-born adopted adults in this State, for once and for all.

Start by joining S.T.A.R. in the important work they do. (They can’t do all the heavy lifting alone, after all.)

But don’t stop there: make your voice be heard. Contact your legislator and tell them why adoptee rights legislation is important to you– whether you are an adoptee or birthparent or adoptive parent, or whether you just care about someone who is.

And finally, help vote to put into office those who recognize and support adoptee rights. Urge those around you to do the same. Those who oppose adoptee rights must be opposed: it’s just that simple.

We didn’t get the job done this legislative session, unfortunately, but not for lack of trying.

We are behind you, dear Texas adoptee… and we will continue the fight to get the right thing done here in the Lone Star State: that’s a promise.