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Texas, abortion and adoption

In Texas, abortion and adoption may seem diametrically opposed, but for one Texas woman who passed away last week, Texas, abortion and adoption were irrevocably linked.

Her name was Norma… Norma McCorvey, and she was one of the most famous birthmothers you never knew.

Norma grew up in the Dallas area, and like many mothers who place children for adoption, she had not had an easy life with every advantage. Her grandmother had been said to be a prostitute. Her mother was an abusive alcoholic. Her dad was largely absent. Her brother was mentally ill.

Norma was allegedly sexually abused by a Catholic nun in boarding school. She then said while working at a gas station at the age of ten, she stole some money and ran away from home with another girl. That got her sent to a girls’ reform school for four years, which she remembered as “the best years of my life.” She married at age sixteen and got pregnant soon afterwards. The couple separated before the child’s birth, and beset with alcohol and drug problems, Norma allowed her daughter Melissa to be adopted by her mother (although she claimed she’d been tricked into signing the adoption papers for insurance purposes.)

Four years later, in 1967, she was again single and pregnant, and she reportedly placed another baby for adoption. Some say the child was adopted by another family, while others say the baby was adopted by the biological father, a guy she identified only as “Joe.” Norma said she never even knew if that baby had been a boy or a girl, and she never saw the child at birth nor after.

In 1969, Norma claimed to have gotten pregnant yet again as the result of a gang rape (her account of that assault was later recanted.) She had wanted to do an abortion, she said, but was unable to come up with the money to travel to one of the six states where abortion was legal then (Hawaii, California, New York, Oregon, Alaska or Washington.)

So she contacted Henry McCluskey, an adoption attorney in Dallas, and another adoption plan was made, with Norma having to promise never to seek out nor contact the adoptive couple.

McCluskey owed a colleague a favor, however, so he also put Norma in touch with two Texas attorneys seeking to represent a woman in a case challenging Texas’ anti-abortion laws. And three years later, after the adoption of her third child, Norma became publicly known as “Jane Roe.” (Yes, that Jane Roe, as in “Roe vs. Wade,” the contentious landmark legislation that made abortion legal in America.)

In Texas, abortion and adoption are each still hot topics of debate, and we’re not here to stir up dissent, nor debate the merits or shortcomings of either option.

We’re here to commemorate a woman named Norma, and to honor the complex life she led.

The Sad Saga of Jane Roe, aka Norma McCorvey

Norma McCorvey (aka Jane Roe) never had an abortion herself, but she was forever changed (for better or worse) by the impact of three adoptions (one open, two closed) by the age of twenty-two.

As Norma said in a 1982 Dallas Morning News interview, talking about the “victory” of the legislation legalizing abortion (which she sometimes referred to as “my law,” until her feelings changed):

“I was bitter. I thought I had been cheated, but everyone feels that way sometime in their life.. But I was glad for everyone else. I was glad to know some other poor woman wouldn’t have to go through what I did. I thought at least she wouldn’t have to face the agony of waking up in the morning and driving to work and seeing kids walking and wondering which one was hers. Because it’s not easy to give up something you helped grow, regardless of how the seed got there.

Norma had a ninth grade education. She worked as a carny, as a housepainter, as a bartender, in an abortion clinic and as a cleaning lady. She became a lesbian. She converted to Christianity. She then abandoned her gay lifestyle (at least publicly.) She joined the anti-abortion movement. She was the poster child for the pro-choice movement for awhile, and then she switched teams and became the face of the evangelical pro-life army. She reportedly struggled with depression and substance abuse. She got two book deals. Holly Hunter even played Norma in the television movie about Roe vs. Wade.

Yet there is reportedly one thing Norma didn’t ever get to do: reunite with two of the three children she placed for adoption.

What became of Norma’s children?

By all accounts, Norma never knew what became of two of the children she had placed for adoption. But she did wonder about them, and it could be said that she never forgave herself, not for the loss of millions of babies’ lives resulting from the legalization of abortion in America, and not for the forfeiture of the three children that she birthed but could not raise.

According to an article published by pro-life activist Chuck Colson on the very day Abrazo was born, January 4, 1994: “The baby girl that (McCorvey) put up for adoption is grown up now-and, ironically, has become a committed pro-lifer. When she learned that her birth mother was the infamous “Jane Roe,” the daughter was horrified and refused even to meet her.”

Norma’s lifestyle did not make her the perfect spokeswoman for the pro-life movement nor for the pro-choice forces– although it could be said that both sought to use her for their own purposes.

And Norma was not the shining icon that the adoption industry would seek to uphold as a sterling representative of the best of birthmothers, either, if we’re honest about it. She’d admitted to drinking heavily during pregnancy. She had slit her wrists before signing the legal affidavit that made her the star of Roe vs. Wade. She claimed in her first book that she had punched herself in the stomach when told by attorneys she would be too far along to terminate her third pregnancy by the time the courts heard the abortion suit. She allegedly solicited money from others for interviews and misappropriated funds donated to a charity she began, and veracity was not always her strong suit.

Even her first born daughter, Melissa, didn’t have particularly positive things to say about her birthmother, in a 2013 Vanity Fair interview, when she told a reporter “Norma has never been able to do the right thing. Never.”

As Norma herself said to People magazine in 1989: “It’s the hardest thing in the world to give up a child,” she says. “But what it’s all about is choice.”

(It seems tragically ironic, that a birthmother in closed adoptions would see ‘choice’ as having been an advantage afforded to her in those placement experiences?)

The feature in People closed with this haunting paragraph: “The one thing that Norma wants now, she says, is to find the child she tried to abort 20 years ago. Attorney McCluskey is dead, the adoption papers have been sealed and the prospects look dim. Still, she says, she is trying. “I want to find out what he or she looks like,” says Norma. “And I wonder whether they’d like me and what I stand for.””

In the end, it was her first child, Melissa, who was with her when Norma died of heart failure on February 18, at the age of 69. Wherever her other two children may be today, we hope Norma now knows how their lives turned out, and that she has the reassurance and peace that so eluded her in this lifetime. And we hope all of her children can grieve for her, reconciling what they may know of her life with her better angels and the dreams she held in her heart.

When it comes to unwanted pregnancies in Texas, abortion and adoption are still imperfect solutions to reproductive crises, but Norma McCorvey three times chose life and chose abortion, and undoubtedly, the children she leaves behind are surely the better for it… May she rest in peace.

Why Use an Adoption Agency?

In this increasingly tech-savvy era, when social media has become so widely used for nearly everything, why use an adoption agency?

After all, adoption agency fees are not cheap these days, considering the licensing standards to which adoption agencies in Texas (and elsewhere) are held, coupled with constantly-rising operating costs in every industry.

And sure, any pregnant girl can just get online and google adoption or “adopt my baby” and find plenty of people willing to do an adoption, whether legally or under the table.

So what, exactly, do adoption agencies do, anymore? The best adoption agencies help parents and protect children, and they work at making each adoption healthier for everyone involved, in a way that adoption attorneys and adoption facilitators and baby brokers never will.

What Adoption Agencies Used To Do

Most adoption agencies began as foundling homes and orphanages. Back in the latter part of the 1800s and the early 1900s, infant formula did not yet exist, and birth control did not exist, so poor families and unmarried women had few (and dire) options, besides parenting: baby farms, child abandonment, and/or infanticide.

Churches and social aid groups began creating programs and places to shelter children without parents able to care for them. The huge influx of immigrants on the East Coast, however, quickly overwhelmed what few resources there were set up, so the orphan trains began transporting unwanted children of all ages across the US, so people in rural areas could take these kids in, in exchange for free labor.

Problems with these arrangements, however, resulted in the eventual development of adoption standards that included homestudies and supervision, and children’s homes began to practice adoption more routinely, giving rise to such historic institutions as the The New York Foundling, Children’s Home Society, Edna Gladney Adoption Center, Spence-Chapin and others.

why-use-an-adoption-agencyThe stigma of illegitimacy (pregnant unwed mothers) made adoption a much more popular option in America in the mid-1900s, and the highest number of infant adoptions occurred between 1940-1975, a time that became known as the Baby Scoop Era. Pregnant girls and unwed moms were hidden away in maternity homes owned by adoption agencies, so nobody knew they were pregnant and placing, and most adoptions back then were closed, meaning the birthparents and adoptive parents were also hidden from each other. The (erroneous) assumption back then was that each child’s parents had no need to know the other. (There was no consideration even given to whether the adopted child might need to have any say in that matter?)

Back then, adoption agencies essentially served as gatekeepers and guardians of lifelong secrets, hiding birthparents and adoptive parents from each other. The adoption agencies had tremendous power over the process, but great responsibility, as well, and adoptive families were wrongfully encouraged to raise their adopted children to not even know of the adoption until or unless they were fully grown and the truth had to come out for some reason.

What Adoption Agencies Do Now

The public misconception of adoption agencies is that an agency’s job is to find healthy babies for homes that want them. Today’s adoption professionals know, however, that good adoptions are about finding good homes for kids that need them. At Abrazo, we understand the importance of involving birthparents and adoptive parents in the adoption process, and raising children who are adopted to know the truth of their own origins right from the beginning of their lives (telling them about their adoptions as early as possible.)

Social mores have changed, as has the availability of birth control and abortion services, and single mothers are far more common in American society than they used to be. As a result, fewer girls and women feel the need to consider adoption, resulting in dropping adoption statistics across the nation, even as the number of abused and neglected children in American foster care continues to rise. Expectant mothers without husbands are no longer forced to hide out in maternity homes until after their babies’ birth and/or placement; adoption itself is no longer kept secret by those who do it nor by those who have been adopted. Adoption is still a viable option, however, and probably always will be.

Adoption agency services have changed, as well. Adoption agencies such as Abrazo still offer casework, counseling services, homestudies and post-placement supervision, as are needed in any ethical adoption. Yet Abrazo also offers prenatal care for pregnant women needing to place and pre-adoption education to parents interested in adoption. Abrazo helps match available children with qualified adoptive parents, of course, and facilitates safe and compassionate friendships between the parents who are surrendering parental rights and those who hope to become parents. Yet in Texas, as a licensed adoption agency, Abrazo is also able to provide expectant mothers planning to place with a range of assistance throughout pregnancy and after placement, like housing or rent assistance, groceries, clothing, pregnancy-related transportation, utility support, childcare for other children in their care, and more.

Some private adoption agencies have branched into doing embryo adoptions, gay adoptions and/or surrogacy arrangements, while still others have subcontracted with the State to help find homes for older children who are no longer babies.

At Abrazo, some of our most important services go far beyond the scope of finding good homes for children that need them. Abrazo’s clients, whether they are placing or adopting a child, need plenty of hand-holding. At Abrazo, you’ll find a large community of support to offer you ongoing encouragement and information and advice, throughout the adoption process and over the years that follow. Parents who have placed or adopted through Abrazo, as well as their children, know that the agency’s staff continues to be available to them for counseling and consultation, at no additional charge (and has done so for 23 years, now.) Our agency’s online community, the Abrazo Forum, is a free repository of open adoption information, and the agency’s annual reunion, Camp Abrazo, offers post-adoption support for birthfamilies and adoptive families and adoptees alike.

The best adoption agencies, like Abrazo, know that their job isn’t done when a baby goes home with a new adoptive family. That’s just the beginning, and the more adoption professionals can do to continue to offer support to the birthparents and the adoptive parents who made each adoption possible, the better off each adopted child will surely be.

So remember this information– and be sure to share Abrazo’s phone number and website, the next time you hear someone ask “why use an adoption agency?”

Nevertheless, She Persisted

The words “nevertheless, she persisted” recently uttered by a lawmaker in Washington, D.C. were intended as a rebuke of a congressional colleague, yet instead, have become a rallying cry for females all across America.

Upon seeing and hearing this quote, however, we cannot help but think not of warring Senate colleagues arguing over presidential appointments, but of other women we know: women who may never draw the attention (nor ire) of wealthy white male lawmakers, yet from whom they could almost certainly learn a thing or two.

Because here at Abrazo, we know countless women and girls who have faced enormous hardship and untold challenges, yet found the courage to conquer them with resilience, foresight and grace.

Nevertheless, she resisted.

We think of the adoptive mothers we have been blessed to know, who were discouraged by years of failed infertility treatments, and doctors who charged them much, yet helped them little. They surely had every reason to give up on their dreams of motherhood and “just focus on your career instead,” as others suggested they should do.

(Nevertheless, she resisted. And the children they are now parenting by adoption are surely better for it.)

We think of the panicked expectant mothers who have called us, bowled over by the news of an unwanted pregnancy at the worst possible time. They told us they’d been told by their baby’s fathers (and others) to terminate their pregnancies and get “rid of the problem.”

(Nevertheless, she resisted. And the children to whom they gave birth were given the gift of life, as a result.)

nevertheless-she-persistedWe think of mothers doing their best in the midst of what seem to be the worst of circumstances, who were unwilling to see their children warehoused in state foster care nor drag their children through shelters, and thus made the ultimate sacrifice instead, by choosing adoption. “Don’t give your kids up,” their friends may have urged them, warning that they’d regret it all their lives and never recover from the grief.

(Nevertheless, she resisted. And through open adoption, she and her children are all in a truly better place now, as a result.)

We think of the women who have come here and done the kind of child-centered adoptions that put the needs of children first, despite the lucrative offers of baby brokers and greedy adoption lawyers that told them they could get money under the table for giving their baby to the highest bidder, if they would just “fudge a little” on the ethics of the arrangements.

(Nevertheless, she resisted, and the child she placed can be proud of the ethical adoption that was done here, instead of ashamed over having a victim of child trafficking.)

Nevertheless, she insisted.

We’re reminded, likewise, of the adoptive moms we know who were “warned” about open adoption and who had even well-intentioned social workers or others cautioning them about not getting “too close” to the birthparents, for fear of getting hurt or disappointed. They knew the risks of an adoption planning falling through, and they knew their own apprehensions about feeling like anything less than a real mom.

(Nevertheless, she insisted, and by honoring her child’s birthfamily’s place in their lives, she has given her child both roots and wings.)

We’re reminded of the women we know who had high hopes for their child’s open adoption, yet whose hopes were crushed when the other party was unable or unwilling to keep in contact as planned. “Move on with your life, don’t keep trying if they don’t respond,” some might have told them.

(Nevertheless, she insisted, and eventually, her efforts to leave the door open did result in long-awaited communication which has proven invaluable to not just the adults involved, but the children, too.)

We’re reminded of the adoptees we know, who continue to be denied access to their original birth certificates here in Texas, simply because more than 21 years ago, they were placed for adoption, thus they are denied their civil rights to access the unaltered legal documentation of their birth. “Just be grateful for your adoption and don’t look back,” women have been routinely advised by threatened adopters and archaic senators protecting their own interests.

(Nevertheless, she insisted, and it is only because of her commitment to the truth that she and other adoptees may eventually succeed in convincing Texas Legislature to implement laws for much-needed adoption reform here in the Lone Star State.)

We’re reminded of the birthmothers we love, who have had to think and rethink the painful adoption choices they once made on behalf of their children. Sometimes, understandably, they are their own worst enemies, when they cannot forgive themselves for having been unable or unready to parent. And sometimes, they’re bombarded by the short-sighted criticism and hind-sighted perspective from those around them, who seek to control them through guilt and shame. Occasionally, too, they find their decisions questioned by the adoptees, themselves, for whom ‘the other grass’ (on the biological side) may sometimes seem greener.

(Nevertheless, she insisted that she’d done her best by her child in making the decision she did, and we embrace the power of her convictions.)

May we all learn from them, and may it be said of every woman reading this, someday, that despite all the hardships she has faced in the past– and will in the future– “nevertheless, she persisted!”

How Two Letters Can Make a World of Difference

how-two-letters-can-make-a-world-of-difference

A post left by a visitor on Abrazo’s Facebook page today was a big reminder of how two letters can make a world of difference– and how important it is not to jump to conclusions.

Abrazo had posted this new video yesterday, for women facing unwanted pregnancies, to which a visitor responded “so dumb… don’t have sex if you don’t want a kid.”

Oh. (My.) We took a moment to think (and breathe deep,) before responding.

(There was a lot we could say, of course. But we opted to be gentle and kind.)

We get that not everybody shares our views on unplanned pregnancy. Not everybody sees the crises we do. Maybe to some people, family planning really does seem just that easy?

Yet comments like this are surely an opportunity for dialogue, and that’s a good thing, right?

So this is what we wrote in response:

It’s just not that simple.

Sex doesn’t always guarantee pregnancy (especially for the people who want kids but have infertility) nor is pregnancy the only reason people choose to have sex.

(And remember that unplanned pregnancies also happen to women on birth control, and to victims of sexual assault, and to kids whose parents forbid sex education thinking then it won’t happen, and to girls who aren’t ready but don’t know how to say no to older boys…)

At Abrazo, we’ve known plenty of people who found themselves unexpectedly expecting, and none of these people were dumb.

They are courageous, resilient, selfless and stronger than even they knew, and we are grateful for each of them and for the amazing children they’ve placed through Abrazo.

So far, so good– right? We posted our reply, hoping for the best.

And then our visitor replied that abortion should be illegal and that we were all a bunch of babykillers. (Say what? Ugh. No, no, no! Not even close.)

Abortion or Adoption

It appears that our visitor had missed the text in our video which beseeches viewers facing unplanned pregnancies to “Choose life. Choose adoption.” Clearly, she didn’t visit Abrazo’s website to learn more about what we do and why we do it the way we do.

And we’re guessing she knows little about birthmothers who place and why they choose adoption, either. (But she’s not alone there. The world has misunderstood the intentions of first moms for decades, and that’s not likely to change soon, much as we wish it would. Old stereotypes die hard.)

It seems our opinionated visitor is probably one of those people who thinks that adoption is an alternative to abortion, which– oddly enough– it isn’t. You might be surprised at how often people confuse the two?

Obviously, there’s much to be learned about how two letters can make a world of difference.

Abortion may be an alternative to pregnancy, yet adoption is an alternative to parenting. (The first word has a b and an r, while the second has a d and a p, but beyond that, there’s a even bigger difference.)

None of the questions pondered by unexpectedly-pregnant females (can I successfully carry to term? can I successfully parent a child to adulthood? can I live with my child growing up in another family?) are easily-answered. None of the alternatives are simple, yet each will require an enormous amount of soul-searching, and any of them may result in lifelong regrets, in some form or another. (But then, so does parenting, sometimes.)

Wise decisions take time. And more.

The point is that there are no easy answers for females who find themselves with an unplanned pregnancy– or parenting when they wish they weren’t.

It’s all too easy to judge, or to accuse pregnant females of being careless or promiscuous or “dumb” (to quote our visitor, who later deleted her abortion remark)– but there’s way more to it (and to expectant moms, as well.) Statistically, the majority of pregnancies in America are not planned, and they happen to girls and women of widely-varying ages and backgrounds. Unexpected pregnancies can happen with or without intercourse (yep, really!) and when it does happen, however it happens, it can changes everything for the mother involved– physically, mentally and emotionally.

If you are pregnant, or parenting and wish you weren’t, you need support and understanding. You need to know what your options are, and you need time and space to sort through them. You may need the help of a good counselor to figure out which alternative(s) will best meet the immediate (and future) needs of you and your child. You may need additional services like prenatal care or temporary housing or transportation or food in the meantime, so you can focus on the decision at hand.

And that’s where Abrazo (and other community resources) can help.

What Abrazo does. (And doesn’t do.)

Abrazo cannot tell you what the “right” decision for your and your child will be. That’s something only you can decide. We don’t believe in abortion, nor in closed adoptions, nor in involuntary parenting, forced adoption nor child abuse.

We do, however, believe in the potential of truly open adoption, as a loving alternative for meeting the needs of children. We believe in the potential of birthmothers, we believe in adopted kids growing up with positive information about and healthy access to all their parents, and we know plenty of adoptive families who can be trusted (and who do) keep their promises.

If you’re considering adoption, Abrazo can help you review your options, find your footing, and feel less alone as you work through all the questions at hand. We can introduce you to other moms who have been where you are, and who have seen their lives transformed in ways they would never have imagined, back when they were going through this. We can help you find clearer directions for the future.

We can help find a loving home for your child/ren, if need be. And we can give you the emotional support you need to live with whatever choices you do make.

Because we’ve seen firsthand how two letters can make a world of difference, and we’re help to show you, too, if you’re open to all the possibilities that open adoption has to offer?

Adoptees and Birthsiblings

Adoptees and birthsiblings have a birthright that forever binds them, and at Abrazo, we know well the beauty of preserving these relationships whenever a placement necessarily separates siblings.

Although the public tends to prefer to think of mothers who place babies for adoption being hapless teens on their first pregnancy who are “unable to parent,” in Abrazo’s experience, birthmothers who place children for adoption more often are women in their twenties and thirties. Most of the mothers who place at Abrazo have already had other children, and thus have far more realistic views of what children need, and how limited parental resources can endanger a child’s future.

adoptees-and-birthsiblingsWhen expectant moms or parenting mothers make the decision to choose adoption at Abrazo, we encourage them to include their other child/ren in the adoption decision in an age-appropriate fashion, so that the child/ren already in the home have an understanding of the special decision being made and their lack of culpability in those adult choices. Placing parents have the option of including their child/ren in the counseling process and in the matching process, so that their existing child/ren is/are able to be involved in choosing the prospective adoptive family and getting to know them, if the placing parents so wish. And the birthfamily and adoptive family are encouraged to draft a voluntary post-adoption contact agreement in writing, at time of placement, and to maintain direct contact in the years that follow.

One of the primary advantages of open adoption, for children, is that it has the potential to preserve the familial relationship between adoptees and birthsiblings. Children in open adoptions can grow up with healthy bonds with their biological siblings, having gained the benefits of adoption while being spared the forfeiture of these primal connections. (By contrast, one of the collateral losses of traditional/closed adoption was always the relationships between adoptees and birthsiblings, which sometimes leads to the trauma of G.S.A., or genetic sexual attraction.)

Consider Brenda, for example (names have been changed.) In her late twenties, she had four children already, one of whom has special needs. The father of her unborn baby had been sentenced to thirty years in prison; the fathers of her other children were not involved with her kids and do not pay child support. She and her current boyfriend got pulled over by police because his car had a broken tail light; the police noted that her kids were not properly restrained in car seats and made them all get out, at which time a search of the car resulted in a narcotics seizure. Brenda’s children were placed in CPS care and she fought to get them back, but she knew that she was not in any position to parent yet another child, with no job, no home, no vehicle and no family support.

Adoption was not her only option, of course, but given her situation, Brenda believed that giving the baby a fresh new start with an adoptive family was best for the baby, and and that gave her the best possible chance to get her other kids back and make her own fresh new start with them.

And that is exactly what happened. Brenda was able to place her baby for adoption, to get the children she had been parenting back from Child Protective Services, and her responsible, courageous adoption decision made it possible for the adopted child and the biological siblings to never lose each other, which was a win-win outcome for each of those kids.

It doesn’t always turn out this way, of course. Abrazo has another adoptive family whose child’s birthmom unfortunately lost custody to the State of another of her children, yet Abrazo’s adoptive family (recognizing the importance of sibling relationships) went to great lengths to develop a healthy connection with the foster-to-adopt family the State placed the lost sibling with, and the families have agreed to maintain communication for the benefit of these sisters.

adoptees-and-birthsiblingsOccasionally, birthmothers who have placed get pregnant again too soon to parent, yet too soon for the adoptive family they’ve already placed with to be ready to adopt another child. Whenever possible, Abrazo makes every effort to keep siblings together, but when this cannot be done, Abrazo goes the extra mile to facilitate ongoing open adoption relationships not just between the birthparents and the adopting family, but also with another other adopting family with whom a birthparent has previously placed– again, enabling all the parents involved to work together to honor the primal bonds between adoptees and birthsiblings.

(One such connection can be viewed in this Abrazo video, in which the opening shot is of three sisters with three different adoption stories, which are later explained by them in a subsequent interview done at Camp Abrazo last summer. The boys pictured above are also an adoptee and his birthsibling, who see each other every year at Camp Abrazo.)

All adoption relationships take work to make them work, and the same is certainly true of open adoption relationships that involve adoptees and birthsiblings. At Abrazo, we respect and appreciate our birthparents and adoptive families who go the extra mile to honor the important relationship between adoptees and birthsiblings after adoption.

It’s not always easy, and the kids don’t always “get” why their parents make such a big deal of this. Yet sibling relationships are some of the longest-lasting of family relationships, according to sociologists.

So it stands to reason that honoring the lifelong connections of adoptees and birthsiblings must be one of the sacred duties of any responsibilities of parents and adoption professionals, alike.

Why Infertility Matters

At Abrazo, our full-service program is limited to adopting couples with documented infertility, which often raises questions from fertile would-be adopters as to why infertility matters?

It’s a valid question, so it deserves to be addressed.

After all, if adoption is (at its core) about finding good homes for children that need them, then why should infertility matter? Plenty of people without infertility issues turn out to be excellent parents.

We agree. That’s why Abrazo has two programs readily available to adoptive applicants for whom infertility has never been a problem: our Promesa (special needs) program and our designated program, in which the adopting family participates in the search for a match with a prospective birthparent who is not seeking to place with someone who could otherwise never become a parent any other way. (Both of these programs, incidentally, are offered at reduced fees, here at Abrazo.)

Abrazo’s Milagros (full-service) placement program, however, is especially for infertile couples who have confirmed that they have no medically-known means of conceiving, and who can provide Abrazo with documentation of this hardship at time of application.

This distinction does not compensate them for their loss, of course, nor is it intended to do so.

And infertility cannot be “cancelled out” by the adoption of a child, either.

Yet Abrazo’s infertility requirement serves another purpose that is sacred to us. (Let us explain.)

Being infertile means a lifelong loss

There are fertile people who choose not to reproduce for very honorable reasons, we know. This is referred to as “voluntary infertility.” People with voluntary infertility often are acutely aware that the world is full of children already in need and they see it as irresponsible to make additional babies of their own when there are already kids in desperate need, and we salute them.

There are fertile people with “selective infertility,” who opt to avoid getting pregnant because of health conditions they fear might complicate a pregnancy or endanger the mother’s life, or because they don’t wish to risk producing a child with certain hereditary ailments, or because they only want a child of one specific gender, and we respect their right to their own preferences in these matters.

But the adopting parents we find to be the best suited to Abrazo’s full-service open adoption program are those who have endured the great losses of “involuntary infertility” because no matter how long they’ve undergone fertility treatments or how skilled their fertility specialists, at least one partner has documented infertility, so there is no known means by which conception will ever occur.

why-infertility-mattersThese couples must go through the painful emotional process of grieving this loss; of living with the loss of their biological dreamchild, and of working through the stages (denial, bargaining, anger, sadness and eventually, acceptance) in order to be able to find purpose and fulfillment in life again. Hard as this surely is, having lived through the devastation of this experience can and does build character and transforms them over time, much like a refiner’s fire, creating a stronger new version of themselves in the process.

Adopting parents need not have undergone fertility treatments, but if they have gone through fertility treatments, they must have finished those efforts before joining Abrazo’s adoption program.

Having to place a child (or be adopted) also entails lifelong loss

Birthparents and adoptees, likewise, endure a painful emotional process of loss that has the capacity to either destroy or transform them, over time, because even the “best” of adoptions are borne of loss, and that loss has longstanding impact in the lives of those touched by adoption.

When expectant parents approach the adoption process, the most common request Abrazo hears from parents planning to place is that they hope to make parents of a childless couple who could never otherwise know the joys of parenthood. This doesn’t means that there are no placing parents willing to consider families with other children, but the majority of prospective birthparents hope for their child to be the firstborn in a home which has no other way of growing a family except by adoption.

Birthparents, whether they place with a childless couple or with a family with secondary infertility or who have already adopted before, want to know that their sacrifice will not be for naught. They want to know that their child is going to grow up as happy and healthy as possible. And they want to know that the parents to whom they are entrusting their child will genuinely understand and appreciate what the birthparents have gone through in order to make the adoption possible.

Who better to empathize with and honor the birthparents’ sacrifice than a couple who has already survived the pain of infertility and who has experienced the grief that comes with child loss?

Adoptees, too, often grapple with conflicting emotions over having had to be adopted, and with the loss of the opportunity to have grown up with their biological family.

Who better to empathize with the adoptee’s sense of loss and to teach an adoptee how to work through grief than parents who have survived the inherent losses of infertility loss and/or relinquishment?

We know, of course, that there are empathetic adopting couples who have not experienced infertility, and who feel perfectly qualified to balance a blended family of adopted children followed by homegrown kids, or vice versa. And even at Abrazo, a small number of couples with documented infertility have experienced unanticipated miracle pregnancies after adopting, on occasion. (Obviously, it can happen, although it’s actually more rare than most people believe.)

Yet if adoption is about attempting to accentuate the positive and bettering the odds in the best interests of children who must be adopted to whatever extent possible, then we believe that reserving our full-service program for couples who cannot conceive and become parents the traditional way makes it more likely that birthparents and the children they place will be matched with adopting parents who can truly relate to them and fully empathize with them across the lifespan.

As noted, Abrazo does have program options available to those without documented infertility. The Milagros (full-service) program, though, enables adopting couples to pursue adoption of infants and children without having to advertise or network or find prospective birthparents on their own. Abrazo does all the marketing and outreach, and then reserves matches with the prospective birthparents who seek our services for our infertile couples.

Childless couples in the Milagros placement typically become parents within 6-12 months or less, while infertile couples already parenting generally wait 6-12 months or more for a full-service placement to occur.

Couples with documented infertility can begin the process of adopting through Abrazo by clicking this link and downloading the preapplication form to fill out and send in.

Because these are the folks who truly understand why infertility matters, and why it matters to us to help as many of our children find happy homes with them as we can, as soon as possible.

When Adoption Agencies Close

When adoption agencies close down, what are the rights of their clients?

This is the question on all our minds, upon learning of the sudden bankruptcy and closure of the Independent Adoption Center, which originated in CA before establishing satellite offices in Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, New York, North Carolina, and Texas.

The Independent Adoption Center (or “I.A.C.”) was begun in 1982 by the late Bruce Rappaport and Kathleen Silber. (Curiously, Silber was previously of San Antonio, having been employed by Lutheran Social Services, which was a pioneer in open adoption. She also had co-authored the book “Dear Birthmother” with Phyllis Speedlin.)

The I.A.C. originally prided itself on not being an adoption agency (hence the “independent” claim) but over time, the organization recognized the need to obtain state licensure, and so they did.

when-adoption-agencies-closeThe Independent Adoption Center did a good job, by most reports, of educating prospective clients about the benefits of open adoption. They marketed their adoption program aggressively and effectively positioned themselves as adoption experts. They seemed to have no shortage of prospective adoptive families willing to pay their substantial fees, but according to the notice that was posted online on January 31, 2017, the agency had run out of both revenue and birthparents and was closing immediately, having filed for bankruptcy.

According to a number of I.A.C.’s waiting adoptive parents, the Independent Adoption Center (like Adoption Services Associates, which went bankrupt in 2012) unfortunately failed to provide its alumni and its current clients with advance notice of the shutdown. (Indeed, as several adopting families posted online, I.A.C. was allegedly still promoting its program, seeking donations and requesting funds from its clientele as of this month.) A reported 600 prospective adopting couples at I.A.C. are now left without an adoption agency and without the thousands of dollars each had already paid there; one can only imagine their fear, their fury and their grief, as they contemplate having to start all over again (or give up on adoption entirely.)

Unlike the A.S.A. shutdown, however, the I.A.C. practiced open adoption, so the shuttering of this program should not leave thousands of birthparents and adoptive families with no means of continuing communication and contact (unlike the Adoption Services Associates debacle, in which any contact typically went through the agency, which ended with its closure.)

Beyond the prospective adoptive parents and the prospective birthparents being left in the lurch by I.A.C.’s closing, there are thousands of I.A.C. adoptive families, adoptees and birthfamilies who will now be left with none of the post-adoption services and support that is needed in the years that follow any adoption. There is no indication from the I.A.C. closure notice that the Independent Adoption Center made any provision for followup services to fulfill its promised “lifetime support for I.A.C. birth families and unlimited support for adoptive families for one year after placement” or the “up to two counseling sessions per year” for adopted children through the age of 18.

Now mind you, all the adoption agencies in America are painfully aware of how the domestic infant adoption statistics continue to drop each year. Unwed mothers and unplanned pregnancies do not carry the stigma they used to in the 50s, 60s and 70s (and truly, this is a good thing, even though it means that ever-decreasing numbers of infants are placed for adoption annually.) Every adoption agency has a limited life span, of course (click here to see a list of closed adoption agencies in Texas) so it seems that any adoption program should have an ethical contingency plan in place, for the time when its services are no longer needed or viable.

At Abrazo, we feel blessed to do the work we do, and we plan to continue doing open adoptions for as long as the Good Lord keeps sending us people who need us. Unlike the mega-agencies that take in as many applicants as can afford their fees, at Abrazo, we only accept as many clients as we can expect to place with in a year’s time. Rather than branching into potentially-lucrative business sidelines such as embryo adoptions or surrogacy arrangements, at Abrazo, we focus on continuing to do what we do best: which is providing couples with documented infertility and parents with unplanned pregnancy or children in need of adoption with the best of open adoption support, before and after placement. And we continue to keep our fees as reasonable as we possibly can.

(But when that day does comes, when there is no public need for the services Abrazo offers, we believe our clients and alumni should have the right to know of any plans to close, as far in advance as possible. Clients and alumni should be provided access to alternative services and post-adoption support, and our clients should have ongoing access to the Abrazo Forum and to our private social media support groups indefinitely, so that the Abrazo community can remain intact. Until that fateful day, rest assured that Abrazo will continue to provide the best of open adoption services to our clientele, and to manage their investment responsibly, to ensure that any monies spent are accounted for and so that any refunds due are available, as well.)

Our hearts go out to the disenfranchised clients and alumni of the Independent Adoption Center. (We know their staff and board members are undoubtedly in shock and grieving, as well.) If we can somehow be of service to I.A.C.’s currently placing birthparents and/or adopting families, we welcome them to contact Abrazo, to learn about our program and the services we may be able to provide: 210-342-5683.

When adoption agencies close, it’s devastating for everyone, so all of us at Abrazo are mindful of our responsibility to continue to safeguard our agency’s future in every way we can, for the welfare of all of our children, parents and families.

Adoption Risks

Could any adoption program ever do enough to prepare its clients for adoption risks?

Adoption risks are, clearly, a potential problem in any adoption and for anybody who is adopted, has adopted, or is thinking of adopting, as well as for anyone who has placed or is considering doing so.

This is because adoption (like any other human process such as birth and marriage,) is beset with unknown information, changing variables and uncertain outcomes.

Adoption professionals are loathe to focus on negatives, and perhaps understandably, considering the inconsistent sociology research regarding the efficacy of post-adoption adjustment.

Adoption Risks for Birthparents

For parents who are considering or making adoption plans for their children, the risks are often primarily trust-based. Can they trust the adoption professional who is assisting them to provide thorough information, unbiased advice and unconditional support? Can they trust the adoptive couple to be wonderful parents, to provide the child with all needed care through their lifespan, to keep any promises they make, and to be the people they represent themselves to be?

Beyond that, though, birthparents also risk being rejected by their friends and relatives who do not support their adoption plans. They risk the rejection of the adoptee, if he or she is not receptive to the adoption plan made on their behalf or if they feel no need for reunion later in life. Birthmothers may risk the disapproval of their other children, and they risk reprisal or a legal challenge by the baby’s father if he is not in support of the adoption decision.

And they risk their own sense of self-identity, too, because being a birthparent can be a very isolating existence in society that espouses pro-life rhetoric but is noticeably uneasy with supporting the post-adoption grief and loss that many birthparents are forced to carry around with them after placing. Birthmothers have historically suffered increased rates of secondary infertility, finding themselves unable or unwilling to conceive again after the adoption experience. And a small-but-tragic number of birthmothers have taken their own lives after finding themselves unable to manage the post-placement grief and/or betrayal by adoptive families who broke their promises to maintain contact after adoption.

Adoption Risks for Adoptive Parents

For parents who are adopting, there are primarily legal risks, emotional risks and financial risks to be overcome. Like birthparents, adoptive parents need to clearly discern whether their adoption resource is trustworthy and qualified, and then they need to make the same assessment(s) of any prospective birthparents with whom they may match. Opening one’s heart (and potentially one’s home) to somebody and their child requires no small reserves of courage and faith, and there can be few (if any) guarantees, in advance of placement, that doing so will actually result in parenthood. Significant funds may be lost if an adoption plan fails (or even if it succeeds, if care is not taken) and unforeseen challenges by any party (a birthfather, a birthgrandparent, the State) may potentially overturn a placement or adoption (or at the least, add to the case costs.)

Adoptive parents also encounter medical risks that they may not have anticipated, when pregnancy and/or birth complications arise, or when developmental issues become apparent after placement. adoption-risks Prospective adoptive parents like to think they can minimize these risks by screening for risk factors through careful perusal of a prospective birthparent’s genetic history or by monitoring prenatal care and labwork, yet in every case, there are untold risks that may never be known in advance. Adoption professionals could never fully educate prospective parents as to all the challenges they are likely to encounter as their child grows, from SIDS to learning disabilities to sensory deprivation to attachment disorders to gender issues to psychological problems to ETOH proclivities to parenticide, and none of these are limited to adopted children, either.

And there are risks, as well, that adopting a child will complicate the marital or family relationship, that the adoptive parents may find themselves unable to bond with the adopted child or that the adoptee will not attach adequately to the adoptive parents. There may be a risk that the birthparents in an open adoption will not remain involved, or that the birthparents in an closed adoption may seek contact. There may be a risk that the adoptive parents’ extended family will not accept the adopted child fully, or that their community may reject the adoptee, or that the adoptee may ultimately decide to forfeit their relationship with the adoptive family and/or the birthfamily.

Adoption Risks for Adoptees

For adoptees, there are risks of being placed with inadequate, abusive or non-nurturing adoptive parents, or in homes in which the adoptee is cared for yet never feels a familial fit. There are risks of separation trauma (known in the adoption world as primal wounding, which can lead to a host of attachment and intimacy issues throughout life. There is a risk of feeling rejected by one’s birthfamily or family of origin, and there is a risk of identity issues, which have led some adoptees to conclude that adoption should be banned altogether.

There is a risk that adoptees will be denied access to their original birth certificates as well as their rightful medical history, there is a risk that they may never have opportunity to reunite with their birthfamily, there is a risk of genetic sexual attraction occurring if they reunite after years of being denied access, there is the risk that their adoptive family may reject them for seeking their birthfamily, or that their birthfamily may reject the option of reunion, as well.

Some believe that adoptees are disproportionately represented in the mental health system, or that they are statistically more likely to suffer depression or to commit suicide, while others warn against the dangers of promoting such representations, as these are statistics subject to misinterpretation.

Why Take The Risk?

So given the seemingly-endless lists of adoption risks, why does anyone choose adoption?

The answer to that is as varied as the stories of those who are adopted, who have adopted, or who have placed.

But the short answer is simple: it’s for the children.

Birthparents still place children for adoption, despite the risks, because in their heart of hearts, they want a better life for their child and their own circumstances indicate that adoption has better odds of making that happen.

Adoptive parents still adopt because they feel called, deep in their hearts, to share their lives and their love with a child (and hopefully, his or her or their birthparents.)

And adoptees still get placed and adopted because their lives (and their futures) genuinely matter to someone.

And no adoption risks should supercede any child’s right to a family, a loving home and a future.

So what can be done to mitigate the risks and/or to better educate the public about them?

Should adoption professionals do more to dissuade people from placing or adopting, or would this result in more children being abandoned or left to grow up in state care? Should they require more pre-placement and post-placement training, or would this simply drive more adopters to attorneys and baby brokers instead? Should more be done to advise adoptive families, before placement, of the option of adoption disruption and rehoming? Should more be done to help prospective birthparents try to parent? What can be done to minimize the risks surrounding the adoption process, to maximize the success of the adoptions that must be done?

This is surely a topic worth discussing and a discussion worth having, if we are all ever to make adoption better for everyone. (Especially for adopted children, and the adults they become.)

Adoption risks can never be completely eliminated, but they can be identified, and the more we do to make them known to all, the better prepared everyone can be to deal with them and to rise above them, if and when they do materialize.

How Does Adoption Work?

For the girl who called Abrazo to ask “how does adoption work?” here is a detailed answer.

At Abrazo, adoption works very well for those who do it the right way and for the right reasons.

how-does-adoption-work?We believe the right way to do adoption is with truth and transparency. When you call Abrazo (1-210-342-5683) or if you come to Abrazo with an unplanned pregnancy or with a child already born who needs more than you can provide, we will talk with you honestly about all your options and alternatives.

See, we don’t see our job as being that of talking anyone into adoption. Adoption can be a very positive, life-changing decision for some, but it’s not the right choice for everyone and we know that.

And no matter how certain someone might be about wanting to choose adoption, even if they’re 100% sure about adoption being the best plan for them given their situation, no final decision for adoption can be made until after a child’s birth.

So when you come to Abrazo, we’re going to do a couple of things for you, right from the start:

Options Counseling

Getting options counseling at Abrazo means having someone who is degreed and trained to talk with you about all the choices available to you– whichever decision you might ultimately make.

It means having someone lay out all your alternatives, and really listen to your thoughts and questions and needs and preferences.

It means being able to learn the difference between closed/traditional adoption and open adoption and why open adoption is so much healthier for adoptees and for all their parents.

It means getting honest answers about the loss and grief that adoption decisions can cause and about learning what services our agency will provide to help you through it, if adoption is your choice.

And it means knowing what your options may be if adoption is not the right decision for you, and what resources are available to you if you do wish to parent or make a foster care plan instead.

At Abrazo, we offer free individual counseling, as well as a weekly support group option, and a secret online support group on social media, so you have emotional backup, before and during and after any adoption decision you may make with us.

Preliminary Paperwork

If you wish to become a client of Abrazo, there’s a bunch of confidential forms and paperwork to be filled out, to set up an official file for you here.

None of the paperwork obligates you to complete an adoption, because the legal documents that permit a child to be adopted cannot be signed until at least 48 hours after a child is born.

There’s a lot of background history that the State requires licensed adoption agencies to collect, though, and there are agreements to be signed that clearly set out what will be expected of you as a client, and what you can expect Abrazo to do for you, as your adoption agency.

When you work with a licensed adoption agency like Abrazo, whether you are doing an open adoption or not, the agency is still required to protect your confidentiality so that the privacy of your plan (and your identity) are protected at all times.

You need to know that your decision to voluntarily place a child for adoption cannot be used against you by the State in any other dealings with Child Protective Services over any other children you may have.

Matching & Support

One of the most important things Abrazo can do for you is to help you identify the type of family you most want for your child, and to build a healthy relationship with them during pregnancy and after placement.

At Abrazo, all of our adoptive parents are over the age of twenty-five. They’ve been happily married more than a year, they’re emotionally-stable and financially-secure, and they have documented infertility, which means adoption is their only possible means of building their family.

Each of Abrazo’s families in our full-service program have come spent a weekend with our staff, learning about open adoption, before we agreed to work with them. This is an advantage most other adoption agencies cannot offer their clients.

What this means to you is that we have carefully pre-screened our adoptive families and we’ve gone the extra mile to be sure they are the kind of people you (and we) can trust.

When you match with the Abrazo family of your choice, you get to communicate directly with them (meaning you don’t have to have all contact be monitored by a caseworker.) This is fully-open adoption: you get to know them fully before placement and you enjoy direct contact with them, before and after the adoption is done. There’s no hiding of last names or addresses (after all, if you’re supposed to trust them with your child, the least they can do is trust you with their identity, right?)

The adoptive family can never give you money nor gifts of value, nor can you ever ask them for such. Any maternity support you need is provided by Abrazo and reimbursed to us directly by the adoptive family, from housing to medical care to groceries, clothing and transportation and more. This keeps your open adoption relationship clear of any awkward financial implications, and it spares you and the adoptive family from ever running afoul of any babyselling statutes.

Abrazo’s staff is easy to talk to, and ready to help you with your adoption plan, any hour of the day or night, so let us know if we can help you. We’re here to help… no strings attached.

If you’ve been wondering “how does adoption work?” and now, having read this, you feel ready to get started, call Abrazo anytime (210-342-5683) or click here to request more info.

Alternative Facts in Adoption

Far be it from us to get involved in political debates, being the nonprofit Abrazo is, but the weekend news coverage has got us thinking about alternative facts in adoption?

In case you’re confused, the “alternative facts” argument arose from Kellyanne Conway’s defense of White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer’s allegations regarding the size of the weekend’s inauguration crowds.

alternative-facts-in-adoptionConway reportedly sought to negate the overwhelming photographic evidence at hand by stating that Spicer’s unverified claims somehow constituted “alternative facts” simply by virtue of having been stated by him.

Simply put, “alternative facts” is an oxymoron at best; at worst, it’s a dangerous blurring of the lines between truth and lies, for strategic gain.

And it made us think about the “alternative facts” in adoption, which can be just as harmful.

Alternative Facts that Adoption Professionals Tell

Adoption professionals are guilty of promoting alternative facts in adoption when they encourage prospective birthparents to believe that adoption can be an easy decision, or suggest that good adoption decisions will never harbor any negative side effects for the adoptee nor the birthparent.

Because the truth is that good adoption decisions are never “easy” choices, and no matter how lovingly such plans are made or how beneficial the effects are for the adoptee, birthparents and the children they place still experience a loss, and with that may come residual grief and regrets.

Adoption professionals sometimes oversell the benefits of open adoption by creating alternative facts that make it seem as if openness automatically compensates for adoption loss (note: it doesn’t), or when they fail to adequately caution prospective clients about the non-enforceability of open adoption agreements in most states across America.

And adoptive professionals can set adoptive parents up, too, by concocting alternative facts to suggest that adoption is somehow an ideal infertility alternative, magically equipped to meet any couple’s need for a replacement of their missing biological dreamchild.

But parenting an adopted child is not “just like” parenting a biological child, and it does take a village to raise a child, one that should forever include the birthfamily, too. Ethical agencies must instill this message from the start, or risk setting their adoptive families and adoptees up for failure.

Alternative Facts That Adoptees Should Question

Historically, adoptees were told myths (or alternative facts in adoption) like these:

Your birthparents didn’t want you or they wouldn’t have given you away.

You are being disloyal to your adoptive parents if you show interest in your birthfamily.

You were lucky to be adopted, so you ought to be grateful forever.

These old saws have done far more harm than good over the years, so it is imperative that adoptees know that it is important to question them (and those who continue to perpetuate such myths.)

At Abrazo, the birthparents we have served over the past 23 years have not placed their children for adoption because they were “unwanted.” On the contrary, Abrazo’s adoptees have been dearly loved and adored by their birthfamilies, as well as their adoptive families.

The placement of each child for adoption at Abrazo is an emotionally-grueling decision made by conscientious parents who want more for their child’s future, and the adoptive family’s recognition of this truth fuels their desire for their child to grow up knowing and loving their birthfamily, too.

Abrazo’s birthparents may feel “lucky” to have found the adoptive family that they did, and Abrazo’s adoptive families may feel blessed to have been chosen by the birthfamilies who selected them.

However, neither party expects the adoptee to feel “lucky” to be adopted– nor should they expect any debt of gratitude from the adoptee for decisions made by the adults with no input from the adoptee.

And this is, perhaps, why it is so important that the Texas Legislature make 2017 the year that it takes a solid stand for adoptee rights, by passing HB547 and SB329 and granting adopted adults in Texas access to their original birth certificates at long last. Altered birth certificates are not “alternative facts” and the civil rights of Americans who were once adopted should be no less than those of any other American citizens.

Alternative facts in adoption may be better described as falsehoods intended to sway one’s thinking in ways that benefit another; yet when it comes to adoption, truth and transparency are truly in every child’s best interests, so let us remember this and teach this and always work to make it so.