Since Abrazo is known for it’s all-in approach to open adoption, we’re genuinely thankful for your courage in considering our agency, Dear Adopting Parent Afraid of Open Adoption.
More cynical folks may say you’re only contacting Abrazo because you know our agency has a good track record for getting infant adoptions completed in a year or less. And we know that could be part of your reasoning for approaching an open adoption agency when you find the idea of openness, frankly, terrifying. But we’d like to think there’s more to it.
We do understand that open adoption can seem scary. You wouldn’t be the first to tell us this, you know.
Sometimes, prospective birthparents are also afraid that openness will make letting go harder, but as we tell them, the opposite is actually true. Knowing where your child is going and with whom is often the only thing that gives a loving parent the courage to trust in her own adoption plan. (And think about this, Dear Adopting Parent: would you really want the birthparents of your precious child to be the kind of people who care so little that they’d even send their little one off with strangers?)
Coming off of too many rounds of costly and unsuccessful infertility treatments, though, we know you’re feeling rather vulnerable at this point. You feel outnumbered by friends and relatives who seem to get pregnant without even trying, you’re tired of explaining why you’re still childless, and you’re overwhelmed at the idea of what adoption costs and what openness seems to require. You’re unsure who to trust and where to turn and you don’t want to get hurt again. You see all the adoption nightmare stories online. You’ve watched too many bad Lifetime movies that make all birthmoms seem scary. You want your future child to love only you. And you’re sick of all the paperwork, for starters, and you don’t “get” why you can’t just get the baby you deserve– without any strings attached– and move on with your lives.
Dear Adopting Parent Afraid of Open Adoption: take a minute, and breathe, deeply. Inhale. Exhale. (Now keep doing that! Oxygen is an important component of any healthy adoption experience, after all.)
Let’s start with the basics…
You do believe in the Golden Rule, right? “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” (That’s Matthew 7:12.) Well, open adoption is basically just about doing adoption by the Golden Rule. If, God forbid, you had to be the adoptee or the birthparent in your upcoming adoption experience, how would you need things to be done so that you could live with the decisions that have to be made? Because becoming a parent means accepting that nothing is all about you, anymore. (Ever.)
As much as any parent wants to be their child’s everything, every parent (whether they birth or adopt) quickly learns that it really does “take a village” to raise a child. You can’t be your child’s only caregiver, you can’t be your child’s only medical provider, you can’t be your child’s only grandparent and if you’re adopting, you can’t be your child’s birthparent. Good parents make room in their children’s lives for others and the gifts they bring with them, and nearly every adopted child needs to know the good things about their birthparents, and to know that they are loved by their birthparents, too, even if they are unable to be raised by them. Just as children have the capacity to love both a mother and a father, they also have the capacity to love both their adoptive parents and their birthparents. You’re not in competition, with an open adoption… you’re on the same team, and that’s a good thing.
Now repeat after me: “Open adoption isn’t about co-parenting.” Being the parents who adopted a child instead of the parents who birthed that child doesn’t make you any less the “real parents.” In fact, open adoption can make you even more of a “real parent” because you have the golden endorsement of the birthparents who hand chose you to be your child’s parents forever. (What other parents get a vote of confidence like that?)
Are you still breathing, Dear Adopting Parent Afraid of Open Adoption? You’re not gasping for air anymore, so we’re taking that as a good sign. We hope you’re feeling less frightened by now.
Yes, open adoption means you have to take risks. You have to let yourselves be known. You have to learn to share (just as you’ll have to teach your children to do.) And yes, you’ll have to put up with social workers and reams of annoying paperwork and occasional frustrations in the process, and the unknowns of pregnancy by default, and you’re going to have to surrender control, if you ever had it to begin with?
You’ll have to open your hearts not just to a baby but to his or her birthparent/s, also. You’ll need to work together to come up with baby names you all like. You’ll learn to be protective of your child’s people and his or her adoption story, because others who are still uneducated may say hurtful things or ask ignorant questions. You’ll need to find the courage to cry with your child’s birthparent/s, because they will come to mean more to you than you ever imagined possible. You’ll need to plan family vacations that bring you back where it all began. You’ll finally realize why that which belongs to your child belongs to you, too. And you’ll learn, in time, why your friendship with your child’s first family (and your comfort with each other) was the best gift you could ever give your child.
… And if nothing else, remember this.
Dear Adopting Parent Afraid of Open Adoption, we realize this is a lot to take in, and we don’t expect you to understand all of it right away.
Just trust that Abrazo’s director has more than 30 years of experience with open adoption, and we would never ask you to do anything that is not in the best interests of a child. Open adoption isn’t “new,” but it is better, and plenty of trusted research bears this out.
We know what we’re doing, we know why we’re asking you to do it, and our plan is to help you, your child and his/her birthparents to have the healthiest, most beautiful adoption experience possible.
After all, openness is about committing to a way of life that will enable the child you don’t even have yet to grow up with all the tools he or she will need to be happy and whole.
And that, Dear Adopting Parent Afraid of Open Adoption, is just the beginning of what you have to gain by leaving your fears behind, and opening your hearts to all that Abrazo has to offer you.
The news that the latest school shooter in Florida is an orphaned adoptee has got the media abuzz, so we’d like to set the record straight: this troubled teen didn’t do this because of adoption.
Adoptees are disproportionately represented in mental health treatment statistics, true. (Whether this is due to their parents being more hypervigilant about getting them needed services or because their early-life losses predispose them to depression is a matter of ongoing debate.)
But adoptees are no more prone to commit acts of violence than any other human beings.
As expert Dr. Scott Bon said in an interview with A&E: “I believe psychopaths are born, not made. Something is wrong with the wiring in the brain. Neuroscientists have mapped the activity of the psychopathic brain versus the normal brain and they process information and respond to stimulus differently… The fact that (some murderers) were adopted did not cause them to become serial killers. There are millions of people who are adopted every year who don’t go on to become violent criminals or serial killers.”
It’s normal for the public to search desperately for any clues as to why perpetrators of such violence were driven to do what they did, but such quests mistakenly infer that there can be logical explanations to illogical behavior.
News reports have revealed that the Florida shooter had been adopted as a baby, along with his biological brother, and that the adoptive parents (an older couple) had both passed away, which would certainly represent a compounded loss in the lives of both boys. The shooter had been expelled from school last year, and his mother reportedly had sought out the help of law enforcement on prior occasions to try to redirect her son, who was also said to have gotten mental health treatment for depression and/or autism.
He had been in ROTC. He won academic achievement awards for his good grades and “outstanding conduct.” He was in a GED program and working at the Dollar Store at the time of the school murders. He had expressed interest in going into the military.
None of that made him take the lives of seventeen innocents at the Parkland high school, nor was he predestined to do this because of adoption. The majority of school shootings have been committed by those who are/were white and male, and this shooter did not become either of those adjectives because of adoption.
So let’s stop blaming adoption for such acts of senseless violence.
Because of adoption, tens of thousands of mothers have made choices other than abortion.
Because of adoption, countless infertile couples have been able to become parents.
Because of adoption, millions of otherwise homeless or parentless children have found loving families.
Some of those children were placed as infants, going straight from the loving arms of birthparents to the nurturing embrace of adoptive families. Some were toddlers or older children who had spent time in state foster care before finding a permanent home. Some were the beneficiaries of open adoption, meaning they were able to maintain vital connections with their families of origin even after placement. Some were the victims of closed adoptions, in which they were denied any access to the truth of their origins. Some of those adoptees have struggled with the realities of their adoption, and long to have never been separated from their birthfamilies. Some of those adoptees have never experienced any sense of loss because of adoption and feel no need for that primal connection. Some feel they have been scarred by virtue of having been “given up” while others feel it was to their advantage.
The vast majority of people who have been adopted make remarkable contributions to society. They are people of promise, who typically have extraordinary abilities, opportunities and resources. They may bear some unwanted baggage resulting from past losses, but most are gifted with amazing resilience, a desire to succeed, and unlimited potential.
Because of adoption, adopted persons may have differing understandings of the world and varying concepts of their place in it. But no adoptee was ever genetically-predisposed to commit any violent act because of adoption. (Never. Ever.)
So to the global news media, we say this: this tragedy didn’t happen because of adoption. It happened in spite of it, and perhaps that is the saddest truth of all.
As Abrazo prepares to welcome a new orientation group of prospective adopters interested in doing Texas adoptions, it seems like a good time to share this handy-dandy Texas adoption guide.
When you adopt a Texas-born baby or child, you also gain honorary bragging rights, plus the opportunity to make Texas your annual vacation destination since you’ll undoubtedly want to come back to visit your child’s birthfamily (and come to Camp Abrazo every summer, if you’re adopting through Abrazo.)
Why Adopt in Texas?
Texas has long been known as one of the top four states in which to adopt, for those who are interested in domestic adoption and who are fixing to adopt newborns. (See what we did there? “Fixin’ to” is one of those expressions you’re going to need to know if you’re headed to Texas to adopt.)
Why is Texas considered an optimal place to adopt? For starters, everything’s bigger in Texas, including the number of women with unplanned pregnancies, who have a sharply decreased number of pregnancy alternatives available to them due to the Texas Legislature’s restrictions on abortion.
Beyond that, though, Texas laws are considered to be “adoption-friendly,” in that it allows the same sort of maternity support as California and Florida (two other) adoption-friendly states, yet offers the security of an irrevocable relinquishment (as does Utah.)
How to Get Around in Texan
Most regions of the state are bilingual, meaning you can communicate effectively in English or Spanish. However, there are some pronunciations you might could need to know, regardless. San Antonio is the Bexar County seat, and that’s pronounced “bear” (like the animal… not “Bex-are,” which will mark you as a foreigner.) This is open carry country, unfortunately, so don’t be surprised to see folks around here packing heat, even in restaurants or shopping malls.
The most popular bread in these parts is the tortilla, an unleavened flour or corn disc, which is pronounced “tor-tee-ya” and is typically eaten dry, or with butter or queso (pronounced “kay-so”,) which is melted cheese. “Chorizo” is a crumbly Mexican sausage and “fajitas” are usually grilled beef or chicken eaten in a tortilla (not to be mistaken for a soft taco.) Meals here are usually served with the ubiquitous French fries or refried beans and rice (if you prefer stewed beans, ask for “charro beans”.) For our Northern friends, keep in mind that salsa described as spicy usually is, here. And be forewarned, also: the delicious-looking desserts you see in Mexican bakery counters tend to be dry, crumbly and not as sweet as they look. (Just saying.)
While in Texas, you’ll learn to refer to one or more people as “y’all” (an all-purpose word) and you might even encounter someone who speaks with the aid of a wad of chewing tobacco. You’ll learn that the easiest place to find vittles after hours is to look for a pink, 24-hour fast food chain known as “T.C.s” (short for Taco Cabana) or Texas’ own, Whataburger (ask for the spicy ketchup,) and you’ll likely make a trip or two to the locally-owned “H.E.B.” (prounounced “Heeb”) for diapers or formula. Be forewarned, though: tourists pay higher taxes for hotels and car rental in Texas’ major cities, to help cover the construction costs of our professional sports stadiums.
You may struggle to find your way around, but here in Texas we “drive friendly” and our freeways are amply-sprinkled with turnarounds (which enable you to do just that– turn around if you’re going the wrong way.) Taking spring family pictures in Texas’ glorious bluebonnet fields is a must-do, but do watch for rattlesnakes. And be forewarned that cell phone use while driving is forbidden in much of Texas, and that the speed limit on most interstate highways is 75 mph (unless otherwise posted.)
The weather in Texas largely depends on the part of the state you’re in. South Texas (where Abrazo is) tends to be hot and humid. You’ll find that shorts and chanclas (Spanish for flip-flops) are generally considered appropriate attire most seasons of the year (just not in church services or court hearings.)
The hotel chains that most commonly offer discounts for adopting families tend to be Residence Inn, Staybridge Suites or Homewood Suites (be sure to call the local property, not the 800 number, and ask specifically about adoption discounts.) These are not the cheapest extended stay/suite hotels you can find, but they’re the most reasonably-priced ones for family travel, and aren’t likely to attract a less savory crowd.
Here in Texas we tend to be straight shooters, so treat our citizens with respect and you’re bound to get the same in return. You don’t want anyone to ever say you were “all hat and no cattle,” so please make sure you keep your promises to the birthparents of any child/ren you adopt here in your Texas adoptions. Texas laws don’t recognize open adoption agreements as being legally-enforceable, but if your heart is as big as the Texas sky is wide, then you’ll surely want to do right by your child and his or her birthfamily.
As the founder and director of Abrazo, I am sometimes asked who influenced my adoption career most? I was fortunate to have “come up through the ranks” during a period in American adoption history that afforded me access to an amazing array of adoption professionals (both good and not-so-good,) and I thought this would be an opportune moment to pay tribute to the adoption icons from whom I have learned so much.
Learning what not to do in adoption can be as educational an experience as learning what to do, of course. My very earliest years in the adoption field, working for a closed adoption agency, I was exposed to the (now-late) infamous adoption attorney Stanley Michaelman, who routinely maneuvered birthmothers across state lines for the purposes of his private adoptions like pieces on a checkerboard. Stanley seemed to see his job as “getting people what they want” (people being the adopters who could afford his fees) and although he was a doting grandfather himself, it appeared that other people’s children were to him little more than available stock. Secrecy and legal gamesmanship are scarce components in any ethical adoption, thus any experiences with Stanley inadvertently taught me the importance of truth and transparency and openness.
Although I’d spent my high school years at Interlochen in northern Michigan, it wasn’t until my adoption career began that I had the joy of meeting Jim Gritter. Jim was a veteran adoption social worker with Catholic Charities who had launched a biennial open adoption conference held in Traverse City, Michigan that was the Ivy League training center of the adoption world, bar none. Jim, who authored the books Hospitious Adoption, Lifegivers, and The Spirit of Open Adoption was an unassuming man who seemed to tend towards flannel shorts and corduroy slacks. He was a tireless champion for birthparent rights, and his advocacy for open adoption has long-shaped my passion for the concept. When Jim retired and ended his conferences for good, colleagues begged to him to reconsider, to no avail.
The other big adoption conference at the time was sponsored by the now-defunct Independent Adoption Center out of California. Their conventions were more geographically-appealing than Jim’s, but lacked the same ethos, somehow. IAC’s founder, the late Bruce Rappaport and I went out for drinks once, after his divorce and before my marriage. Bruce had a doctorate in political science, as I recall (a strange qualification for an adoption career?), the slick spiel of a car salesman, and a passion for all things crunchy-granola. He did advocate for openness in adoption practices, but seemed to see open adoption primarily as a means to an end, and observing this, I came to realize that placement doesn’t make an adoption a success; the actual intimacy between an adoptive family and birthfamily after placement does.
When my adoption career began, thirty years ago, birthparents were still all too often neither seen nor heard. A few courageous souls did venture forth to share their experiences and bare their pain, and from them, I have learned the importance of empowering women to make their own best choices and fully supporting them as they do so. I am privileged to know extraordinary women like Lorraine Dusky and Claudia Corrigan D’Arcy and Carol Schaefer, all first mothers who have reunited with the children they placed for adoption. These moms who have suffered loss by a thousand cuts keep me mindful of the magnamity of relinquishment and the need to continually support those enduring the lasting separation and grief that follows.
You know how there are celebrities you have a hard time keeping apart in your mind? (Like Jimmy Kimmel and Jimmy Fallon, or Charlie Theron and Cameron Diaz?) Well, two dearly-departed matriarchs of the adoption world are like that to me. I met Annette Baran and Betty Jean Lifton around the same time, and both were elegant, intelligent adoption experts who spoke with candor and grace about the importance of openness as a linch pin in child-centered adoption work. Annette was a small, white-haired woman who looked like the sweetest of grandmothers, but being a straight-talking psychotherapist, she had launched a take-no-prisoners movement against secrecy with her book The Adoption Triangle. She is best-remembered for being the first adoption professional to publicly apologize to the victims of closed adoptions for the damage the profession had done to them. (Annette also loved SAS shoes, and once asked me to check our local factory outlet for some of her favorites for her… which I gladly did.)
A colleague and dear friend of hers was the always-polished and ethereal Betty Jean Lifton, author of Twice Born, Lost & Found, and Journey of the Adopted Self. Betty Jean (or “BJ”) was a petite blonde powerhouse. She had herself been an adoptee in a closed adoption, so it was her own experience that led her on a crusade to abolish secrecy and shame for adoptees and to teach parents (by birth and adoption) the importance of honoring adoptees’ need for truth all across the lifespan. She bravely boycotted a 2006 adoption conference over a dispute about the power of adoption language (much to my chagrin, as I’d gone just to hear her.) I last saw BJ in 2010, when she was presenting her latest paper on ghost stories in adoption in New York City, and her haunting observations have been etched in my soul ever since. That same year, we lost both BJ and Annette, yet the lasting effect both have had continues to empower countless American adoption professionals to make adoption better, for kids’ sake.
The last two adoption experts to whom I pay tribute here are two women that are still with us, and who influence the work I do every day. Patricia Irwin Johnston (author of Adopting After Infertility and Adoption Is a Family Affair) is an adoptive mom whose career was devoted to supporting those with infertility who seek to adopt, and although she has retired in recent years, she still inspires me weekly via her Facebook posts. Sherrie Eldridge is an adoptee whose book Twenty Things Adopted Kids Wish Their Parents Knew is required reading for Abrazo’s adoptive parents, much as it scares them to read it. Sherrie was a keynote speaker at Camp Abrazo a few years back, and her powerful testimony there inspired the grandfather of two of Abrazokids, himself the product of a closed adoption, to search for and reunite with his own long-lost birthmother.
There are so many other good people who come to mind when I think of adoption reform (folks like Dr. Randolph Severson, Joe Soll, Patricia Martinez Dorner, Lois Melina, Dr. Michael Trout, Jeff Hancock, Sharon Kaplan Roszia, Adam Pertman, Joyce Pavao and Marley Greiner, among them.) Sometimes, when I despair over all the open adoption pioneers we’ve lost, I fail to remember all the good work being done by those still in the field. And the best news is that their influence isn’t limited to adoption professionals, because their books and their speeches and their wisdom are available to all.
May we continue to listen to and learn from these adoption icons, past and present, and particularly to those who are best-qualified to teach us: the people most affected by adoption because they’ve lived (and survived) it themselves.
You don’t know us, but the most intimate details of your life are quickly spreading across the global media, so we feel like we know you, dear Katie, and we figure you could probably use some support about now.
You wrote on your blog a while ago that you hoped to gain attention and make a name for yourself, but we’re guessing you probably wouldn’t have wanted the notoriety that comes with all the publicity you’re currently getting.
You may not be woke enough yet to understand why people are in an uproar over what you did. You probably don’t see yourself as a victim in what happened. You’re young enough that “love is love” may seem like a reasonable explanation. You may be scoffing at your parents’ disapproval, and you’re probably angry at your birthmother for tipping off the authorities.
(Ironically, it seems you were born in San Antonio in 1998, which leads us to suspect your adoption may have been done through a notorious agency here that has since closed down, one that sent thousands of babies to East Coast couples in closed and semi-closed adoptions?)
Given that you reportedly had to search for and find your birthparents via social media, we’re guessing you did not grow up with the benefits of open adoption.
So we understand how excited you must have been to reunite with them. We don’t know what your circumstances at home were, that you took off and moved in with your birthfamily after graduating from high school. But we do know how exhilarating it must have been, to finally connect with your birthmom and birthdad, and to get to know your birthsiblings.
Birthparents often feel that same exhilaration, especially when they’ve finally reconnected with a child lost to a closed adoption, at long last. There’s a flood of emotions, and a sense of urgency to make up for lost time. Feeling an overwhelming sense of familiarity with someone about whom you know so little can be totally confusing– especially if there’s been no counseling in advance to help prepare everyone for the adoption reunion.
Your birthfather reportedly felt so protective of you, Katie, that he slept on the floor of your bedroom. This must have seemed endearing to you, but we’re guessing it didn’t help his relationship with his wife (your birthmom) since they subsequently parted ways, three months after your reunion. Then your birthmother learned via a diary entry months later that you were pregnant, and then she discovered that your birthfather was the father of your baby, and that’s when the wheels really came off. You claim to have married your birthfather last summer; your son was born in September; and now, you both are facing legal charges for incest, adultery and contributing to delinquency.
It’s every parent’s worst nightmare (no matter how they became a parent.) The world’s peanut gallery finds it all too easy to condemn you both, labeling your love perverted, and proponents of closed adoptions are all-too-happy to fan the flames by claiming that these stories are why secrecy and shame are healthier for adoptees.
However, GSA (genetic sexual attraction) is a predictable risk that results from the scars of closed adoptions, and without any counseling, you and your birthparents were likely woefully unprepared for all the complex emotions of adoption reunion. We imagine that your adoptive parents were probably bewildered by your moves, and assumed letting you ‘go it alone’ was probably for the best, or maybe you insisted? Still, this tragedy stands as a reminder that the parents who began an adoption together should always remain equally involved in all the transitions that follow, whenever possible.
Now, there is an innocent baby boy caught in the mire of this forbidden love, a child who will grow up bearing the stigma of a well-publicized incest case. Given the criminal charges that you and his father/birthgrandfather face, he will likely be unable to be raised by either of his parents, thereby necessitating substitute care and duplicating the primal wound that drove you, dear Katie, to search for the parents you never knew but always felt you needed.
Closed adoption is just not healthy. Not for adoptees. Not for parents who adopt. And not for parents that place.
We can offer no solutions to your dilemma, sadly. We will send you this letter in jail, however, along with a more personal note, to let you know that there are people whose hearts go out to you, and that you are not alone. We hope that your adoptive parents are similarly there for you, despite all that has happened, because if there’s one thing every adoptee deserves to know, it’s that their parents love them and support them, no matter what.
We hope that you are provided with the counseling you need, to process how and why all of this happened, and to help you cope with the consequences. And we hope that you have skilled legal representation, so that all of your potential is not wasted behind bars. Your blog beautifully displays your artistic and written talents, and we hope that you will be able to use both in the future, whatever becomes of the legal charges currently facing you.
The famous artist’s quote that you chose for the home page of your blog contains what is perhaps the best advice we can offer, given your situation:
“AT THE END OF THE DAY, WE CAN ENDURE MUCH MORE
THAN WE THINK WE CAN.” -FRIDA KAHLO
We are lifting you, our child and all of your parents in our thoughts and prayers, dear Katie, and the Abrazo community pledges to continue its efforts to promote open and transparent adoption practices to hopefully help eliminate such crises in the lives of our adoptees and their families.
Not long ago, a famous adoption dispute brought the issue of adoptee privacy to the forefront.
It concerned a baby girl named Veronica, whose birthmom had been placed for adoption without her father’s consent. Her birthfather, a registered member of an Indian tribe, sought to intervene and was granted custody when his daughter was 27 months old, but the adoptive parents took the case to the US Supreme Court almost two years later and ultimately won the battle. And a very well-publicized battle it was, given that the sexual affairs of Veronica’s first parents were reported in media coverage across the globe, and the adoptive family reportedly hired public relations professionals and solicited widespread public support.
What seemed completely forgotten in that debacle, though, was the importance of adoptee privacy. Veronica (whose last name we are not republishing out of regard for her) is growing up in the Information Age, meaning that no matter her age, the most intimate details of her life story and her four parents’ battle of wills over her have become public fodder forever, easily accessible across the Internet for all to see. Maybe she won’t mind– but we suspect she might. Veronica didn’t sign up for any of that publicity, yet she surely has already been negatively impacted by it all.
Another young woman, Anna Jacquelyn Schmidt (formerly known as Baby Jessica,) has also had to contend with a lifetime of privacy violations, ever since being prominently featured in international media during the fight between her would-be adopters, the DeBoers, and her parents, the Schmidts (both couples have since divorced.) As a result, Anna Schmidt’s youthful infractions of the law have become fodder for gossip pages, and public debates still rage as to whether or not the disruption of her adoption was, in fact, for the best? Yet all that really should matter is how she feels, and whether or not she chooses to share those feelings with the world at large is entirely up to her.
A similar dilemma arose this week, when Donald Trump chose to highlight the story of a police officer and his wife adopting a drug-exposed baby in his State of the Union address. Photos of Baby Hope and her adopters were prominently featured in newspapers and on TV, along with confidential details of the birthparents’ addictions, yet only the truly woke have stopped to question the ethical implications of forever exposing this adoptee’s personal lifestory to the world?
Whose Story Is It to Tell?
Curiously, when one searches the internet to examine the topic of “adoptee privacy,” there are very few results pertaining to the right of a person being adopted to determine if (or how much of) their story should be shared publicly, and if so, when and by whom? And yet, this should be a concern at the forefront of the minds of any child welfare professionals and/or parents (whether by birth or adoption.)
Abrazo walks a fine line in deciding how and when to share adoption photos online. We love baby pictures, of course, and we enjoy being able to “show” the world the beauty of truly open adoptions, so we’re grateful when our clients and alumni invite us to share their pictures. Still, we are careful to omit identifying information, as well as details that potentially iolates adoptee privacy. Birthfamilies and adoptive families need to also make their own best choices about which (and how many) adoption facts and photos to share online, and to confirm these with each other, whenever possible.
Likewise, Abrazo cautions adopting families to make educated decisions about how much of their child’s adoption story to share with others, even within their own circles. People are naturally curious about how and why adoptions occurred, and certainly, there can be an educational benefit in helping others understand adoption. But is it really appropriate for relatives and family friends to know such details as the birthmother’s sexual history or the number of potential fathers who may have been involved? Do they have a reason to need to know if the birthmother has placed for adoption before, or what the adoption has cost? Is it really necessary for others to know whether or not the adoptee was prenatally-exposed to alcohol or drugs?
Parents who adopt (like parents who place) need to decide with whom to share what on a “need-to-know” basis. The best way to make these choices, perhaps, is to ask yourself “will my child’s well-being depend upon this person knowing this information?” If the answer is “no” or “not really,” then keep it to yourself. Learn to tell others who ask inappropriate questions “I understand what you’re asking, but we’ve chosen to leave it up to (child’s name) to decide if and when to share that information because his/her privacy is important to us.” Then leave it at that– or change the subject.
Teaching Adoptees Their Right to Privacy
Also, be prepared for the challenge of teaching the adoptee to make wise choices about sharing their personal adoption story. We all want our kids to be proud of their adoption story, so it’s not uncommon (nor necessarily unhealthy) for adoptees to want to tell the mailman “that’s a letter from my birthmom!” or to share photos from their placement in Show & Tell at school. One Abrazo teen recently had to deal with the fallout when peers decided to help search for a missing birthmom online; what was found was unexpected, resulting some unexpectedly painful repercussions for the adoptee.
Many adoptees are often told they are “special” because they were “chosen,” yet this distinction can put an added layer of pressure on them, because it implies they are different and denies them the right to be just like everyone else, particularly at a time when developmentally, “fitting in” is of tantamount importance. The beauty of Camp Abrazo, for the kids whose families regularly attend, is that there, open adoption is everybody’s normal. Contrast this transparency with the unsettling experiences of adoptees whose adoptive parents never told them about their other birthsiblings prior to them getting contacted by relative strangers online, and it underscores the importance of adoptive parents raising children to know their own truths and learn how to manage them from the earliest possible age.
The best rule of thumb may be to empower your child to talk about adoption when and with those it feels right to them. Start early by teaching your child the power of positive adoption language, and help them understand that having an adoption story is like owning a castle; it’s up to them to decide who should be trusted to enter their castle and who should just get to see the castle from the outside. And when mistakes are made (and this will happen, because adoptees cannot ever always anticipate nor control others’ responses,) use it as a teaching tool, to help the adoptee learn to periodically reassess and redefine his or her privacy needs, at various stages during his or her development.
The truth of the matter is that your child’s adoption story is theirs to tell (or not tell.) As the parents of that child, you must also serve as the safekeepers of that tale until the adoptee is able to decide for himself or herself what they wish to share or have shared. This is a sacred duty, and adoptee privacy must always be the deciding factor by which any– and all– disclosures are made.
If you became a mother through adoption and you are struggling to balance the secret burdens of adoptive motherhood, take heart: you are not alone, and your efforts really are appreciated, even if it doesn’t seem like it sometimes. (Okay… most times, perhaps?)
Being a mother through adoption seems like a dream come true to many who long to adopt, and yet, one of the few things openly discussed about the experience are the secret burdens of adoptive motherhood.
What is this secret burden?
It’s a unique conundrum made up of all the expectations, responsibilities, sacrifices and challenges that come with becoming a mother through adoption. It can affect women who have just recently become new moms by adoption, as well as experienced adoptive moms, and it can be exacerbated by a number of factors (both external and internal.)
Let us be very clear: the children who are being or have been adopted are not the burden here. Rather, the secret burdens of adoptive motherhood have to do with the expectations that are put upon mothers by adoption– placed upon them by society, by the system that enables them to adopt, sometimes by birthfamilies or other in-laws, but far more often, by adoptive mothers themselves.
To be certain, women who take on the unique responsibilities of parenting other women’s children assume a position of unparalleled weight to which seemingly nobody else can possibly relate. And despite all the congratulations and celebration that accompany the birth and adoption of any child, women who join the club of adoptive motherhood sometimes find it to be a very lonely and/or trying experience, because try to vent about your feelings and you’re sure to have somebody remind you “well, you signed up for this, didn’t you?” (That’s SO not helpful, by the way.)
Why is adoptive motherhood sometimes so hard?
As one Abrazo mom who adopted recently shared online, “I just want (to enjoy) the title of Mom… not ‘Adoptive-Mom-put-on-a-pedestal-and-held-to-a-ridiculous-standard.’ Anybody would crack under that pressure! There are days when I feel like since I’ve adopted I’ve been held to such a high standard, but I’m only human. I’m not an angel or savior to my children; I’m just a Mom trying to do the best she can.” We hear you, AbrazoMom! And we know your job is not an easy one.
Whenever someone adopts a child through Abrazo, they are told at placement they are becoming parents at long-last. Yet unlike other parents, they must submit to 6-18 months of additional scrutiny from social workers and agency staff before they can even get a court date to finalize their adoption. During this supervisory phase, they are required to turn in monthly written progress reports and forward baby pictures to the agency and the birthparent/s and advise the agency of every pediatric visit and continue quarterly homework assignments and request the agency’s consent every time they plan any travel across state lines and have their home ready for five in-person supervisory visits involving the entire household five times in the first six months and quarterly thereafter.
Meanwhile, the adoptive parents are also expected to provide for all the needs of their new child, as well as offering continued emotional support to the grieving birthparents, with whom they are maintaining direct contact. And all too often, the bulk of the responsibility for keeping up with all these requirements inevitably seems to fall to the mother who is adopting (although certainly, adopting fathers are just as capable as mothers of fulfilling any or all of these requirements?)
It’s a lot to keep up with (especially for the sleep-deprived.) However, the external pressures are nothing compared with the internal pressures of living up to one’s visions of ideal motherhood.
Women who adopt often begin the adoption process hampered by fears of inadequacy. Where do these fears come from? Often, they are remnants of the infertility experience, and the accompanying cultural myth that suggests that a female’s fertility reflects her value in the world. Most religions have traditionally taught that a woman’s highest calling is to “be fruitful and multiply” and to raise children who will be a credit to their family’s reputation.
When you become a parent through adoption, however, you inherit not only the expectations of your own family system, but you become acutely aware of the spoken (and unspoken) expectations of the birthfamily whose sacrifice enabled you to become a parent. Open adoption practices may have increased adoptive parents’ awareness of birthparents’ opinions, yet throughout history, adoptive mothers have taken to heart their duty to “do right” by the parents whose loss became their gain. In truth, most birthmothers do not expect more of adoptive moms than they do of themselves; few people hold higher expectations for adoptive moms than do adoptive moms themselves. (And if they do, that’s on them, not you.)
Adding to the challenge, though, is the reality that gender roles can magnify a mother’s sense of responsibility for another mother’s loss. Adoptive fathers don’t “replace” or usurp a birthmother’s role in her child’s life, yet birthmothers and adoptive mothers alike often struggle with the weight of their similar job title(s.) In truth, though, the roles of birthmothers and adoptive mothers are distinctly different– despite some occasional overlap.
What can make it better for moms that adopt?
What seems to make things better is the liberation that comes with education and the affirmative power of community. Adoptive moms need to be able to find validation for their feelings and needs from other adoptive moms and nonadoptive moms, alike. It also can be incredibly healing when adoptive moms and birthmoms are comfortable enough with each other and secure enough in their respective roles to look out for the other. Birthparents who only see the “pretty side” of the adoptive parents’ experience often feel naturally envious of how “easy they have it” without ever realizing how much the adoptive family longs for the birthparents’ affirmation. Adoptive parents often need to know that they are doing a good job of parenting, and that they are indeed living up to (or exceeding) the birthparents’ expectations, just as birthparents need to know that their continuing love for and interest in the child/ren they placed is still (and always) appreciated.
Positive self-talk and recalibrated personal expectations can also go a long way towards alleviating some of the pressure. If you’re one of those adoptive moms who carries the weight of the world on her shoulders, sit down and rest a spell. You’re doing your best, and that is all anyone can ask of you (including you, yourself.) If you feel like you’re shooting in the dark most of the time, rest assured: most mothers can relate, whether they’ve adopted or not. No child comes with an instruction manual, and all the experts in the world don’t know your kid like you do. You don’t have to raise a perfect child, nor does anyone expect you to raise a child perfectly. Your child’s happiness is not solely dependent upon you, nor is his or her success in life any measure of your worth.
If your child is loved and cared for by you, has all his/her basic needs met and knows the truth of his or her adoption, then you have done what is expected of you, and anything beyond that means you are exceeding expectations. (Thank you!)
Dear mother, please: take good care of you. We’ve all heard the old expression: “if Mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy” and despite the humor of that quip, it also bears an important truth. Your happiness matters, too! You cannot draw from an empty well, so while you’re busy taking care of everybody else, please be sure you are also feeding your own soul. What gives you joy? Signing up for motherhood (whether voluntarily or involuntarily) does not have to mean forfeiting all your own goals or ignoring all your own needs.
Your child/ren will learn from you how to care for themselves as well as others, after all, so take time for you and help your family learn how and why this matters. Don’t be afraid to tell others when you need support or to seek out help as needed.
Remember, you don’t have to do it all on your own! Because truly, it does take a village to raise a child– and to help balance the heavy burdens of adoptive motherhood. You’ve got this, and we’ve got your back. Carry on, and know we’re all behind you, all the way.
Most folks don’t seek out advice on how to ruin an open adoption, and we’re glad they don’t.
We believe in open adoption. We see it work wonders for people who truly put their whole hearts into it, who match the right way for the right reasons. And who understand that relationships in open adoptions are always growing and changing and evolving, just as every adoptee’s needs do. And who realize that respect, communication and commitment are the keys to making open adoptions successful over the years.
Yet over the years, we’ve seen and heard plenty of the mistakes other folks can make (usually in open adoptions done elsewhere.) Thanks to them, we’ve learned a thing or two about how to ruin an open adoption, so this is a tongue-in-cheek guide (of what not to do.)
(Don’t) Use Open Adoption as a Strategy.
Open adoption is not a “lite adoption” in which empty promises are made to make a placement happen by putting a shiny bow on what will be a life-changing experience for everyone, for better or worse. Promises made and agreements reached in the course of an open adoption are sacred vows and should be treated as such. Don’t go into an open adoption planning to “phase out” the contact over time, because that only teaches adoptees that even life’s most treasured connections count for nothing in the end. You eventually will be called to account for everything you did and anything you didn’t do (whether that means accounting to the courts, the other parents, the adoptee and/or a Higher Power) so talk the talk and walk the walk, people.
(Don’t) Put Your Own Whims First
The people who ruin open adoptions are usually the folks who are so hung up on what they want and what they think they deserve that they put their own wishes first and then use the baby or child like a human shield, claiming it’s really “all for him/her.” The mother who tells prospective adoptive parents “I’m going to sign the adoption papers eventually, but the baby needs to go home from the hospital with me to meet my boyfriend’s cousin’s kids first” is clearly putting her own desires before her baby’s needs. The adoptive parents who tell the birthparents “we can’t invite you to attend the baby’s christening because then she might get confused about who who her ‘real’ family is” are likewise guilty of putting their own needs before that of their child. Good parents don’t hide behind their kids: they do whatever they need to do to do right by their child/ren, no matter what. Which leads us nicely into the next rule of thumb…
(Don’t) Get Territorial.
Children aren’t property to be owned or argued over, but it’s not unusual for folks to feel territorial, even in an open adoption. Need some examples of what this looks like? Most hurt feelings in open adoption relationships seem to have something to do with possessiveness, and as adoption author Jim Gritter once cautioned: “it is never good for children to be possessed.” Birthparents who get offended that the adoptive parents don’t tag them in every posted picture of an adopted baby or adoptive parents who feel miffed that the birthparents shared a baby picture they posted publicly with a comment saying “look how big my baby is getting!” are likely headed for a world of hurt. Look here, friends: there’s a difference between privacy and territorial behavior. If you’re upset because someone’s actions could potentially put your child at risk, that’s a valid privacy issue that needs to be addressed… but if you’re mad because somebody else made you feel dissed, that’s probably about territory, in which case you need to deal with your own stuff first, okay? (And speaking of territory and your own stuff, that’s a timely segue way into our next rule…)
(Don’t) Fail to Set Boundaries.
This may seem contradictory, considering the rule before it, but bear in mind that every healthy relationship requires well-defined limits. (“Free-for-alls” even lead to trouble at garage sales.) Boundaries are why wives tell their husbands not to leave the toilet seat up. It’s why husbands ask wives to buy their own tampons. It’s why most in-laws know better to overstay their welcome when visiting newlyweds. And it’s why birthparents and adoptive parents need to have honest, straightforward convos early on about what their privacy needs are and what can and cannot be expected in the future. Need space? Say so, owning your own feelings (“Hey, I love you guys, but I think I need a little space, just until I let you know I’m ready to see you all again.”) There’s nothing wrong with temporarily renegotiating the terms of your open adoption, if necessary, as long as the need for the change is communicated honestly and endorsed by all parties and the alteration isn’t detrimental to the adoptee.
(Don’t) Expect the Other Party to Read Your Mind.
Here’s the thing: if you need your child’s other parents to do something for or with you, you need to tell them that’s your need and help them understand what makes it important to you. Just because you share a place in that child’s life doesn’t mean you have been magically gifted with the ability to read each other’s minds. Feel neglected? Share it with an “I statement” (“I feel forgotten when you don’t call me at least once a month to tell me how things are going, even if that sounds silly to you.”) Are you disappointed that your mailings go unacknowledged? Say what you need (“it would mean a lot if you’d just drop me a line to tell me you got my package, or leave me a voice mail, or ask your partner to do it, could you do that for me?”), being sure to give the other party options to respond in a way that honors their need(s), too. And note that “say” is a key word here, because misunderstandings in open adoption often arise when the parties have too little “in-person” communication (ie., phone calls or visits) and try to address all issues via written messages that leave far too much room for misinterpretation. Personal contact is vital for all human connections and that goes for open adoption relationships, as well.
Every open adoption is a reflection of love that the parents involved feel for the adoptee, and of their respect for each other. It is a committed relationship that requires ongoing effort, and like all human connections, communication may ebb and flow over time, yet the benefits to the adoptee outlast childhood and can impact generations to come.
(Does anyone really need any better reason to make their open adoption work?)
From BraveLove‘s quest to become “a movement to increase adoption in the U.S.” to a sneak preview in Washington, D.C. of the pro-adoption documentary I Lived on Parker Avenue, reviving adoption is an honorable mission for many in this country.
Domestic adoption numbers have fallen steadily, even as infertility rates in America have soared, meaning that there are now more hopeful adoptive parents and less available infants for adoption than ever before. The pro-life movement (like the anti-adoption crusaders) has historically viewed adoption as nothing more than a (sometimes) necessary evil, but even those protesters would much rather see a woman walk into a legitimate adoption agency than a Planned Parenthood office.
However, the age-old factors that typically drove “girls in trouble” to make voluntary adoption plans (like the social stigma attached to “illegitimate” births and “unwed mothers”) now sound archaic and outdated in an age in which two of the five Kardashian sisters are proudly touting baby bumps without wedding rings, and reality stars on Teen Mom have higher incomes than most recent college graduates.
Nowadays, with the accessibility of Plan B or pregnancy terminations and the availability of child support and Medicaid coverage and food stamps, it’s become increasingly common for girls and women with unplanned pregnancies to quietly make the problem go away or opt to parent (for better or worse.) However, our tragic abortion statistics and the continually-rising numbers of American children in need of child welfare services and child abuse intervention confirm that not everyone capable of reproduction is equally able to parent effectively.
Would reviving adoption be good? Or bad?
Reviving adoption seems like a no-brainer for many, while for others, it seems like a step in the wrong direction.
“Why don’t adoptive parents just take the money it would cost to adopt and give it to a potential birthmother so she can keep her baby and raise it herself?” adoption detractors ask, seemingly forgetting that it takes far more than just cold hard cash to adequately prepare anyone for 18+ years of full-time parenthood.
It’s true that when first asked why they are considering the option of placing a child for adoption, most prospective birthparents first mention the costs of caring for a child. Many are struggling to get by as it is, even without another mouth to feed or another bottom to diaper. Yet when Abrazo’s staff reminds them that money should never be the only reason for surrendering parental rights, since that would mean applying a permanent solution to a temporary problem, that is typically when the real reasons start to come out.
That’s when we learn that the mother feels incapable of caring for a baby with the birth defects she’s been told her child will have. Or she is seeking to shield her baby from a birthfather’s abuse, or she knows her own addiction will prevent her from being the stable, devoted parent her baby needs. Or she wants her child to grow up in a secure two parent home, like the one she had once upon a time. Or she knows her own track record with Child Protective Services will consign her baby to the horrors of state foster care. Or the baby is the remnant of an extramarital affair and she wants to shield the child from forever being treated differently as a result.
There are many (many!) valid reasons for reviving adoption, particularly the child-centered ones (like the 100k+ American children already “free for adoption” in the state foster care system.) It can certainly be argued that voluntary adoptive placement is a better (as in “more adoptee-centered”) alternative to the Safe Haven drop sites or Baby Moses programs that encourage desperate mothers to engage in legally-sanctioned child abandonment. And despite valid arguments against the false equivalency of “adoption vs. abortion” debates, most rational human beings would agree that a loving adoptive home trumps fetal destruction by suction.
Yet we must be mindful that adoption should not be revived at the expense of victimized mothers or innocent babies. Adoption must not exist solely to provide healthy infants to needy families, nor should we discount the inherent, primal wounds experienced by many adoptees (regardless of whether their adoptions were open or closed, done well or done badly.) And adoption must never, ever, be permitted to be done as a commercial transaction nor revenue stream.
Reviving adoption in the modern day
Some argue that making adoption easier is the key to reviving adoption in the modern era. We would argue that “DIY adoptions” all too often fail to protect the true interests of all the parties involved– most crucially, those of the children. Deregulation of adoption could have disastrous consequences, and making adoption a societal free-for-all (as is already too prevalent, given the internet) would undoubtedly endanger the best interests of our littlest citizens.
Making adoption more accessible, however, may be a far more effective goal. Too many parents in need have little or no way of knowing how to go about exploring the adoption option (and many prospective birthparents have told Abrazo “I didn’t even know adoption was still a thing,” until a hospital social worker or clinic worker brought it up to them.)
Federally-funded programs like the Infant Adoption Awareness Initiative aim to provide health professionals with accurate, nonbiased information on how best to educate the public about the adoption alternative in medical settings; finding additional means of disseminating information in other less crisis-oriented venues (such as public transportation or in educational institutions or public housing offices) might also be helpful.
Reviving adoption should be about reforming it, as well, and not just selling it. The renewal of the Adoption Tax Credit undoubtedly is an incentive to would-be adopters, yet providing parents who do adopt or place with more and better post-adoption services nationwide would surely be a big step in the right direction.
There are those who seek to reframe open adoption as a sales strategy, which does children and parents alike a huge disservice. Implementing legislation that would better protect the interests and rights of parents and child (like legally-enforceable post-placement adoption agreements and adult adoptee original birth certificate access) could almost certainly make adoption safer and more appealing to those most immediately impacted by it.
If modern day society cannot prevent child abuse and neglect any more effectively than it cures child poverty or eliminates unwanted pregnancies, then adoption is likely to remain a viable and necessary alternative.
Reviving adoption, then, could prove to be a worthy goal, but only if it is truly a project undertaken for the benefit of children (not adults,) and particularly if vast improvements are made to the way adoptions are done.
If there were ever two topics that were perhaps equally difficult– and important– to talk about, these would have to be adoption and race.
America’s current president’s coarse reference to disadvantaged countries last week ironically coincided with an announcement of Ethiopia’s new adoption ban curtailing the export of its children for international adoption, making both an ominous (but perhaps timely) prelude to MLK Day and African American History Month.
For all the advancements American society has made in race relations over past decades, and despite growing numbers of transracial adoptions, it seems that there is still much to be done before we will have fully achieved the famous dream of which Martin Luther King spoke on August 28, 1963:
“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”
Martin Luther King, Jr. doesn’t seem to have ever addressed the subject of transracial adoptions, although many have interpreted his remarks to infer that he would have supported it.
And perhaps he would have? However, one might also note that in calling for people not to be judged by their skin color, Martin Luther King, Jr. was not advocating for colorblindness but for race consciousness, for he clearly recognized the need for his people to be able to take pride in their racial origins, and to embrace their culture.
So why does race even matter?
Perhaps the answer lies in the word “identity.” Decades ago, social workers presumed that in order for any adoptee to blend well with his or her adoptive family, skin tones should match as closely as possible, enabling the adoptive family to hide the truth of the adoption from the adoptee, as well as from the neighbors. This led to some disastrous adoption experiences, however, and in time, professionals came to realize that several other traits (such as intelligence and temperament) could be far-greater indicators of placement compatibility than melatonin levels or hair texture.
Subsequently, a cultural shift in America has given rise to a new wave of cross-racial adoptions. (Indeed, the plot lines of popular TV shows like “This is Us” and “Modern Family” and “The Fosters” reflect this trend.) And yet, the well-intended urge for adoptive families to claim to be colorblind and deny racial differences that clearly exist is, perhaps, as misguided as the desire to avoid any diversity in adoptive placements. (One prospective adoptive couple from out-of-state recently went to great lengths to explain to our agency why it would be “impossible” for them to provide a loving home for anything other than a “Gerber baby,” blaming this bias on their community and their homestudy worker– anybody but themselves– while denying that this position had anything to do with racism.) When we say “race matters,” it is crucial to examine honestly to whom it does matter and why, and how this may potentially impact the child/ren involved?
When Abrazo’s director, Elizabeth, was three years old, she lived with her parents (a pastor and his wife) and her baby brother in a Chicago suburb. Race relations were a hot topic in the early Sixties, so the Vanderwerf family felt called to do their part; thus, they joined in a community effort called Friendly Town. The program’s goal was to give children from the inner city exposure to life beyond the ghetto, and to give middle and upper class families from the suburbs and rural regions the opportunity to foster a disadvantaged child from another culture, enabling all to gain greater understanding of the other.
Elizabeth’s family eventually moved from that Chicago suburb to a small country town in Iowa, and her foster sister came, too. She was, however, the only African-American many of those countryfolk had ever encountered in real life, and the Vanderwerfs were blissfully naive. They could hardly have realized how trying this experience may’ve been, for a young black girl from an urban center to spend months in a rural environment where nobody’s face or culture reflected her own. (Adoptee Rebekah Hutson addresses this dilemma beautifully, in her blog entry entitled Growing Up Black in White Families.) The two girls grew up and call each other sisters to this day. Still, Friendly Town was an experience that may have actually had a more lasting impact on the host families than on the children it displaced. Being colorblind (or pretending to be) wasn’t authentic, and likely served nobody’s needs– least of all those of the children involved.
The truth, in black & white
In America, there is a tremendous need for adoptive homes for children of color, whatever the adopting parents’ color may be. Brown and black children wait longer in state foster home for families to be found for them, for no fault of their own, because the concept of adoption is still primarily an Anglocentric concept, and the majority of adopting parents still hope to adopt a newborn who looks the most like them (raising the age-old question of whose best interests truly do come first in this pursuit?) And far too many minority children in state care “age out” of the system having never found an adoptive family (of any race) to call their own, sadly.
Still, simply being willing to adopt outside one’s race and then buying one’s child a culturally-appropriate toy or supporting a cause like an MLK March once a year is not enough, either. As Rachel Garlinghouse points out so poignantly: parents who adopt children of color must remember to honor their child’s racial identity (and be sensitive to the related challenges) 24/7… not just on on Cinco de Mayo or during Black History Month. Adopting outside your race means willingly adopting another culture as your own, and becoming not merely a “transracial” family to whom an adoptee must adapt, but wholeheartedly becoming a multiracial-forever-family.
On this Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, we urge you to learn more about adoption and race, and to download this Evan B. Donald Adoption Institute Study on this very important subject. Because whether or not you’ve placed or adopted transracially (or ever considered doing so,) learning more about what we can do to ensure that children in America can grow up judged not by their skin but by their character is of undeniable benefit to us all.
Adoption and race are both difficult topics to discuss, true; and yet, both are enormously important to the future of our children and to the future of our nation.