Most folks probably mean well when they talk about adoption, so when they say things that make us say “they said WHAT about adoption?!?” we have to step back and remind ourselves that this is really just a teachable moment.
(And it’s a reminder of how essential good adoption education truly is?)
But we have to admit: sometimes, the things people say leave us scratching our heads afterwards– or pulling our hair out in frustration.
This is not to say that folks shouldn’t ask questions. Asking questions and learning about adoption is an essential part of any adoption process.
Yet as you’ll notice below, the insensitive things people say about adoption are not normally questions asked in good faith. These are statements which typically reveal misconceptions or biases that need to be examined and dispelled, if the public perception of adoption is ever to truly be changed for the better. So let’s talk about the things people say about adoption which tend to give us pause.
We hear some of the nicest of people say things like this… (Brace yourselves. You may be triggered by what is to follow, and if so, we truly empathize, because it hits us hard, too.)
“Blood is thicker than water.”
Guess what? This doesn’t mean that genetics bond people best. The actual saying is from the Bible, and what it says is “the blood of the covenant is thicker than the water of the womb.” What it really means is that people who make lifelong vows in times of personal sacrifice (like on a battlefield) are more-deeply bonded for life than those who share nothing more than simple genetic links. This speaks volumes about the lasting importance of open adoption family ties, doesn’t it?
“I could never give my child away”
Adopting parents sometimes think they’re saying this in a tribute to a birthmother’s selflessness, but they need to know it does not come off as kind. Just because you cannot imagine ever being in such a desperate place doesn’t mean you could never be there or have to do that, if your child’s welfare depended on it. Most birthparents we know never ever imagined it either.
“I don’t want the adoptive parents to ever tell my child he/she is adopted.”
We get it: the placing parents don’t want the child to feel unwanted or to seek them out with questions, anymore than the adoptive parents want the child to ever feel rejected or deprived. Yet whenever prospective birthparents at Abrazo tell us this, we tell them asking the adoptive parents to lie or keep this secret is NOT an option. Adoptees deserve to know their own truth, and adults planning adoptions need to honor their right to know it, as well.
“People who are adopted are damaged goods.”
We’ve heard it said that every adoptee is the product of a special needs adoption, since nobody gets adopted without there having been some special needs involved– but that’s a very different concept than the old eugenics argument that claimed all children born out of wedlock (who therefore most often became foundlings and adoptees) were deficient by birth, by virtue of their gene pool. Adopted kids may have varying backgrounds and incomplete genetic histories, but they absolutely possess the same amazing potential as every other kid on the face of the planet. (Cue mic drop.)
“I’m going to remind my adopted kid how much adoption costs if s/he misbehaves.”
This is about as ridiculous as thinking that a child will consider the pains of childbirth before acting out. And trying to guilt any kid into behaving says a lot more about the parent’s inadequacies than those of the child, frankly.
“I don’t think anyone/I can truly love any child that isn’t born to them/me.”
The interesting thing is that prospective birthparents sometimes say this to justify not choosing adoption, just as infertile couples sometimes say this to justify not choosing adoption, too, but both are wrong. Just as people learn to love a partner who obviously isn’t a biological relative of theirs, parents can truly learn to love a child that isn’t their biological relative, as well.
“Once the adoption is finalized, your family will be no different than any other family.”
This is something that both adoption professionals and judges tell adoptive parents, and while it may lend comfort to nervous adopters, it simply is misleading. From a legal perspective, a family who adopts has most of the same rights as others (except for the right to access their child’s original birth certificate, which is permanently sealed by the courts in most states.) Yet parenting an adopted child is different than parenting biological offspring in some ways, and we do adopting parents a disservice when we fail to prepare them for this truth in advance of placement.
“Putting a child up for adoption is really selfish.”
There are two big problems with this statement: it’s not true, and the language is archaic. Nobody has put a child up for adoption since the Orphan Trains last ran, since that phrase originated in the era in which folks bid on orphans hoisted into the air at train stations across the US in the 1900s. And to endure the risks of pregnancy and childbirth and then sacrifice your own joy and well-being to enable a child born to you to grow up with all the advantages of an adoptive home is anything but selfish… please and thank you!
“We always wanted to have a black baby.”
We purposely left this one for last, because it’s the one that makes us most uneasy. Like the well-intentioned folks who want to assure others that “we’re colorblind, we don’t see race,” this tends to be something white people say to imply their support for children of color, but in truth, what it asserts most of all is simply white privilege. Transracial adoption certainly deserves public support, yet those who pursue it must always be mindful of an adoptee’s needs to grow up in families that do recognize and acknowledge racial differences, and in communities where there are others who look like them. Ethnic children should not be reduced to fashion accessories, and racial inequalities cannot be resolved by mere assimilation.
We could go on (and on,) but we won’t. (You’re welcome.)
You get the idea, right? There are a lot of misconceptions about adoption even today, and it’s going to take all of us to educate the society around us.
Maybe you yourself have said one or more of these things before, and you’re feeling secretly uncomfortable right now, remembering it? Don’t feel badly, but please learn from that discomfort, and grow in your understanding. That’s the whole point of adoption education… it makes us smarter, and that makes our society kinder to those who have been impacted by adoption.
And the next time someone around you says something that makes your head snap and your brain go “they said WHAT about adoption?!?” swallow hard, take a deep breath and then gently help set them straight, please.
Infertility vs. hyperfertility: which is the bigger problem?
It’s hard to imagine, if you’re one of the thousands of Americans struggling to conceive, but it’s a little-known secret that hyperfertility can be as big of a curse as infertility.
(The truth, though, is that the issue is in the eye of the beholder, of course.)
In case you’re feeling a little lost, let’s review…
Infertility is the inability to conceive, no matter what you try.
Hyperfertility is the inability to not conceive, no matter what you try.
And both can be devastating life challenges to the people involved… not matter how inconceivable that may seem. (Pun intended.)
Long ago, native Americans believed that the god of fertility was a visitor they called
Kokopelli. It was believed that Kokopelli carried unborn children on his back and distributed them to women in need of fertility blessings; they welcomed Kokopelli’s visits, while young girls and unmarried women, alike, feared him instead.
Infertility vs. Hyperfertility
Julio and Marta have been married for more than a decade. They both come from large families, and they are everyone’s favorite godparents. They’re both in excellent health. They have great jobs, with good benefit packages. There’s no known reason that they cannot conceive, despite having had costly consults with all the best fertility specialists. They long to parent, and they’re ready in every way, and yet, they cannot get pregnant, due to what’s called unspecified infertility.
And it’s devastating for them.
Mike and Stacy have been together for nearly ten years, for better or worse. They had their first unplanned pregnancy in their last year of high school, and wanted to make other plans, but their relatives persuaded them to parent instead. The next baby happened before the first was a year old, and being good Catholics, they made the best of it. Another pregnancy ended in a still birth, and then the twins came along, and Mike got laid off. Stacy was in a car accident, and then another baby was on the way, which they placed with a family member, but they separated briefly and by the time they reconciled, Stacy found she was expecting again, unsure of who the father was, and totally certain the timing was all wrong to try to add another child to the home. That’s what hyperfertility looks like.
And it’s devastating for them.
Don’t judge, please.
For some reason, our society finds it far easier to sympathize with the infertile than to empathize with the hyperfertile. People tend to consider the infertile as “deserving” while judging the hyperfertile as “irresponsible.” And yet, the personal loss of reproductive control is just as tragic for the one as it is for the other.
Sometimes, those with infertility have found that their condition was caused by delayed efforts to reproduce. And sometimes, those with hyperfertility have been handicapped by poverty or inadequate healthcare. Neither is an excuse, and both result in hardship. Each finds their condition can impact their relationships. Either can suffer from stress, shame, depression or inadequacy as a result.
Yet both are deserving of our support and respect. Both have the capacity to be wonderful parents. Either has the right to make their own best choices. Neither should be judged by others.
In open adoption, we often find that the needs of one can become the answered prayer of another. Yet it’s far too simplistic to think that adoption is always the antidote to either problem.
Not every infertile couple is equipped to deal with the lifelong impact of an adoption decision.
Not every hyperfertile parent can live with the lifelong impact of a placement decision.
When the stars do align, however, open adoption can be a beautiful joining of the infertile and the hyperfertile. The once-childless couple can become not just proud parents but beloved adoption relatives of the children of the hyperfertile, who add not just the adopted child as an extended relative, but his or her adoptive parents, as well.
If you’re struggling with the loss that comes with infertility, please get grief counseling to help you mourn your losses and which can help ready you to consider all your options, including adoption.
And if you’re one of those parents who is secretly relieved to have read this and learned that hyperfertility is actually “a thing” and you’re thinking you may need to consider adoption yourself, please call Abrazo anytime, and let’s talk about all your options, including adoption.
Infertility vs. hyperfertility: whatever your curse, you’ll find compassion here.
You may be seeing news stories lately about ICWA and Indian adoptions, and wondering what this is about? ICWA is the Indian Child Welfare Act, and the furor is about the concerns of the Native people that children with eligibility should not be forced to lose their connections to their tribal affiliations because of adoption.
As most schoolchildren are now taught, (not so) long ago, many Native Americans were treated very poorly by the Anglo-Saxons who invaded this country and began to colonize it.
In the last century, children of native American descent were removed in record numbers from reservations and from their biological families. By some reports, 25-35 percent of Indian American children were separated from their parents, and three-fourths of them were placed with non-Indian families, causing irreparable losses to these children, their families and their tribes.
In 1978, a federal law was implemented, called the Indian Child Welfare Act, which essentially gave the tribes sovereignty in all child welfare matters involving children of Native American descent.
What ICWA typically meant to private adoption agencies like Abrazo was that anytime a prospective birthparent identified themself as being of American Indian descent, a whole different set of rules and procedures applied. The agency had to notify the tribe(s) that an adoption was being planned, and seek their approval for the placement in advance. Birthparents with verified Indian lineage had to complete relinquishment before a district judge, more than 10 days after birth, and their surrender decisions were revocable until the adoption had been legally-finalized by the adoptive family.
Some tribes, like the Cherokees, tended to be more generous in granting their blessing, provided that the adopting family agreed to raise the child to know and honor his or her Indian heritage. Other tribes, however, like the Choctaws, tended to be less cooperative and on occasion, Abrazo had to inform expectant mothers that the tribe would not consent to the adoption unless the mother were to place with a family living within its reservation, causing some to elect to parent, instead.
On a national level, this led to some well-publicized disputes, as would-be adopters sought to overrule tribal objections in costly legal battles, like the one involving Lexi Page, age 6 (the foster family lost) and Baby Veronica (the non-Indian adoptive family won) and Baby B (the Indian birthfather won.)
Some tribal registration requirements are based on what is called “minimum blood quantum,” while others are not, but as some proponents of the ICWA point out, the legislation is based on tribal membership, not nationality or race. As Chrissi Nimmo, the Cherokee Nation’s assistant attorney general stated, “just like all 50 states are able to have a say in the adoptions of their ‘citizen’ children, ICWA allows tribes, as governments, to have a say in the adoption of their ‘citizen’ children.”
About Indian adoptions
Human rights groups have long sounded the alarm about an adoption industry push to challenge ICWA, as groups like the Goldwater Institute have spent several years and millions of dollars opposing ICWA legislation nationwide. Quad A (the American Academy of Adoption Attorneys) waged a war with the Bureau of Indian Affairs in 2015. Earlier this fall, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals threw out a challenge to the ICWA, but it was just this month in Texas that a judge has actually ruled ICWA to be unconstitutional.
U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor of Texas issued an order on October 4 that found that ICWA illegally grants Native American families preferential treatment in adoption proceedings for Native American children. The racial basis, he says, is a violation of the Fifth Amendment. Appeals have already been filed by several groups, and litigation is sure to ensue.
What does this mean to Abrazo’s adoptions? Little or nothing, actually, because the legal counsel for ICPC (Interstate Compact for Protection of Children) issued a ruling years ago stating the ICWA is not applicable in voluntary adoption cases. (See inset.)
This does, however, raise very valid concerns for anyone with connections to Native American groups and causes, as should any idea of the adoption industry exploiting of this situation. To be a member of an Indian tribe is to possess part of a rich and beautiful heritage, which should be treasured and protected. Abrazo supports the intent of the Indian Child Welfare Act as well as the people it seeks to shield from cultural genocide.
If you also believe that ICWA and Indian adoptions should both be protected, please consider calling your lawmakers to voice your concerns, but don’t stop there; make a donation to the Indian Child Welfare Act Law Center and help them fight uphold the law, on behalf of Native American children all across America.
Somehow, adoption arrangements often seem to fall to women, but the truth is that no mom is an island, and that’s why we all need more men to participate in open adoptions– before and after.
We were reminded of that when a devoted adoptive mom stopped by our office to visit. She loves her kids and her husband, of course, and her children’s birthfamilies, too. Still, she has been the glue holding all their open adoption relationships together for several years now, and she’s admittedly burned out, because everyone expects her to keep it going, but nobody seems to feel any need to pitch in or even say thanks?
And she’s not doing it for accolades, of course– she’s doing it for her kids. That’s just the kind of mom she is.
Yet it’s still a thankless task, and nobody can always do it all.
So why don’t more husbands and dads seem more invested in the open adoption process? Why does so much of the planning and preparing and post-adoptioning seem to fall in the womens’ laps?
Well, for one thing, it’s awkward, sometimes. So much of pregnancy and childbirth has to do with “ladyparts,” it’s understandable that guys feel more at ease standing out in the hallway, literally and figuratively.
Yet every adoption plan ever made was in some way necessitated by a male’s involvement, so it stands to reason that men should have a important part to play in open adoption, too.
Open adoption is wonderful, but it isn’t easy. Maintaining what are often complex relationships amidst the other strains and stressors of a career and a household is anything but simple. It can be exhausting to feel that you are holding things together for everyone for months and years on end, even for the strongest woman with the best possible support system (and especially, without.)
So whether you are a birthfather, an adoptive father or a father-to-be, there are plenty of things you can do to participate and contribute, both before and after placement.
What’s a Guy to Do?
Glad you asked, big guy! Here’s just a short sample of the things males can do to take part in open adoptions…
You can fill out paperwork, because there’s plenty of it to be done. From the birthparent profile or the adoptive parents’ application to the relinquishment and placement paperwork and the post-adoption reports that follow, there is an ample amount of paperwork and there’s no reason men can’t do it just as well as women. (And nope, bad handwriting is not an excuse to sit this one out.)
You can participate in phone calls and emails and texts. Birthmoms often really enjoy getting to hear from and talk with the adoptive dads. Adoptive moms welcome opportunities to communicate with birthfathers. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking women only like to talk with other women; some women are much more at ease talking with men.
You too can schedule and attend meetings and visits. Even if social planning seems to fall to the womenfolk, it’s important for males to suggest get-togethers, too, and to be there to participate. Whether it’s going to the prenatal visits or reuniting for dinner after placement, men should be welcome and eager to attend, because children need to know their birthdads and adoptive fathers considered these things a priority, too.
You can advocate for the women in your life. Part of being a great dad (whether you’re a birthfather or adoptive dad or grandpa or birthgrandfather) is standing up for your partner and/or your child, and there are plenty of ways to do that in an open adoption. You can speak up in the hospital when the nurses seem to be talking over your baby’s mother’s wishes. You can bring/send flowers to your partner when she seems emotionally exhausted by it all. You can intercede with friends and family when it seems they’re disregarding your babymama’s need for privacy. You can make her day just be simply saying “hey, honey, if I haven’t told you recently, thank you for all you do.”
And yes, you too can step in to help with the details of life after relinquishment/placement that sometimes can seem overwhelming. Whether this means stepping up to bathe the kid/s or helping with the laundry or taking over kitchen duty so your woman gets a little extra sleep or some time for a much-needed pedicure, please remember that what you do is just as important as what you say.
A Word for Weary Moms
Finally, we have a few things to say to our mommas out there… please remember to take care of yourselves, and of the other mother. You both deserve support, you know. In many open adoption relationships, it’s not unusual for one mom to be more of a “planner” or “keep-in-toucher.” This means the bulk of the burden for keeping the open adoption relationship alive and active too often seems to rest on one set of shoulders, which can get utterly exhausting.
So if that’s you who’s making mosst of the effort, please delegate responsibility, and ask for help, if needed. You may have to get really brave and “use your I-statements” to tell others (whether it’s your partner or your child’s other family) what you need from them, and how it feels to be you when you go to great lengths to make plans that don’t seem appreciated, but your feelings matter, too, especially when it’s for the benefit of the child you share.
And if you’re the mom who benefits from your child’s other mom’s efforts to keep in contact most of the time, please take the time to thank her, and to let her know you appreciate her. You may think she should already know it, but she probably doesn’t, so make sure she does, okay?
No mom is an island, so please don’t leave her to keep everything and everyone afloat on her own.
Consider this a step-by-step guide to talking to kids about adoption.
We know this is something that adoptive families often fear, and we’re here to assure you it doesn’t have to be uncomfortable or awkward, any more than anything new is, the first time you do it.
It’s important for children who are adopted to hear their adoption story early and often, and for their Mom and Dad to be the ones to tell it to them (over and over again.)
So here are the steps you need to take to prepare for the first time you tell it:
Step One: Sit down.
You’ll want to be in a comfortable position. This isn’t a conversation most parents are going to want to have while driving, or while on public transportation, of course. If you’re a person who prefers standing to sitting, we understand, but you don’t want to send the message to your child that this is something just to be thrown out in passing, so please, sit down and settle in, so you convey that this is something worth taking time to share.
Step Two: Notice what you’re feeling.
We know there’s a lot going on, but take a few moments just to be mindful of your biorhythms and all those physiological symptoms that sometimes betray your true emotions in times of stress. Are you nervous? Are you feeling flustered? Are you worried about what to say? Is your forehead creased with tension? Is your voice quaking? It’s okay to feel whatever you feel, but try to relieve your anxiety with some good deep breaths, so your child doesn’t get the wrong idea about what you’re about to say.
Prepare to tell the truth in an age-appropriate manner.
Your child’s birth story belongs to him or her (yes, all of it) but it is your job as his or her parent to tell it in an age appropriate manner, which means giving your child all the relevant information in ways they can understand. This means combining positive adoption language with appropriate facts and delivering this information to your child in a sensitive and loving fashion that enables him or her to feel positive about himself/herself.
Step Four: Deal with your own stuff your ownself, please.
If for any reason you are finding you feel angry about having to share your child’s adoption story with him or her, please get some help with this. You need to vent, but not to your child. Anger is a clear signal that you are struggling with some part of your role in this story, and it’s incredibly important that you get those feelings heard by a qualified counselor and resolved so your child is not impacted by your own issue(s).
Step Five: Hold your child close.
Physical contact helps most people feel secure, so hold your child in a comfortable position and don’t forget to support the baby’s head. After all, the Entrustment Agreement every parent signs at placement with Abrazo promises that they will start telling the child they’re adopting his or her adoption story from the Very First Day, so hold that baby close, and speak from your heart.
Step Six: Tell the adoption story with all the love you can.
Don’t know how to start? Try saying something like this: “(Insert child’s name), Mommy and Daddy love you with all our hearts, and we always will. And (insert birthparents’ names) love you, too, and that’s why (insert birthmother’s name) carried you in her tummy, and why your birthparents made this special plan for you to grow up in our family, forever. This was a very hard decision for her/them, and they would have love to have raised you themselves if they could. They are part of our forever family, because they’re related to you by birth and we are related to you by adoption, so just know that we will all always belong to you forever.”
Now exhale. And inhale, and exhale again. That wasn’t so bad, was it? So do it again. Tell your child his or her adoption story over and over again, as he or she grows, adding a little more detail with each passing year, so there will never (ever) be a time when your adopted child remembers not knowing the truth of his or her origins and how he or she became part of your loving forever family.
As your child enters preschool and school years, he or she will likely want more physical details; where was I born? I know what my birthparents look like now, since open adoption means we see them on occasion, but what did they look like then? What did he/she like to eat/do for fun/do for work? Adopted kids should ideally grow up with access to photos of their birthparents at the time of placement, and with adoption memorabilia that is available for their review at will (so they don’t have to let you, their parents, know every time they might need to “check in” on their birth information.)
In their adolescent/teen years, adoptees may need more specific information about the circumstances of the conception, the socio-economic challenges the birthparents faced at time of placement, the birthrelatives’ reactions to the pregnancy/adoption, and/or the lifestyle/cultural factors that may have played into the birthparents’ placement decision.
How can you know if you are doing a good job of talking to kids about adoption? Here’s one answer: if they’re rolling their eyes because you’ve told this story plenty of times, you’re doing something right. Kids who are at ease with their own adoption story often find it boring, because it’s nothing new, and if it’s nothing new, then you deserve a blue ribbon, Mom and Dad! Some children love their adoption story because it’s theirs, and because each time it’s told with love, and if that’s your child’s response, then you get a red ribbon, because your telling of that story is like the perfect valentine. And bonus points if your child asks you questions, when you tell it, because that means you’ve created a safe and loving environment in which your adopted child feels safe enough to express curiosity about his or her origins, and that’s a bonus for him/her.
If you haven’t started talking with your kids about adoption but already have adopted children in your home already, then please remember: “better late than never,” and start telling the truth… this week. If your child responds with anger or sadness at not having been told sooner, then validate their emotions (say “I hear what you’re saying, and I understand why you feel this way”) as best you can, and then do whatever you can to fill in the blanks and get them the extra information they need to feel they can trust you to tell them the truth from now on.
Thank you for taking the time to read this, and thank you for taking this information to heart. We know adopting is not easy, nor is parenting, however that job title become yours. Never forget, though: hard as it may seem, talking with kids about adoption is one of the most important tasks of parenting an adopted child… and these talks, done right, feel better than you know, for you and for your child.
This is an adoption story gone wrong. It goes like this…
Once upon a time, a mother made a wrenching decision to entrust her child to another family.
Her name was Sabrina Ramsey. She was an Oklahoma high school dropout when she gave birth to her firstborn in 2014. Sabrina’s mother reportedly had concerns about Sabrina’s ability to care for the child and called DHS on her.
As a result, Sabrina placed her baby boy with an adoptive couple named Wayne & Denise Russell, who already had another child.
Wayne and Denise, by all accounts, adored their new son and doted on his every need, but they made one tragic mistake, when they left their pool gate open. On July 27, 2016, little Keon, who loved the water, drowned in the Russell’s family swimming pool.
The hospital which tried to resuscitate the child still had his birth information on file, and news of Keon’s passing was reportedly shared by the hospital with his birthmom, Sabrina… by accident.
Sabrina was (understandably) devastated. She called the adoptive family, screaming in pain. The adoptive family asked how she’d found out, and she told them the hospital had called her.
The adoptive family dutifully mentioned the birthfamily by name in the child’s obituary.
Sabrina dutifully showed up at the visitation, and signed the guestbook, allegedly identifying herself as “bio-mom.”
But all the parents were grieving, obviously, and as is often the case, hurting people hurt people.
The birthmother reportedly blamed the adoptive parents for her child’s death.
The adoptive parents accused the birthmother of threatening the life of their other child.
The adoptive parents sued the hospital for a HIPPA violation for informing the birthmother of her child’s passing.
The 23-year-old birthmother then posted photos of her late son online, something the adoptive parents found upsetting.
So then the adoptive parents came after her in court in 2016, getting a restraining order against her that prevented her from contacting them and prohibited her from posting any pictures of her baby on social media.
But Sabrina did post pictures on her Facebook page again, and she subsequently got arrested, prosecuted and convicted for doing so.
Was Sabrina responding inappropriately to the news of her child’s death? That’s a matter of opinion.
Were the Russell’s privacy rights wrongfully invaded by the hospital’s actions? That’s a matter of law.
Were the Russells entitled to seek legal protection if they felt threatened? Absolutely so.
Was the court correct in restricting the birthmother’s social media posts? Apparently not.
According to UCLA law professors Eugene Volokh, the Oklahoma court ruling appears to have been in clear violation of the First Amendment of the United States Constitution. In Dr. Volokh’s opinion:
“Posting a picture of a dead child whom you have good reason to mourn — or even when you think you have reason to fault someone for his death — is surely constitutionally protected. Whatever Stone may or may not have done to the Russells that warranted a restraining order generally, I can see no basis for a speech restriction like this.”
A Sad Summary
Keon’s accidental drowning was a tragedy for everyone concerned– there’s no doubt about this. Whether or not the adoptive family and the birthmother had a friendly, positive or open relationship prior to his loss is unclear. At the very least, though, let us agree on this point: birthparents should be able to expect that an adoptive family will find a way to inform them if their child dies.
The adoptive parents do not have a legal obligation to do this, of course, but they surely have a moral obligation to do so, and if they do not wish to do so directly, the very least they can do is to have their agency or attorney relay the news and offer counseling to help the bereaved birthparents process their emotions.
This is something with which our agency does have experience. In January of 2016, one of Abrazo’s forever families suffered a devastating loss when their infant son died of SIDS, just months after placement. The adoptive family notified the birthfamily and the agency immediately, and support was provided to both families. The birthmother and her family attended the out-of-state funeral with the adoptive family, and the adoptive family traveled to Texas afterwards to hold a private memorial with the birthfather, who had chosen not to attend the funeral. All four parents got matching tattoos of the baby’s handprint, as an indelible reminder of their bond.
This example stands out in striking contrast to what went on in Oklahoma, and we will forever adore our clients for what they did to get through their shared loss together. Not all people can grieve together appropriately, we know. Yet this serves as a reminder of the potential beauty of truly open adoption relationships, even in times of great sorrow.
Neither the Russells nor the Ramseys will ever forget the short, sweet comet of joy named Keon, who came into their lives unexpected, and left just as unexpectedly. May each continue to find peace in his memory and may they find the grace also to forgive each other, in his honor.
To do so might just help to put to rest an adoption story gone wrong– for everyone involved.
After nearly 25 years of listening to girls and women who have been subjected to sexual violence, Abrazo believes survivors.
We’ve heard it all. We know that anyone can be a victim of sexual abuse, even though statistically, females are far more at risk. We know that sexual mores have changed drastically over time, yet American culture is still at odds over what behavior constitutes “sexual assault.” We know that an American is sexually assaulted every 98 seconds; that most reported sex crimes never result in the assailant going to prison; and that most sex attack victims usually know their attackers.
And we know this is true, despite several decades of hearing prospective birthmothers claiming they cannot name their baby’s father because “I got drunk at a party.” (Mind you, we’re young enough to remember how random hookups happen, and we know there aren’t really that many rockin’ parties going on here across South Texas on a regular basis.)
We suspect the reasons that pregnant women are hesitant to identify their babydaddies are similar to the reasons that victims of sexual assault don’t report:
… She’s embarrassed or ashamed of what happened.
… She doesn’t want her family to know.
… She wants to save face… or save her marriage.
… She fears retribution if he finds out she told.
… She blames herself for what happened to her.
… She doesn’t want to give him any more power.
… She is in denial and wants to forget.
… She doesn’t want him to get in trouble.
Texas law no longer requires unmarried females placing babies for adoption to identify their child’s fathers in order to place babies for adoption. The disadvantage is that fewer birthfathers are involved in the process of voluntary Texas adoptions than before, adopting families have less genetic history available, and Texas adoptees are less likely to know the men who biologically-fathered them. The advantage is that males who cause pregnancies and do not stick around to find out conception has occurred no longer have the power to protest placement unless they go through proper channels to exercise paternal responsibility.
One survivor’s report
A troubling number of the mothers who place babies for adoption have also been victims of rape and/or sexual assault, either prior to becoming pregnant or in the act of conception.
To date, only one that we know found the courage to file charges, after a horrific experience of abuse and confinement by her abuser; in her case, the district attorney chose not to pursue the case in court, and her assailant has never been arrested for what he did to her.
To return to the county in which that crime occurred, after having finally revealed what had happened to her parents, was terrifying for her.
To have that county elect not to prosecute the man involved only compounded the wounds she suffered.
Is it any wonder that the majority of these crimes in America go unreported?
(And that even the survivors who do report what happened to them sometimes find themselves wishing they had not done so?)
According to RAINN, two out of every three sexual assaults in the US go unreported, but only 2% of reported rape cases entail a false report.
If you know someone who has been subjected to sexual violence, one of the most important things you can do for them is to hear them out. Give them a safe place to tell their story, whether anything can “be done about it” or not. Offer unconditional love and support, and affirm them for their courage in coming forward. That took more integrity and bravery than you could ever know, and your willingness to validate them by bearing witness to their report may be more healing than you realize.
And if you, yourself, are a victim of sexual violence, please get help here to let the healing begin.
Stories nobody wants to hear
When you work in adoption, you become privy to the stories nobody wants to hear, but which somebody must, in order to discern whether placement truly is in a child’s best interests. Any female is at risk of sexual violence at any age, and this is something that impacts birthmothers, adoptive mothers, adoptees and adoption professionals alike.
At Abrazo, over the years, we’ve worked with women who’d been victimized by male relatives, and were told by their families they could not come home again if they told anyone. We’ve worked with junior high and high school co-eds who were the victims of statutory rape, whose parents refused to press charges and whose parents terminated their adoption plans with our agency when told we were state-mandated to report their child’s abuse if they did not.
We’ve known sorority girls who were shunned by their sisters for threatening to report someone in the “brother fraternity” for forced sex. We’ve worked with waitresses and dancers and carnies who were assaulted by customers in parking lots and threatened with the loss of their jobs if they said anything.We’ve worked with far too many women who were sexually-abused and physically-abused by their intimate partners, who were told they or a loved one would suffer the consequences if they attempted to leave.
We’ve heard from females from “good families” who had bad things happen to them, even in some of the “best” of homes. We’ve worked with addicts who subject themselves to sexual assaults in order to obtain the drugs that just make it bearable to keep on living. We’ve worked with virgins who said “no” to a boyfriend, only to be told “you’ll do this if you really love me” and overpowered by guys who later ghosted them when told a pregnancy was the result. We’ve worked with adoptive mothers who’d been victims of marital rape in a former marriage. We’ve worked with prostitutes who believe their occupation requires them to endure untold abuse, and whose pimps reinforce that message daily.
We could go on, but we won’t. The point is: America has a problem, and it’s time we all listen and learn. Far too many girls and women in America have been the victims (and survivors) of sexual exploitation and sexual assault, and they must be heard, if the problem is going to be adequately addressed and future generations protected.
We are not naive about the risks of false reports. Still, the fact is that there are far more unreported rapes in this country than there are false accounts of rape. And the truth is that victims and survivors willing to report sexual violence deserve our full support, even if (and when) it makes us feel uncomfortable.
In these troubling days of painstaking self-disclosure, may we find the courage to surround those who come forward with respect and compassion, and may we join in the rallying cry “believe survivors,” for those who have endured real trauma truly have important lessons to teach us all.
One question that frequently arises in open adoption concerns the conflict when adoptee & birthmother needs collide, and how such issues should be resolved?
It is a question impacted by a host of legal and ethical constraints, and surrounded by emotional landmines, which makes it all the more important that it be answered carefully, with a preponderance of compassion for all concerned.
When a mother releases her child for adoption, the legal papers remind her that once she signs those documents, she will no longer have any right to nor responsibility for the child being placed for adoption. She will no longer be that child’s rightful parent; someone else will forever provide for her child’s emotional, spiritual and physical needs. She will no longer have the right to make decisions on behalf of that child. She will not have the right to inherit from that child. She will not be entitled to expect anything of that child nor to direct any aspect of that child’s life nor care. Her relationship to that child will be terminated under the law, and there will be no going back on that decision, once made.
Until any adoptee reaches the age of consent, their needs are the legal responsibility of the adoptive parents, of course, so the adoptive parents should help manage any conflicting expectations that arise between an underage adoptee and his or her birthparent. When the adoptee is grown, however, what happens if the adoptee’s needs and the birthmother’s needs conflict, for some reason?
Adoption is a daunting decision, one that no mother takes lightly.
In open adoption, relinquishing mothers signing adoption surrender paperwork still are assured that the adopting parents will raise the child to know (and hopefully love and respect) his or her birthmother.
The adoptive parents, recognizing that neither a piece of paper nor a judge’s ruling can erase the truth: that the adoptee will forever share a genetic and yes, familial connection with his or her birthfamily, and that honoring that relationship is a privilege worth upholding.
They voluntarily agree to stay in touch, while honoring any privacy needs expressed at placement. Healthy open adoption agreements carefully specify what access and communication both parties expect to fulfill; in potentially problematic relationships, these expectations tend to be left undefined and discussed only vaguely if at all.
Everyone is extremely emotional at the time at which placements occur, meaning the adults involved may or may not be well-prepared to anticipate their own needs on a long-term basis– let alone the long-term needs of the adoptee, who is not yet able to speak on his or her own behalf.
People who wish to be relieved of their parental obligation and people who want to be responsible parents more than anything are uniquely aware of the authority that comes with making choices on behalf of a child. They also are often the most people who are most surprised (and yes, most resistant to) the need to yield the power of this authority to the adoptee, when he or she becomes able to voice his or her own needs as this pertains to his or her own adoption.
Historically, adoptees have found their voices too often silenced by those around them. In a society that still reminds us “children should be seen and not heard,” adoptees learn early on that expressing interest in birthfamily tends to make adoptive parents uneasy. They learn to keep their questions to themselves, or to seek out answers on their own, or to turn to the internet for answers. Record numbers of adoptees are finding birthrelatives on social media, or via DNA testing, with mixed results when the people they’re finding are ill-prepared for unexpected adoption reunions.
The same is true of birthparents who regretted adoption choices and longed to find their missing babies, or who were promised open adoption yet got shut out afterwards, or those with closed adoption who thought that meant they had to “stay away” until their child turns 18. They, too, turn to genetic testing or the internet or other means to seek reconnection with their child/ren, who too often feel torn between their curiosity about their roots and their loyalties to their adoptive families to respond freely.
So when adoptee and birthmother needs collide, whose needs should take precedence?
There’s no cookie-cutter easy answer here that always applies, of course, as each circumstance should entail a careful review of the needs of all parties. Both parties deserve to be heard with empathy. Both deserve access to qualified post-adoption support. Both need validation and respect. That being said, though, ultimately, if every adoption must (legally and morally) be done in the best interests of the child, then the best interests of that child (even when grown) should still dictate all of his or her parents’ priorities later in life, too, we think.
This is why an adoptee who wants to know who his or her birthfamily is should be afforded every opportunity to get to know about them as an adult, whether or not his/her adoptive family approves.
This is why a birthparent who never told her other children about the baby she placed for adoption must find the courage to right that wrong and tell them the truth as early as possible, so that the adoptee need not carry the burden of being a secret to his or her birthsiblings.
This is why a woman who became pregnant as a result of rape must receive compassionate and effective post-adoption counseling to prepare her for the adoptee’s possible need to meet her in the future, even if the idea of seeing a child who reminds her of her attacker may seem overwhelming.
This is why a birthmother who longs to be reunited with the child she placed must respect the privacy of an adult adoptee who, for his or her own reasons, does not wish to meet the birthparents (yet?), however painfully unfair this may be to her.
This is why a birthmother who never wanted the child she placed to be even told he or she was adopted must still be willing to provide, at the very least, a letter with updated family medical information and a photograph, if that adoptee later wants information about his or her roots.
This is why adult adoptees should always be entitled, like every other citizen, to gain access to their original birth certificate, regardless of whether the adoptee or birthparent ultimately desire to be in relationship with the other.
We understand that this may seem unfair to some. Perhaps, on some level, it is an inequity which comes with the territory, like being adopted is a consequence adoptees have had to accept for better or worse? Granted, not every adoptee may have the insight to appreciate what their needs require of a birthmother who has endured the ultimate sacrifice (and its inevitable aftermath) on behalf of her baby. And after suffering the lasting grief that comes with adoption loss, not every birthmother feels obligated to respond to the needs of the adoptee, especially when the law exempted her from all responsibility for that child long ago. And nobody can mandate that people be “in relationship” if they do not wish to be, no matter who does the asking.
Still: when adoptee & birthmother needs collide, it is an indelible reminder that both are separate individuals forever linked, and while the needs of each are important, we believe the needs of the adoptee should always come first with the first mother who was initially entrusted with his or her protection.
Recent reports that the fate of the Parkland shooter may ultimately rest on a defense citing genetics has got us shouting at our televisions “stop blaming the birthmom!” She is no paragon of virtue, by most reports, yet she surrendered at birth, so how can she be responsible for his actions two decades later?
Why is it, one might wonder, that when adoptees excel, society is quick to credit the adoptive parents, yet when the odd adoptee fails spectacularly, everyone’s first impulse seems to be to blame the birthmother?
And yes, any blame is all too often disproportionately assigned to the mother who birthed the adoptee, not the man who fathered that child. It’s not a recent phenomenon, either: mothers who got pregnant out of wedlock were historically considered to be loose, wanton women who would inevitably produce intellectually inferior children who (unless rescued by “better families”) were bound to become a burden upon society.
Birthmother-blaming doesn’t just happen in well-publicized capitol punishment cases, of course. It’s also common on the message boards of groups of adoptive parents frustrated with their kids’ behavior, it’s a frequent excuse used to justify rehoming practices (also known as “second chance adoptions,”) and it’s a subject of discussion even at various adoptee conferences and gatherings.
The latest example has to do with Nicholas Cruz, the teen charged in the Parkland High School massacre who was adopted as a baby yet did not learn of his adoption until later in childhood. Now that Cruz is facing the death penalty, his attorneys are seeking to argue that his life should be spared due to his genetic makeup, since his birthmother and his birthsister have also led lives of crime or used during pregnancy.
The Eugenics Argument
This can make for a convincing debate, of course. It hails back to the age-old eugenics argument that claims that a disproportionate number of adoptees come from “bad stock” that predisposes them to poor choices and dysfunctional lives due to their gene pool. Margaret Sanger used eugenics as a justification for birth control, arguing “by all means there should be no children when either mother or father suffers from such diseases as tuberculosis, gonorrhea, syphilis, cancer, epilepsy, insanity, drunkenness, and mental disorders.” The Nazis promoted the psuedoscience of eugenics to justify their selective eliminations, and countless poor Americans were likewise sterilized involuntarily by officials who subscribed to such discriminatory theories under eugenics laws in thirty states. Some of America’s best-known (and most expensive) adoption agencies boasted that they somehow procure/d a strain of “better babies” by weeding out the babies being born to and placed by less desirable birthparents– but given the secrecy of closed adoption practices, who could really be the wiser?
Nowadays, with full-disclosure open adoptions becoming the norm, adopting parents have the oportunity to get to know their child/ren’s birthparents personally (and vice versa), giving both families a more clear sense of how nature and nurture may help shape the person each adoptee may one day become. Still, there’s no clear consensus as to what plays the biggest part in shaping an adoptee’s potential: nature, or nurture?
As Julian Vigo ended her essay in 2017 Counterpunch piece entitled The Social Eugenics Framing Adoption: “The racialisms inherent within western societies make being an adoptee uncomfortable as a child, especially confronted with the rigidity and purity assumed by the assumed “legitimate” family. All the rest is other. The best perspective on this subject was given to me by my Uncle Hemendra who said to me one day when we discussed this very subject: “There is a proverb in Sanskrit that says, ‘Anyone can stir curd into milk.’”
The Real Verdict
Nothing Cruz’ birthmom, Brenda Woodard, did before or during pregnancy “made” him into a killer.
Nothing the Cruz’ boys adoptive parents, Roger & Lynda Cruz, did in order to adopt or parent them predestined either of them to become a mass murderer.
Did the Cruz kids suffer from adoption trauma? Did autism, hyperactivity, depression, oppositional defiance disorder complicate their lives? Were they exposed to prenatal substance abuse, or adoptive parent alcoholism? Did the financial comfort of the adoptive parents’ life afford them too much privilege? Did their compounded grief over repeated life losses unhinge one brother? Any of these factors may have created the perfect storm that resulted in the 2/14/18 tragedy in Florida.
Regardless, Nicholas Cruz is neither a monster nor a madman, and neither his birthparents nor his adoptive parents should be blamed for what he did that fateful day when he shot up that school in Parkland. As his bio-brother, adopted as a baby by the same family, acknowledged after his arrest, Nicholas had mental health issues, yes– but he was also a product of his environment. He legally procured the guns he used by following the laws of the land, and he alone made the tragically-misguided choices he did following the deaths of his adopters.
It’s all too easy to blame the parents when adoptees fall short of expectations for them, and defense attorneys are paid big money to create such arguments. In the big picture, though, doing so merely enables the blamer, since fault lies in the eye of the beholder, and it does nothing to effect real change.
Please stop blaming the birthmom, stop accusing the adopters, and start empowering all adoptee to learn from mistakes and to use the best lessons all their parents can offer in order to to better their future.
It’s not easy to know how to support a grieving birthparent. It’s essential to know, however, that every parent who places a child for adoption is going to go through some sort of grieving process, some time or another. And whenever they do, they’re going to need your ongoing support, so please don’t let them down.
The grief experience is different for everyone, of course. We grieve all sorts of losses in this lifetime, and we all grieve differently. Do not make the mistake, however, of thinking that just because you can’t see a birthparent’s grief that it’s not there. Adoption grief is not well understood, but it’s a Very Really Thing, and we all need to do a better job of addressing it.
“But why would there be grief at all, if adoption is a good thing?” some readers may be asking. “What if she didn’t want the baby in the first place?”
That’s a fair question, assuming it comes from someone who doesn’t realize how deeply most birthparents love the child/ren they place for adoption. Birthfathers and birthmothers may grieve differently, of course. And yes, there are birthmoms who became pregnant as a result of sexual assaults, or who never intended to parent a child, or who used drugs all through pregnancy in hopes of miscarrying, or who only chose adoption because they were too far along to abort; do they still go through grief when they choose not to parent, and do they deserve support, too? Here’s the short answer: yes, and yes.
Anytime a girl or woman spends 9 months with a future child floating around inside of her, whether or not either of them “signed up” for that ride, there’s going to be a relationship– an interdependency, or a bond– growing between them. Some mothers feel that bond very intensely, right away; others experience it differently, over time. Some deny it for fear that acknowledging it will make parting more painful; others embrace it yet find doing so earns them cautions from others who fear it may change their minds about placing.
Watch for the strong & silent types.
Many birthparents (male and female) feel they have to hide their grief from the adoptive family or even their own friends and relatives, since their loss was self-imposed, in that it results from a choice they made voluntarily. Sadly, these are the kinds of birthparents erroneously most people think are healthiest, since they don’t show outward signs of depression after placing. They go out of their way to look like they’re bouncing back from their experience; they seem fiercely upbeat and at peace with their decision, and they rarely (if ever) even talk about the baby or their emotions. (That might be the first sign that something is seriously amiss.)
Missy remembers feeling like the only safe place she had to cry was in the shower, after placing her firstborn child for adoption. “I didn’t want anyone to feel sorry for me. I knew the baby was in good hands, so I thought I had no right to miss him. But I did, terribly. And it seemed like nobody in the world would understand why.”
Darin says he struggled with guilt after placement. He and his wife were not in a position to parent the child he’d fathered as a result of an affair, and since he didn’t have any alternatives to offer the birthmom when she opted for adoption, he felt he had no right to the regrets he felt afterwards.
For Chanelle, showing her true emotions after placement would invite an onslaught of “we told you so”s from family members who opposed her adoption plans. “I bottled it all up inside,” she said. “I fell back into drugs, to not feel the pain. I told everyone I was fine. I really wasn’t, though.”
Empower them to talk about it… or not.
Another birthmom, Sandra, dealt with her grief differently. “I went to counseling. I kept my baby’s pictures up around my apartment. I told strangers on the bus about my adoption, because I wasn’t going to hide it. I thought I was all okay with it, because I did talk about it any time I felt like it. Yet it wasn’t until years later, when I got married and had a baby I did keep that I realized how much I lost when I put my first child up for adoption. That’s when it hit me, and by then, nobody understood why I wasn’t over it already.”
It’s important to assure parents who have placed that they don’t have to suffer in silence, whether their placement was one month back– or a decade or more ago. This doesn’t mean they will necessarily be ready to talk about it, but it means that “being present” for them in their grief and assuring them someone is there to listen if they need to talk about it can go a long ways in supporting them.
It often feels uncomfortable for adoptive parents, adoption professionals and family members when birthparents experience adoption grief in a very public manner, because we all care deeply for the grieving parent/s and feel incapable of “making it all better” for them. (And truth be told, nobody can do that for them, nor should we, because going through that grief is the only route to recovery.)
What else you can do (and not do.)
If you are serving as a sounding board for someone who is grieving, rest assured that you don’t have to have “all the right answers.” If you don’t know what to say, it’s okay; don’t just offer empty platitudes about time healing all wounds or recount your own troubles. Your most important task is to listen, to repeat what you’ve heard so they know they’ve been heard, and then to ask gentle questions that help them to keep talking, if they’re able to do so, about what they’re feeling and how it impacts them and how they think they’ll know when it’s starting to get better.
What else can you do to help support a birthparent’s grief? Give newly-delivered birthmoms plenty of quality time with the baby in the days and weeks after placement; this is hugely important for both the birthparents as well as the baby. Don’t wait to hear from birthparents after relinquishment has occurred; reach out to check in as frequently after placement as you did prior to it (isolation is incredibly painful for those who are grieving.) Keep in mind that “family holidays” can be painful for those with missing family members, and reach out to them to say “just thinking of you today, what are you doing?” Ask open ended questions (those that cannot be just answered with “yes” or “no”) for maximum relief. Offer to Skype or Facetime if seeing for themselves how the baby/child is doing lends them peace. Find gentle, caring ways to honor their place child’s birthday or placement anniversary, just to say “we remember.” Lift them in your prayers during too-long silences. Make the extra effort to visit regularly– don’t just rely on texts or social media messages or emails. Help connect them with other birthparents and with resources especially for birthparents who have placed.
And then: use what you learn about supporting birthparents in their grief to recognize and address signs of adoptee grief, as well, because adopted persons also tend to have unresolved feelings about their own ambiguous loss, much as birthparents do. If you find other’s adoption grief is triggering some long-hidden losses of your own, find a counselor you can talk to, because you might just find that setting that long-carried burden down may be incredibly freeing for you, too.
Finally, know that adoption grief can be cyclical, meaning it may resurface in different forms and for different reasons in the months and years following placement. Be diligent in your efforts to learn how to support a grieving birthparent in every season, and strive to do so with the same love and consistency we want extended to us, in our own moments of need.