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When Adoptee & Birthmother Needs Collide

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. when-adoptee-birthmother-needs-collideHealthy 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.

Stop Blaming the Birthmom!

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. stop-blaming-the-birthmomStill, 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.

How to Support a Grieving Birthparent

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.
how-to-support-a-grieving-birthparent

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.

Questions Adopted Kids Ask

One of the things we seem to be doing more and more lately at Abrazo is dealing with the questions adopted kids ask, and those questions come from kids whose ages range from preschool to college.

This came up at Camp Abrazo this summer, as some teen adoptees approached Abrazo’s staff to ask questions about their missing birthparents.

These teens are high achievers, whose adoptive parents are diligent about meeting their children’s every need. These families come to Camp every year, so adoption has never (ever) been a secret in their lives. Their adolescent kids are bright, precocious and well-adjusted teens who have always known their adoption stories, even if their birthparents have not been able or willing to remain active in the adoptive families lives.

And yet, these adoptees still long for assurance, and somehow, that surprised us? Their parents have told them what they know of where the birthparents were or are, questions-adopted-kids-askand they have lovingly tried to help their children understand why the birthparents aren’t in the picture, despite the adoptive parents’ best efforts to welcome them in.

“How do we know they know the truth?” these teen adoptees were asking. “What if they’re not telling us everything they know? What if our birthparents aren’t okay? How do they know if we’re okay? What if our parents aren’t doing everything they could be to help reconnect us?”

These were, quite honestly, deeply-felt and much-unexpected questions… and all of them valid, as are all the questions adopted kids ask.

That weekend, a younger boy also pulled Abrazo’s director aside, to inquire as to his long-lost birthmother. His parents long to hear from her, as he knows, but she cut off contact after placing, and they’ve done their best to keep her memory alive for him. He approached Elizabeth at the last meal at Camp, asking if she could help him find his birthmom and make sure she is all right? Elizabeth struggled to assure him that his birthmother has never forgot him, even if she doesn’t feel ready to be in touch, and she promised to see what she could do to locate her– with his parents’ approval.

But as Elizabeth always reminds adopting parents, the irony of open adoption is that it’s always easier to explain to adoptees where birthparents are than where they aren’t. For every adoptive parent’s anxiety about how to answer their child’s questions about their birthparents, it’s much simpler to help adoptees understand why the birthparents are part of your lives, rather than why they’re not.

What’s daunting to remember is that most adoptees hold these questions in their hearts long before they find the courage to voice them to anybody– and the adoptive parents are often the last to know, often through no fault of their own.

Most adoptees are hesitant to tell their adoptive parents how often they think of or wonder about their birthfamilies, no matter how open the adoptive parents may think they are about talking about adoption.

Why is this? Maybe it’s a misguided sense of family loyalty on the adoptee’s part, because they worry that it would hurt or betray their parents to know what’s on their mind. Or maybe the adoptive parents’ own unresolved fertility issues have left them with a tell, those unspoken signals of discomfort they display when the topic of birthparents comes up. questions-adopted-kids-askOr maybe the adoptee fears rejection or disapproval, or they feel more secure directing their questions to a more neutral third party like the agency.

It’s completely normal for adoptees to have questions about their adoptions, of course. Most adopted kids want to know, in the birthparents’ words: (1) who they look like, (2) why they were placed, (3) who their other birthfamily members are, and (4) whether the birthparents are “all right.” It doesn’t matter if the same information has been given to them by their adoptive parents all their lives– they need to see their birthparents and hear it from them, themselves.

As Abrazo’s adoptees get older, more and more of them are contacting the agency on their own, with and without their parents’ knowledge. They are welcome to do so, and we’re always happy to hear from “our kids” (even if we’re not always happy to hear what they may have to report.)

When they’re underage, Abrazo’s staff must remind them that it’s important for them to be addressing their adoption questions to their parents, as well. We generally ask underage adoptees first if their parents know they’re contacting the agency? If they tell us yes, we tell them we’d like to involve their parents in the conversation, and if they tell us no, we ask them if they’d like to be the ones to tell their parents that they’re contacting us or if they would prefer for us to be the ones to let their parents know. (And then we suggest a time period in which that disclosure should occur, so that the parents don’t feel felt out.)

When adoptees of age contact the agency, however, Abrazo’s staff is legally-bound to respect their privacy just as we do any other adult client. Many contact us to ask for information about or assistance in reconnecting with their birthparents. Some call to express their appreciation for the life they have had since being adopted. Others reach out to notify the agency of personal sorrows; of promises broken, or heartache endured, or family grievances yet unresolved.

Although Abrazo practices full-disclosure open adoption, our agency’s ability to release full information still requires a signed consent for release of information, under the law. Without that, Texas agencies are able to release only the amended birth certificate and deidentified birthparent profile which the adoptive family was originally given by the agency at the time of the adoption. However, if Abrazo knows how to reach the birthparents, we will gladly do so upon written request; all parties are reminded of the importance of pre-reunion counseling and urged to include the adoptive parents in that reunion whenever possible.

Abrazo’s parents who support their adopted child/ren’s access to and/or interest in their birthparents typically are at peace with their curiosity, and want to be as involved in those relationships as the birthparents and adoptee/s want them to be. On the other hand, adoptive parents who fear these connections or who seek to put them off as long as possible often find that theirs are the kids who suffer in silence for far too long and ultimately seek out these answers (and reunions) on their own, leaving their adoptive parents to wonder why they weren’t invited and compounding their own worst fears.

If you really want to know the questions adopted kids have, why not go to the source, and ask them? They may or may not tell you, but opening a safe space for dialogue is always a healthy first step.

Sistermoms

sistermoms

Consider this a heartfelt love letter to all of Abrazo’s sistermoms.

Sistermoms are women who are forever linked because their children share mothers.

Sistermoms can be women who have adopted biologically-related children, or birthmothers whose placed children share the same adoptive parents.

Most of the mothers with whom Abrazo works are between twenty and fifty.

All of the adoptive mothers came to our agency because of infertility.

Most of the birthmothers struggle with hyperfertility, which can often be as big a curse as infertility.

Yet sistermoms are a voluntary blessing that is only ever made possible through open adoption.

Having a sistermom means having someone closer than a friend, a relative-by-adoption who has a special understanding of what you’ve been through and who shares your affinity for your child’s other family.

For Nikki (names have been changed), having Vanessa as a sistermom was a lifesaver during and after her placement decision. “The couple I chose had an open adoption with their child’s first mom. So being able to talk with her about adoption and about how they parent was huge. It helped me know what to expect. And it gave me someone I could turn to who really knew what I was feeling.”

Nikki and Vanessa both have their own relationships with their son’s adoptive parents, of course. But the two birthmothers also have a friendship all their own. “We meet up now and then, just to hang out, and we’ve even made a funny video for our kids, so they could see us together. I’m like an auntie to Vanessa’s son, and she’s like an extra tia to mine.”

Vanessa remembers a time when she had mixed feelings about her child’s parents adopting again. “I was afraid that the new baby would get all their attention. And I think I kinda worried that they might like the new birthmom more than me. Now I know that was just silly, because Nikki and I are both our own people. We both have our own place in their hearts, just like our sons do. It’s a family thing.”

In a perfect world, birthmothers would never face more than one untimely pregnancy, and adoptive parents would always have the time and resources to accept a sibling placement, no matter how quickly it followed the prior one. This is not that world, however.

Barry & Kara hadn’t even finalized their daughter’s adoption when the birthmother Ashlee found herself expecting again. She was no more ready to parent than she’d been before, and much as Barry & Kara would have hoped to adopt again, they know it was far too soon for them and their child. After extensive options counseling, Ashlee made the choice to place the coming baby with another Abrazo family and Barry & Kara and the new adoptive family built a relationship so that the siblings would grow up with a lifelong connection, and with all their parents, too– including Ashlee. They make it a point to all attend Camp Abrazo together, and it’s family time they’ve all come to treasure, even Ashlee’s parents.

“In our day, adoption wasn’t like this,” says Ashlee’s mother. “I was so worried it couldn’t possibly work out this well, when it all started. I was afraid the kids would be confused, or that Ashlee would get her heart broken by seeing them, or the parents wouldn’t live up to their promises. But it’s been so good for everyone, even my husband. We still get to be grandparents, Ashlee’s been able to stay involved, and those two families just couldn’t be more dear to us.”

For Steven & Sophia, the second family with whom Ashlee placed, having Barry & Kara as adoption relatives has been a special blessing. “As first-time parents, I love being able to check in with Kara when things come up. Did your son do this? Is this normal? Knowing there’s a biological connection between our boys is like having a magic mirror or something.”

And it can help with open adoption communication, as well. “There are some things that are easier for me to talk about with Kara, and there are other times I know Sophia is the one to call,” says Ashlee. “I love that they’re friends, and I know they both look out for me. It’s like they’re both my angels.”

In other cases, sistermoms sometimes serve a consolation prize for sharing children whose parents are unable or unwilling to keep in touch.

The birthcouple who placed Joseph, Carlos and Jaime in three different years with three different families specifically asked that the boys not go to the same homes, for reasons of their own. They likewise declined to participate in open adoptions for their own reasons, despite our best efforts to educate them to the benefits.

Yet, the agency has been successful in establishing open adoption relationships between the three sets of adoptive parents, and the adoptive moms are particularly close, maintaining their own connections with each other through social media, calls, emails and visits.

For Tammi & Joellen, being sistermoms sustained them both and gave their placed children an extra layer of support after the adoptive mother unexpectedly succumbed to cancer. The adoptive dad doesn’t always remember to send updates as regularly as his wife did, so the two birthmothers share information with each other and take turns checking in with the adoptive family, to express their love in a way that does not overwhelm them in the wake of their great loss.

Sistermoms can also play an important role in the lives of adoptees. When adoptees are struggling with their questions or feelings about their own birthmoms or adoptive mothers, having another trusted family friend who is also a birthmother or adoptive mother can mean having another valuable resource to turn to for advice. And if for any reason one mother is having a communication breakdown with the birthmother or adoptive mother, often times it’s the other sistermom who is best able step in to help, thus ensuring that all (contact) is not lost.

In two of Abrazo adoptions, the adoptive sistermoms whose children’s birthmother arbitrarily disappeared reached out to a biological relative of their children who adopted another birthsibling, and those three sistermoms eventually extended their sisterhood to embrace a fourth adoptive mother who had adopted another of the adoptee’s birthsiblings through Child Protective Services. Whether the adopted children’s birthmother ever opts back into their lives via open adoption or not (and we hope she will, since that door is always open.) these four adoptees will always have access to each other, thanks to the loving commitment of all their adoptive moms, who share a lifelong bond as sistermoms.

Indeed: sistermoms have an unique opportunity to enrich the open adoption experience for both the adults and the children, which has to be akin to having some kind of super power, when you think about it.

So to all the sistermoms in the Abrazo community: THANK YOU. Thank you for your love for our children and for each other. Thank you for all your extra efforts to maintain these connections.

Thank you for making open adoption even more beautiful, with everything you do. Bless our sistermoms!

Starting an Adoption

Abrazo has a new group of prospective adoptive parents in San Antonio this weekend, learning the ins and outs of starting an adoption.

Some have adopted before, some have not. Either way, though, everyone who has ever been through this process surely can recall the highs and lows of adoption.

First, there’s the decision-making process. Whether your adoption journey began with a costly foray through the world of unsuccessful infertility treatments or not, every adoption begins with no small amount of discussion between spouses or between single parents-to-be and their supporters.

What do we want? What are we open to? (And yes, those are two very different questions.) What is the budget? What risks can we tolerate, and what are our dealbreakers?

(You may notice a theme, here… at this point, it’s all about “we” and “us.” Give it time, because the circle will expand. But for most adults who are starting an adoption, whether they’re considering placing or adopting, their motivation is typically pretty adult-centric, which eventually has to change course, if the results are to truly be child-centered.)

Who’s qualified to adopt?

The average adopting parent is usually in their thirties or forties when they begin the process. They’ve been married more than a year, and their average income is usually solidly middle class. Most have been to college or graduated from a college or grad school, and a disproportionate number of prospective adopters tend to be Anglo-Saxon in origin. (That’s not racist, it’s just fact. Don’t shoot the messenger, folks; the same statistics are true of the average fertility patient, as well. It is what it is.)

One of the “lows” of any adoption journey is typically all the paperwork involved. Preapplications, applications, physicals, reference letters, background checks, floor plans, tax returns, federal fingerprinting, infertility records… starting-an-adoptionthe adopting parents who come through Abrazo have to essentially disclose their entire life history to the agency just in order to get their foot in the door.

Why is all of this required, if people who are having biological children aren’t required to jump through similar hoops? It’s because of child welfare standards, which is a good thing. (Trust us on this.)

There are many seemingly good people who would like to be able to adopt, but shouldn’t necessarily be entrusted with the care of someone else’s child. We’ve seen it all over the years, and no matter how fervently someone may “want a child,” that doesn’t always qualify them to parent effectively, and state licensing standards hold agencies like Abrazo to a much higher level of discernment than even the average birthparent in any private adoption.

Most American adoption agencies approve prospective adopters sight unseen. (Read that again: it’s shocking, isn’t it?) At Abrazo, we’ve been implementing an extra layer of protection, even since we opened in 1994. We require our adopting families to come meet our staff in advance of placement; we call this our Parents of Tomorrow orientation weekend, and it’s our way of being sure that we would feel comfortable placing our own child with anyone our agency will be entrusting a child with in the weeks and months to come. It also offers our adopting parents the assurance that they know who Abrazo is, and they’re not just turning over their hearts (and their life savings) to strangers far away, in an era in which adoption scandals abound on social media and in the headlines.

What should adopters know in advance?

When you’re starting an adoption, expect to be bombarded with adoption information, for good and for bad. It’s hard to know what to expect, whom to trust, how to feel? You’ve heard the “adoption rollercoaster” analogy a thousand times, enough to make you queasy day and night, and yet, you want to think positive. You hope for a “smooth adoption,” even as you know that anything as important as an adoption decision is bound to be filled with ups and downs. So what’s a savvy would-be adoptive parent to do?

For starters, ready your lives in every way you can. Start living like people who are expectant parents. Take responsibility for making the preparations are expectant parent does: get your nursery ready. Take an infant CPR and baby care class. Read everything you can written by adoptees. Join an adoptive parent support group. Find a pediatrician and a family-friendly church with whom you’ll feel comfortable. Start doing a weekly “date night” with your spouse long before a babysitter is needed. Get some counseling to clear out the cobwebs of infertility loss and grief. Get your homestudy done.

None of this can guarantee a swift or trouble-free adoption experience, of course. But all of this will benefit you, your future child and his or her birthparents in the future.

There are many unknowns in life, and the adoption process is no different, of course. Adoption is an enormous undertaking legally, emotionally and financially, and anyone who tells you it will be easy or cheap or quick is either seriously misguided or downright dangerous, even if that’s what you want to hear.

If you’re starting an adoption, know that this will be the biggest decision you ever make, with the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. Infant adoptions in America have become more complex than ever, with costs rising and placement numbers falling with the birth rate every year.

There are now viral anti-adoption campaigns that target women considering placing and urge them not to do so. There are disgruntled adoptees who advocate for abortion, and there are grief-stricken former birthmoms who offer prospective birthmothers money to parent. The days of adopting parents being lauded publicly as selfless martyrs have given way to adoptoraptor accusations, and the popularity of the internet as a conduit for “do-it-yourself” adoptions has made quality adoptions more rare (and unappreciated) than ever before.

This may paint a discouraging landscape for the eager prospective adoptive parent who wants to focus only on the “happy” aspects of adopting, we know. But take heart: this process is going to teach you more than you ever knew about who you really are and what matters most to you. There comes a point when you realize this is no longer all about you and what you want and need; rather, it’s about being there for whatever child truly needs you most. That’s what fuels your commitment to devoting yourself to being there for him or her, and for the birthparents who make the brave choice to share their child with you, for a lifetime.

And from the point of starting an adoption to the end of your parenting journey, what will make it all worthwhile may be the certainty that you pursued this with a pure heart, out of a selfless regard for the adoptee’s best interests, and that you did it the right way, for all the right reasons.

Suffering in Silence

Suffering in silence is one of the most toxic symptoms of adoption trauma. (And one of the most common.)

To the uninitiated, “adoption trauma” seems like an oxymoron; after all, if adoption is a good thing, how could that possibly be traumatic?

It’s a fair question, of course. Yet all adoption is borne of loss. So what does this mean?

It means that every adoption happens only because somebody has lost something or someone that was integral to their happiness. suffering-in-silenceAdoptees gain a surrogate family when an adoption is done, but traditionally, adoption means forever losing your place in your biological family, losing your birth identity, and sometimes losing your cultural identity, as well. Adopting couples have infertility, meaning they lost the opportunity to produce a child genetically related to them, and they lost control over their own bodies in that process. Birthparents have lost control over their bodies, too, when unwanted pregnancies have occurred, and in the process of placing a child for adoption, they voluntarily lose the opportunity to raise that child– “voluntarily lose being a true oxymoron, right there.

And every loss in life impacts us to some extent. Negotiable losses result in alteration; more significant losses result in trauma. Every loss requires some process of adjustment and adaptation in order to move forward in a healthy way. Adoption trauma can cause cause lifelong issues, if not addressed, which is why it is so important that those suffering adoption trauma be heard and validated, so they need not suffer in silence.

What suffering in silence looks like

Seventeen years ago, she chose adoption for her baby boy. She was in a fog of her own making at the time; a single mom already, she and her boyfriend were unsure of where their relationship was going, and she wanted her newborn son to have the sort of security and stability her life did not offer.

She placed with a couple who had adopted previously, so her baby would have a sister in his adoptive home (just as he would’ve had, had he grown up in her home.) The couple was willing to have her and her boyfriend visit, but in the backwash of grief she underwent at relinquishment, she felt unable to handle that. Her boyfriend did have several visits with the baby, but in time, it was too awkward to go without her, so the visits ended and contact dwindled to nothing more than a letter and photos the adoptive family sent them once in a while.

Years went by. The adoptive family got used to the birthparents not being in touch. They could not have known how many times a day the birthparents stopped to think of their son, however. They didn’t know how the sight of every toddler in a stroller caught their hearts in their throats. They didn’t have any idea how the birthmother kicked herself for not having availed herself of the opportunity to visit when she could. Would they have responded differently, had they known? We’d like to think so, but some folks do, and some folks don’t.

Every holiday, the birthparents hope for a call or a card that too often never comes. Their own families don’t understand why the birthparents keep thinking of the child they’d lost, not understanding that as loving parents, they can’t not think of him. Their adoption loss has impacted their health, their relationship, their other children, and even more. They can talk about their feelings with the agency staff and they can attend the agency’s birthparent events, but short of that, there are few outlets for their grief in a society that abhors abortion but seems to prefer that birthparents be unseen and unheard.

Adoptees can suffer even more debilitating forms of adoption trauma, especially when they have been the victims of closed adoption practices that deprive them of needed answers and access to their birthfamilies. (There’s no way of knowing yet how the son of the above-mentioned birthparents may have been impacted by the absence of them in his life, nor whether the parents who adopted him have likewise suffered in their own season of silence.) Adoptive parents also can find their adoption experience leaves them feeling unsupported, or inadequate, or overwhelmed by their child/ren’s needs or by the expectations of their child/ren’s birthfamily, after all.

Remember this: anyone who suffers in silence while/after placing, adopting or being adopted deserves support and relief, rather than judgement and isolation.

What can help those that suffer?

Those who suffer in silence and/or who struggle with adoption trauma need to know their losses are recognized. Denial can be debilitating, even when it’s well-intended, so find ways to “be present” for those who are grieving an adoption loss, no matter how long it’s been or how “positive” their adoption experience seems to have been for them.

This can sometimes be difficult for well-meaning friends or family members who may think the adoption survivor should “just focus on the positives,” or who feel somehow responsible and therefore indicted by their emotions, or who consider their losses self-inflicted. suffering-in-silenceLearning about the meaning and impact of adoption trauma is an essential part of understanding what it is and how to help those who suffer from it, so they need not be suffering in silence.

Simple activities like “active listening” (hear out those who typically suffer in silence, and then repeating back what they said by saying “so you’re saying you feel ____”) goes a long way towards helping them feel heard. Inviting them to talk about their lost family member(s) or just referring to them by name can be a comfort far more often than it’s not. Sending a loving note on adoption-related anniversaries (“I know this may be a hard day for you and I just want you to know I remember”) or forwarding resources like articles on adoption loss or counseling events can help them know you care.

If you yourself are a survivor of adoption trauma, please know you do not have to suffer to silence (nor is it healthy to do so.) Therapy is available, and can be a lifesaving resource for those who previously felt all alone in that ocean: click here to find a therapist who specializes in adoption trauma.

And even if you don’t consider yourself “traumatized” yet you are suffering in silence, then keep in mind that you are not alone! There are more resources online for birthparents, adoptees and adoptive parents than ever before. Abrazo maintains private Facebook groups for adoptees, birthmothers and adoptive parents, in which our clients can find affirmation and support; similar groups abound for those whose adoptions occurred elsewhere, too. If you need help finding one, feel free to contact us.

Suffering in silence heals no one, but finding affirmation and peace has the power to change the world– for every adoptee, birthparent and/or adoptive parent who feels heard and acknowledged at long last.

Do It Now

Decades ago, Abrazo’s founder was a bored high school student listening to a motivational speaker drone on, and every twenty seconds, he would pause dramatically to utter a three word warning:

DO IT NOW!

That speaker’s name was W. Clement Stone, and he wrote the book Success through a Positive Mental Attitude with Napoleon Hill. Stone had made millions selling insurance, and one of the recipients of his generosity was the Interlochen Arts Academy, where Abrazo’s founder was a scholarship student.

do-it-nowElizabeth and her classmates were required to attend Mr. Stone’s long, repetitive speeches, and they often got the giggles as the tiny man with the seemingly-painted-on pencil mustache repeated his catch phrases with oblivious delight. “Do! It! Now!” he would thunder, then he would fall silent, as if struck by lightning.

“Fiiiiive… longgggg… seccccconds… havvvve… passsssed…” He would intone dramatically. “Think! Think! Make a change. Do it now!”

The boarding school students had all been given a complimentary copy of Stone’s book and were expected to read it, but Elizabeth and her classmates were largely unaware of Stone’s material success. do-it-now The philanthropist W. Clement Stone, who started out shilling newspapers to diners in restaurants, eventually donated over $275 million to charity before his death in 2002 at the age of one hundred.

Working in adoption, neither Elizabeth nor any of Abrazo’s employees will ever amass the sort of wealth that W. Clement Stone had, of course. And yet, it was the late millionaire’s message that came to mind this weekend. That was when the agency received word of a tragedy in Houston that happened to befall one of Abrazo’s birthfathers, a man who surely could have benefited from Stone’s positivity, if only he’d been able to learn from him.

This weekend, that birthfather was shot in the face following an altercation at an apartment complex in the early morning hours. He tried to drive himself to a hospital for help, but he ended crashing his car. He died shortly thereafter, leaving his son’s birthmom to relay the sad news to the adoptive mom, who then had to face the hard task of breaking it to her son.

This birthdad was just forty years old. He hadn’t been a part of the open adoption, by his own choice. Now, the son who was adopted will know him only through his connections with the people who knew his birthdad in this lifetime.

It could have been so different… if only it had been.

“If you are really thankful, what do you do? You share.”

W. Clement Stone never had any adoption connections of which we know, but as it turns out, he did have some wisdom to share even with those in adoption relationships, as evidenced by the quote above.

Abrazo’s adoptions are open, of course. Yet that doesn’t always mean that all the people involved in every adoption we do choose to stay in touch– much as we wish they would.

Some birthparents think it will hurt less the more they stay away; they tend to find out too late that the longer they deny their feelings, the harder those are to deal with later on in life.

do-it-nowMany adoptive parents work hard at honoring their children’s connections with their birthparents, as the adoptive mom in this case has done, but some try valiantly for years to engage them without ever getting much response, for reasons unknown, which becomes understandably exhausting in time.

And some adoptive families misread the birthparents’ lack of communication as disinterest, and give up trying, thinking the adoptee can seek the birthfamily out “down the road” if they so choose, but this makes the adoptee responsible for doing what the parents have failed to do on their behalf, which was simply to keep in touch so the adoptee would never have to search for what was always his/hers to begin with.

Open adoption isn’t a magic bullet, and it cannot cure all the losses that come with infertility, crisis pregnancy, or pregnancy loss or family divisions. But love goes a long way towards answering the questions that come with each of those things, and empowering children to know and love all “their people” (those by birth and those by relationship) helps kids who have been adopted to grow up whole (and hopefully, more happy, as a result.)

“Success is achieved and maintained by those who try and keep trying.”

The final efforts of the birthfather in Houston to get help may not have resulted in the saving of his life, but he did succeed in getting help, as EMS responded to his car crash, and as a result, he did ultimately make it to a hospital, so he did not die alone.

His family, as well as his son who was adopted and his son’s mom and birthmom will be together to pay tribute, when he is laid to rest.

do-it-nowHe did not afford himself the pleasure of knowing this son in this lifetime, yet his boy is a smart, talented young man with mad skills in baseball, who is sure to achieve great things in life. He regularly makes his mother and his birthmom and his teachers proud, and we hope he knows that his every success will be a credit also to his late birthfather.

So if there’s one takeaway in all of this, perhaps, it comes from the wisdom of W. Clement Stone, who reminds us that there’s no time like the present to reach out to those we love and tell them what they mean to us.

If you’re a birthparent who has lost touch with the family of the child you placed, or if you’re an adoptive parent who longs for some connection with your child’s birthparent(s), or if you’re a grown adoptee who is trying to find the courage to pursue a search and reunion, don’t assume that there’s plenty of time to make it happen… do it now.

Because life is short, and time is precious, and adoption connections matter. Please, don’t wait! Don’t put it off. Your peace of mind is more valuable than you know.

Make a change. (Do. It. Now.)

Going Through Relinquishment

She hadn’t been sure what to expect, but she knew going through relinquishment wouldn’t be easy.

“Amaya” had listened to other birthparents in Abrazo’s birthparent support group talk about what it was like. Most said it was the hardest decision they ever had to make. A few said they really didn’t remember much of it, except that it was a lot of paperwork. One mom said she’d cried so hard, she’d burst all the blood vessels in her eyes and the white parts of her eyes were red for days. Amaya hoped that wouldn’t happen to her, because having hidden her pregnancy from family and friends, she didn’t want to have to explain anything afterwards, either.

She’d gone out with one of her boyfriend’s coworkers to get back at him for sleeping around, and what was just supposed to have been a few drinks ended up as an unanticipated overnight. By the time she missed her period, she and her boyfriend were back together, and they’d forgiven each other’s transgressions, so that positive pregnancy test she took at home had been anything but good news. Neither guy was in a position to parent, and a baby didn’t fit into Amaya’s plans for the future, either, so being opposed to another abortion, adoption seemed to be her better option.

As her pregnancy progressed, she began to realize that what seemed like it would be “just signing a bunch of papers” at the end was going to be a Really Big Deal. She’d been given a copy of the paperwork for reference the first day she came here. She knew that signing the relinquishment papers in Texas meant forever terminating her legal right to be her child’s mother, and enabling someone else to become her child’s parents. Open adoption could still afford her the privilege of staying in touch with her child’s new family, but it wouldn’t be “just the same” and she knew that. She chosen a prospective adoptive family and got to know them; they were the parents she wished she’d had, growing up.

But in the hospital, after the birth, a tidal wave of emotions hit her when it came to complete the relinquishment documents. “I knew it was right,” says Amaya. “I just didn’t know how to deal with anything that was that permanent. Every other thing I’ve done in my life, I knew I could probably undo if I had to, but this wasn’t like that. And that freaked me out, knowing I would have to live with it for the rest of my life. I know I did the right thing. But knowing how final it was, that was huge.”

What happens at relinquishment?

In Texas, a parent cannot surrender parental rights to their child until at least 48 hours after birth (Abrazo typically waits 72 hours after a birth by C-section.) The parent must be free of any mind-altering medication, and they can opt to delay signing more than 48 hours, too, of course, if there is any doubt in their mind(s) that they feel ready to make a final decision.

Relinquishment papers can be signed in a hospital room, or at Abrazo, at home or in a public place, wherever the parent(s) may feel most comfortable. At the time that the relinquishment documents are signed, there must be two reliable witnesses present and a notary public. (Texas law specifically permits adoption professionals to serve as notaries and/or witnesses, as long as the signor agrees to their presence as such.)

Whenever Abrazo handles relinquishments, the parent signing the documents does not do so in the presence of the people hoping to adopt, to ensure that the signer feels no pressure nor coercion. going-through-relinquishmentThe signer is asked to read the documents carefully, or to have them read aloud, to ensure that they understand the meaning of the paperwork and to give them a chance to ask any questions they may have before signing. They are placed under oath by the notary public, and a copy of the relinquishment that is signed is provided to the parent(s). Abrazo birthparents do not have to appear before a judge in Texas, because the agency’s attorney takes the legal documents to court on the agency’s behalf. And those legal documents are later sealed by the courts, to ensure that the parent(s) signing them have their privacy protected from the general public and all aothers– even in an open adoption.

The legal impact of the relinquishment process is to free the biological parents of any and all future legal responsibility for the child being placed, who is free to be adopted by another family as a result of the irrevocable surrenders the birthparent(s) signed. In Texas, when a birthparent signs an irrevocable relinquishment of parental rights to a licensed Texas child placement agency in accordance with the law, that decision is permanent and final, and there is no “grace period” during which the surrender can be revoked or the child reclaimed by the biological parents.

What should parents signing relinquishment expect?

Expect to see the same legal relinquishment document Abrazo provided in the packet you received when you first came to our agency. While you couldn’t sign it before, you were given a copy to ensure that you could review it long in advance, and take it to any lawyer or legal advisor of your choice to make sure you understood its meaning. Signing it in front of two witnesses and a notary public can be very emotional for some parents, while for others, it is simply a long legal document that makes official the decision already made in their heart/s weeks or months beforehand. Afterwards, some birthparents report feeling relief that the choice is no longer hanging over their head, but it’s also not uncommon to be overcome with feelings or sadness or regret. (Remorse that doesn’t mean they’ve made the wrong choice for their child– it just means they are human.)

Parents who voluntarily place a child for adoption in Texas by relinquishing parental rights to a licensed adoption agency should be able to expect confidentiality, respect and post-adoption support from their adoption agency staff. They often experience a variety of emotions after relinquishment, from guilt to sorrow to anger to shame to numbness, so it is important that the adoption professionals involve continue to offer counseling and sustenance as promised, ongoing assurance of the child’s well-being, and healthy access to the adoptive family.

Birthparents typically do not receive legal updates as to when the termination order is being signed by the judge, as such notice is waived in the Texas relinquishment proceedings. At Abrazo, birthparents are encouraged to continue spending as much time with their child and his or her adopting family as they feel comfortable with. Such contacts are healthy not just for the birthparents and adoptive parents, but especially for the baby or child undergoing the transition of placement. Out-of-state adoptive families must typically remain in Texas for 7-10 days after placement while awaiting Interstate Compact (ICPC) approval, so they welcome visits with the birthfamily during this wait.

Going through relinquishment is an act of pure parental sacrifice. It should only be done after much careful forethought, and all who do it should be surrounded with love and understanding, for going through relinquishment means having had the courage and selflessness to forever put their child’s needs before their own.

Learning from Adoptees After Adoption

What if learning from adoptees after adoption were what mattered most to everyone?

Ask online if adoption is good or bad, and you’ll get as many different answers as there are people impacted in any way by adoption.

Ask persons who were once adopted, though, and you’re likely to get far more significant insight. The birthparents’ decision and their reasons for entering into it is important, as is the way the adoption was handled and the adoptive parents’ adjustment to their new parenting responsibilities.

Yet what if it’s the adoptee’s own evaluation of how their life unfolded after adoption that measures the true value of each placement? (And what if that measure has the capacity to grow or change as they do?) How would that impact adoption practices, as a whole?

Adoption can be “good” for birthparents if it enables them to successfully continue to care for the children already in their care, or if it frees them to escape an abusive relationship or complete their education or wait until they are truly ready to become fulltime parents.

The same adoption can be a blessing in the lives of the adoptive parents if it empowered them to become parents after years of infertility, or enabled them to grow their family as desired or made it possible for them to meet the needs of a child who needed them.

after-adoption

Still, what birthparents and adoptive parents consider to have been successful adoptions may not be all that successful in the eyes of an adoptee. That doesn’t invalidate the parents. But it means that adoption may not always be seen as the “best” option by an adoptee who feels a wrenching grief over having been denied the opportunity to grow up in their original family or who suffered a sense of rejection or alienation in the adoptive home or culture, or whose right to access information about their origins has been violated, or who was mistreated in the adoptive home or abandoned to foster care, or who always has felt the pressure of having had to fulfill others’ expectations just because they were adopted, or who is angry at having been forced into a family arrangement they don’t feel truly met their needs best.

After adoption, it is essential that we listen to the voices and learn from the experiences of those who have been adopted, for they and they alone have the power to transform the entire adoption institution, from the inside out. It may be too late to change things for them, but it doesn’t mean things can’t be made better for others.

What Adoptees Can Tell Us

A Today feature on one Texas adoptee recounts how a child adopted twice went on to launch a Facebook group called “I Am Adoption” that has become a huge source of support for more than 7k people whose lives have been touched by adoption.

Pamela Radisek was born in Paraguay and adopted as a baby, but after six years and some abuse, she ended up in CPS care, resulting in her second adoption, which provided her the safe home and loving family she had always deserved.

As Radisek recounted to Today contributing reporter Brian Mastroianni, “This all shaped my life profoundly, and really everything, both negative and positive, played a huge role in my life.”

Nobody’s life is all good or all bad, and every adoption, likewise, is a conglomeration of both positives and negatives.

For adults who place, adopt or work in the adoption field, it’s all too easy to discount the adoptee experience in an effort to exonerate ourselves. It’s hard to hear that what you went to such lengths to help make happen may not, in the eyes of an adoptee, have been optimal for them.

It’s essential, however, that we honor the right of every adoptee to speak their piece, in order to find their peace. And all we need to do, to do that, is to l-i-s-t-e-n. That’s right: just listen. Don’t “yes, but” them. Don’t point out what you think they’re forgetting. Don’t take any criticism personally (unless you should.) Listen to what they have to say. Let them know you have heard what they’re feeling, by repeating it back to them (“so you’re saying that…?“) and then you don’t even have to agree or disagree, because that’s not your place. Just hear them out, make it clear that you’ve heard them, and thank them (honestly) for having had the courage to share their truth.

(And then, do one thing more: learn from it.)

Positive or not, learn something.

Abrazo had contact with two adults recently whose placements were done through our agency years ago. One came in the form of a message from an adoptee, who wrote:

about 20 years ago, you gave me a family, a home and a life with my adoptive parents. I’ve always wanted to reach out to you and thank you for your incredible work. My life would not be the same without you! Because of you, I have the most beautiful relationship with my birth family, and the knowledge that I was cared for and loved before I was even born. So, thank you, thank you, thank you. ??

Another adoptee, however, wrote to update us about the problems the adoptive parents had hidden from the agency, which had eventually caused the adoptive parents’ marriage to fail and ultimately led to the adoptee (now a parent) making the difficult decision to end contact with the adoptive parents. Even so, the adoptee said, the birthmother’s choice to place had been the best decision she could have made, given her circumstances, and the adoptee and birthmom have a positive relationship today, even if neither is in contact with the adoptive couple anymore.

It was heartwarming to receive the first message, and heartbreaking to read the second, and yet, both have value and wisdom from which we can learn. It’s easy to share good news, of course, but not so easy to admit that not every adoptive placement has a “happy” outcome.

There will always be adults with things to hide in the adoption process, and all agencies must do better at somehow confirming what isn’t known, in order to better protect the interests of children.

And there will always be adoptees whose positive adoption experiences can help to affirm best practice, especially when adoptions are open, and involve healthy adults who are well-informed about the importance of making sure their open adoptions stay that way, for the kids’ sake.

After adoption, it is surely the adoptees who have the most to teach us– if only we’ll let them?