Category Archives: Adoptee

Birth Mother Stories: A Longitudinal Walk Through the Decades

Previously, I introduced you to three women who had the experiences of placing a child for adoption in the 1960s, the 1980s, and the 2000s. They told us their adoption stories as birth mothers and shared their thoughts on what needed to change with the way adoptions were done. We continue the conversation here.

Lee, 1960s | Kim, 1980s | Monika, 2000s

birth mother stories

Adoption Activism

Give us some context by telling us a little bit about you and how your adoption experience has influenced your interests and activities.

Lee: In 1976, I founded Concerned United Birthparents (CUB), the first organization in the world to support and advocate for birthparents, a term I coined to dignify the birth connection between parents and the children they lost to closed adoption. Between 1976-1980, I was appointed by the then-head of the then-named “US Department of Health, Education and Welfare” to sit on a panel of 17 adoption experts to draft model adoption laws for the country. Although kicked out of high school in 1962 due to my pregnancy, I also returned to the educational system in 1978 and began to make up for lost time. After earning a doctorate degree, I began an almost 30-year career as a college professor in the social sciences. When I retired I reconstructed more than 10,000 pages of CUB’s history for the women’s activist center of the Schlesinger Library at Harvard University and oversaw the digitization of 4,000 of these pages for CUB’s website. 

(Lori: Wow.)

Kim: I’m a writer, blogger, mother to two wonderful daughters and birth mother to one amazing son for the last 25 years. I blog about parenting, motherhood, family life, adoption and life in general at kimcourt.com.

Monika: I’m the author of Monika’s Musings, a blog dedicated to speaking out about the good and bad in adoption today (but which has been dormant lately as my schedule’s been full with school commitments). For years I’ve volunteered with BirthMom Buds, an organization dedicated to women who have surrendered children to adoption, whether by choice or not.

On Guilt, Shame and Unworthiness

Kim: Lee, I watched your video from The Donahue show and was absolutely mesmerized by your poise and composure in the face of a lot of ignorant comments and questions. I was struck by how much and also how little things have changed with regard to how people think about adoption — and especially how they perceive birth mothers.

You mentioned feeling shame and guilt and wanting to appease the wishes of your parents. I can relate to these feelings in such a powerful way. I’m curious how you reconciled these feelings as an adult? Did they affect your other relationships (as a wife, parenting mother, etc.)?

Lee: As you know from my book, Stow Away, I was in the amnesia phase of PTSD during the early years of raising my two parented sons. Having lost their older brother to adoption wasn’t anything I allowed myself to remember. But maybe because I had lots of babysitting experience with my younger siblings pre-Michael [placed son], I was able to tap into unadulterated caring feelings to raise Scott and Todd. There wasn’t anything negative in my mothering. Just the opposite. If anything, Michael missing within my memory and beyond, in adoption, made me more devoted to my children than I may have otherwise been. On a level deeper than my awareness, I felt privileged and awed to be able to keep my boys. I could have taken my devotion to an extreme; I could have become a smother-mother. But somehow I intuited that I needed to rein in my devotion — to hold back just enough investment to avoid hurting them — or avoid hurting me.

You may have wondered about my relationship with my parents. As you also read in Stow Away, my parents sacrificed my motherhood and Michael’s rightful place in my family to “protect” my younger siblings. The upshot of their abandonment of Michael and me was that I emotionally distanced from my original family. At the same time, I felt a huge responsibility to make something of myself, to prove “they” couldn’t beat me down. Now, as a backdrop, you need to keep in mind that my parents were awesome parents. We had a close and loving family. This contributed to the dissonance I felt with their willingness to sacrifice Michael and me. How could such great parents do that to us? It added more bewilderment to my already staggering bewilderment

As my mother aged, she grew very dependent on me. I resented that. It was, I now realize, a “where were you when I needed you” kind of thing. On some level, I wanted to “pay her back” by delaying my duties as a dutiful daughter. If she needed me “now,” she just had to wait a few minutes longer. My father, whom I had adored, always mystified me post-Michael. I knew he and my mother had lost their first child (my older sister) when she was only a couple of months old, and he had never gotten over it. Why he would be willing to put me through a repeat of his own family history, I will never know.

Interestingly, when I first wrote the journal upon which Stow Away was based, my antagonist was my mother. As a woman and a mother, as my semi-conscious reasoning went, she should have understood and helped. But when I wrote Stow Away, I discovered I was actually more angry with my father’s insensitivity than I was with my mother’s.

Bottom line is, if parents don’t support their daughter’s need to keep her child in the family, assuming that’s what she deep-down wants to do, then be forewarned: there will likely be some kind of fall-out. 

Kim: In the Donahue video you said you felt “unworthy to struggle.” This is exactly how I felt. I became pregnant at 17 and had my son shortly after I turned 18. I was in a loving relationship with my high school boyfriend and was not at all promiscuous. However, the pressure from my family (and really from society in general) was so profound — sex out of wedlock, having a child out of wedlock, etc. — all of it was scandalous. I buried my feelings and placed him in an open adoption. His parents are absolutely phenomenal. It has been open since day one. We are all close — my husband and children, my family of origin, the birth father and his family, and my son and his family. It is truly a wonderful relationship. But my personal struggle has been difficult at times (bouts of depression, anxiety, fluctuating self-esteem, etc.) I would love to know how you coped; how you overcame the feelings of unworthiness.

Lee: Looking back, I chose activities that provided good feedback for my self-esteem. While forming CUB scared the heck out of me and was risky for my self-esteem, as time went on, I received much appreciation from other mothers like me. That told me I was on the right track, and tracing back that sense of being on the right track, only a good intuitive person could have risked taking that track, yes? Actually, there’s science to support the notion of “risk” being a four-letter word that enhances self-esteem. If you risk, you can’t lose. Even if the risk fails, you can pat yourself on the back for the courage to go for it.

Lori: I love this way of thinking about risk.

I went into my pregnancy with healthy self-esteem. But no one else held me in esteem, so I ended up being the only one who thought I had something to offer, which was erosive. I began to question my sense of self as much as I questioned everything else, which was a lot. Much later, I found that my lost-then-found son loved me, which I hadn’t expected (I thought he might want me in his life to get answers but his feelings for me went much deeper). So having Michael’s love gave me back a lot (but not all) of the esteem my pregnancy had cost me.

Meanwhile, as my second book Cast Off shows, I learned and learned and learned through CUB. I also unlearned and discarded old beliefs. It was exhilarating. I wanted more learning and unlearning. I hungered and thirsted for it. What else was out there, I wondered? I gave up my resistance to the education system — which kicked me out due to my pregnancy. Each course taught me something new. I began to earn one degree after another. I began to teach at the college level. My students gave me affirmation, one saying — and others agreeing — she would have taken a course with me if I taught how to make concrete. I kept all their accolades and have them to this day.

Bottom-line: Try to reclaim any good stuff you thought about yourself before others’ reaction to your pregnancy began to strip-mine you. Take risks; the bigger the risk, the stronger the potential boost. Find out what excites you and develop that as fully as you can. Don’t be shy; ask for good, specific feedback (“general” feedback will not do).

What progress has been made in adoption world since your era?

Lee: Thanks to the agitation created by Concerned United Birthparents, alternatives to surrender are more likely to be presented to needy new families. If a parent at risk freely chooses adoption as an option to further explore, a process called “open adoption” can be, and is in 95% of today’s adoptions, invoked.

Kim: There has been good and bad progress since my era. While there are still, unfortunately, stories in the media about bad adoption experiences, the positive stories about open adoption are making their way into the collective consciousness. Books like Lori’s would have made a world of difference for me, had it been written a couple of decades ago.

Lori: Thank you, Kim.

Monika: I haven’t seen much, to be truthful. Bio/first/birth parents (especially mothers) who speak out against coercive adoption practices are labeled negatively and pushed aside. Coercion is still way too rampant. Though, like Lee said, open adoption is more common now, I’ve also seen agencies and adoptive parents both admitting to promising (or encouraging, in the case of the involved agency) an open relationship prior to surrender and then promptly closing off contact completely after the ink has dried. I see it used as a bludgeon and a tool to coerce more often than I see it committed to by all parties involved.

Lori: That’s unconscionable, to do a bait and switch like that. Better pre-adoption education is key to helping prevent that. As you know, I’m a proponent of helping people move from an Either/Or mindset to a Both/And heartset.

What are the top two things you’d change today about how adoptions are handled?

Lee:

  • I would make “open adoption” more than something that is in name only. Like Monika says, too many “open adoptions” are betrayed by prospective adoptive parents who promise the moon to get a child and then slam the door shut once the ink is dry on the adoption degree. Open Adoption Agreements should be supported in law and enforced by the courts. The betrayal of this ultimate trust should be grounds for litigation and penalties.
  • I would require that only supportive members of the birth family be allowed to visit the mother and baby in the hospital or birthing center. A child-centered open adoption should be developmentally-respected. The baby already knows its mother’s scent and sound, and needs the assurance that she remains there for him or her. Meanwhile, the mother needs to fully grasp the reality of her child, who is no longer theoretical but an actual extension of herself and her own family. After some prolonged alone time between mother and baby, if the mother wants to continue to explore the possibility of transferring custody to another unrelated family, members of the other family should begin to acquaint the baby with their own distinctive scent and sound by adding their senses to the mother’s. Custody should be offered and accepted slowly and sensitively.

Monika:

  • I agree with Lee’s second comment completely. Legal surrenders of children should NOT take place in the hospital, period, though I’m less firm on the idea of not allowing hopeful adoptive parents to be in the hospital at any point. There should be no adoption case workers on the premises of a hospital, ever. Forced surrender, in the cases of drug abuse by the mother, is a different circumstance.
  • As an add-on to my statement, I’m actually for the idea of a person unrelated to either the hopeful adoptive parent(s) or the biological parents taking temporary custody of an infant when adoption has been decided upon prior to birth. This would give the hopeful adoptive parents a chance to figure out that an adoption IS about “sharing,” and would give the biological parents a chance to see the reality of adoption while they are still legal parents. I’m not certain how this would be accomplished, but I think it’s a great idea.

Kim:

  • I would love to see some of these reality shows that glamorize adoption and teen pregnancy cancelled! I know that is wishful thinking, but young people are so heavily influenced by what they see on TV or on social media, why on Earth would we not want to give them as much truthful information as possible!
  • I would love to see more stories that show the realities of what it’s like to choose adoption and how positive an open adoption can be.

For those of you later in the timeline: how did the efforts of activists who came before you change the birth mother experience in your time period? For those of you earlier in the timeline, what changes are you most proud of or pleased to see?

Lee: Until I realized open adoption agreements were frequently betrayed, I was proud of the work early CUB members and I did to make that option available. Another facet of CUB’s work was to allow adoption-separated family members the opportunity to discover their counterparts’ identities, if these had been sealed by the state. At this writing only eight states allow adopted persons the same unconditional access to their truthful, original birth certificates as allowed to non-adopted persons in their states. Only one state (OR) allows birthfamilies’ access to adoptees’ identities. Only one state (CO) allows birthparents the right to copies of original birth certificates, and to copies of surrender and adoption documents that they signed or were named in, while named parties of non-adoption events and transactions are automatically given copies of their records.

Kim: I am in awe of the work that Lee began so many years ago. From founding CUB, to creating the term “birthmother”, and working to make sealed records more open, her work has made a positive difference for me and so many families. Sharing her story in the 70s and 80s was extremely brave. I cannot imagine the backlash she faced. But she did it anyway. And she made it easier for people like me to tell my story.

Monika: Since I’m the “earliest” in comparison to the other ladies on this panel, I can’t say I’m pleased to see much change at all. Adoption as a whole is very complex, both in idea and practice, and I realize this complexity means that it will take a while to make change. I hope that with time, an emphasis toward fixing the foster care system will take precedence over encouraging hopeful parents to seek private adoption. But since it’s only been four years since I surrendered, there hasn’t been much that has changed.

Lori: Thanks to each of you for sharing you experiences and views with us. I, for one, have enjoyed taking a longitudinal walk through the decades with you.

~~~~~

Readers: What are the top two changes you’d like to see in Adoption World?

CLOSURE Film: Review & Special Denver Screening Information

Angela Tucker is a transracial adoptee who joined a family in the Pacific Northwest after being born in the South and placed into the foster care system. Closure is a film that documents Angela’s two-year search for her birth family and its efect on her, her adoptive family, her husband, and, of course, members of her birth family.

Denver Showing Offers Q&A with Angela Tucker & Filmmaker Bryan Tucker

A special Denver screening of this film will take place on May 7 and May 8, sponsored by the Colorado Department of Human Services and Adoption Options in celebration of Foster Care Month. These events begin at 7 pm and are held at the Sie Film Center at 2510 E Colfax. Due to limited space, advance tickets are highly recommended.

What makes this screening so special? Angela Tucker and filmmaker Bryan Tucker will appear after the film’s showing to answer audience questions.

And I’ll be joining their panel the evening of May 8. I’d love to see you there.

Angela Tucker film ClosureClosure is a gripping story full of emotional highs and lows, and it gives adoptive parents like me a peek into the hidden wonderings adoptees can have about their origins and the pressures they may feel to act on their curiosity — or not to.

From Either/Or to Both/And

As Angela’s story unfolds, I witnessed how some members of her adoptive family began in an Either/Or mindset — either WE’re her family or THEY are. But out of their love for Angela, these same people were eventually able to cultivate a Both/And heartset. For example, Angela’s adoptive sister asks, “Aren’t our parents enough?” And Angela’s mom says early on, “I did worry about being replaced as a mom because I wasn’t sure I could handle that because they were MY kids.”

But later, Angela’s mom says, “As Angela got older I really felt deeply like I was her mom. In her 20s I realized it wasn’t going to change my status as being her mom if she found her birth mother. And I became as curious as her. Who was her birth mother? What’s her story?”

The power of family member’s love for Angela and their security in her love for them help make the crucial shift that supports Angela in her pursuits. I adore this depiction, and wish all adopting and adoptive parents could see how easily such a shift can be made.

I’ll leave you in suspense about how birth family relationships develop. Who is found? How meandering is the search? Who embraces Angela and who denies her? What happens at first meetings? What happens after that?

I urge you to watch this film (if you’re not able to attend the screening, you may also rent or buy the film, starting at $4.99)

The theater is small and the event is expected to sell out, so get your tickets now.

“For the rest of my life I’ll be connected”

I’ll share two more quotes from Angela’s birth family members that stood out for me.

  • What you do in the dark will come to the light. She thought this secret would never come to light. She needs to get over it…She needs to forgive herself. Once she forgives herself, then the lines of communication will be open.
  • Through a child one day, we all got connected whether we knew it or not. We were connected. For the rest of my life I’ll be connected.

Angela Tucker blogs at The Adopted Life and will return to Colorado this summer to mentor young adoptees at the African Caribbean Heritage Camp.

Adoption Reunion in the Social Media Age: Anthology and Giveaway

See that gap on your bookshelf, those empty kilobytes on your eReader? They are ready to be occupied by this new anthology of adoption reunion stories that just came out, edited by Laura Dennis (whom you’ve met on this blog before).

Available now in eBook (less than $6) and paperback, Adoption Reunion in the Social Media Age: An Anthology is a must-read for anyone involved in adoption, especially adoptive and adopting parents who wish to hear from possible grown versions of their children who have traveled an adoptee’s path.

More than 20 voices are featured, neither in harmony nor unison nor discord. The experiences they share are varied, the viewpoints unique. You’ll hear about adoption reunion from not only adoptees but also from first parents and even adoptive parents (I contributed Chapter 6, “We Didn’t Want Reunion So We Chose Openness Instead”). Other voices include social workers, therapists, activists, a novelist, a DNA testing adviser and a minister.

Speaking of that minister, her name is Deanna Doss Shrodes, and I have the pleasure to interview her about her chapter, “When a Reunion Isn’t a True Reunion.” Deanna writes regularly at Adoptee Restoration, and you can read an excerpt from her chapter by clicking there. But you’ll have to get the book to read her transformative Casket Chat!

Below are Q&A between Deanna and me. And below all that is information on a giveaway of this book. You can also read Deanna’s interview with me.

You were able to reunite with your mother and sister and brother, and you are in the midst of a search for your father, with a very hot lead. To what degree do these points in a series of reconnections have in giving you back your pieces, in healing the wounds you have as a result of having been adopted?

Pastor Deanna Doss ShrodesFor me, these connections are huge. The knowledge, without the “reconnection” or relationship is tremendously helpful in itself.

As far as the search for my father, the lead we currently have is on a man who is deceased. A lot of people have said to me, “Don’t you hope that DNA proves this man to not be you’re the one, so you will still have a chance that your natural father is alive?” No. Of course I would prefer not to find a grave at the end of a search if I had my druthers, but having some answers is better than having nothing.

Right now this man is our only lead. And with this lead, I have found a paternal family that accepts and welcomes me, should DNA prove us related. Even if they did not, just knowing the truth of where I come from is huge. In my personal experience, with every bit of history or truth I receive, another part of me settles down inside. I thought everything about this would be solved when I met my natural mother. It wasn’t. However, a great deal of what was unsettled inside me did settle down.

I’ve never expected to find perfection in reunion. I just want truth. Whether it’s good, bad or ugly…I just want reality instead of the fantasies my mind wandered to for 27 years on the maternal side and now 47 years on the paternal. All that wandering gets tiring. Not bragging at all here, but simply to make a point…I’ve accomplished some important things in my life. But I wonder how much more I could have accomplished had I not been constantly distracted by thoughts of the unknown. Every person whether adopted or not will face questions about the unknown. However, adoptees deal with this issue at the very core of our identity. That is not easy and even if you are a Christian, you have a relationship with God and a strong spiritual walk, those questions will roar. A lot.

I’m so tired of wondering about those things and wish I could have it settled once and for all.

You say “I believe every human being has a right to look into the eyes of the two people they originate from, at least once.” When mediating among competing rights, how does one decide whose right trumps the others’? How should the law (if indeed it is a legal issue — maybe it is more of a moral issue) handle mothers sharing information on the identity of fathers in order to fulfill the rights of the resulting child?

The child is the one who is actually adopted. If it’s all about doing what’s right for children, then do that. The law is handled simply by providing adoptees with their original birth certificate (OBC) and requiring that they be provided the names of their original mother and father. Simple as that. I believe this is a separate issue from contact, reunion or relationship. Knowledge is different from all those things.

In response to the closed-lips your mother maintained about your father until her death, you have become super-open with your children. Do you think there are any bits of info that a parent might hide from a child, for his/her own good? What are the effects of such secrets on a child? Could that outweigh the possible effects of revealing those secrets on a child, even an adult child?

I believe there are things we may keep from our children for their own good that have nothing to do with them. I’m extremely open with my children but I don’t gather all of them together and drop a bunch of information on them that doesn’t touch their personal lives. I don’t tell my kids “everything” in the literal sense. I do not break confidences within my personal friendships or that which regards my job. But if something is about them personally or has an effect on their lives and they are the rightful owners of that information as well as me — then, I tell them.

Last year when I was in therapy for eight months, they knew. This affects their day-to-day lives. Children are perceptive and know something is wrong even when we say nothing. Rather than make them wonder, “What is wrong with mom? Why is she crying a lot? Are her and dad fighting? Are they getting a divorce?” and sending their minds in a tailspin as to what could be wrong, I sat them down and told them the truth. I shared what had happened between their grandmother and me, and why I was in therapy. Had they been younger, I wouldn’t have used the same exact words.

When the boys were very young, I faced secondary rejection when my natural mother declined to meet me after the confidential intermediary contacted her. I was distraught. I tried to hold it together in front of my two little guys, and most days I succeeded but some days I failed. Our middle son, Jordan, was too young to verbalize or ask what was wrong. He was still a baby in diapers. But Dustin, a preschooler, was so intuitive and verbal and he came out and asked, “What’s wrong, Mommy?” I remember explaining to him in very basic terms that someone I cared about hurt my heart, and this was the reason for my tears. Years later as they grew up they heard the full story. In fact, all three of my children have read my story on the blog even though they already knew the whole thing and lived through it. As they grew in maturity my explanation of things expanded.

The question above may imply that your mother kept your father’s identity from you for your own good. But I sense that is not the case, that her reasons were more self-protective. What are some of the thoughts or techniques or verses from scripture that helped you find forgiveness for your mother in your Casket Chat?

It’s an ongoing process and I call on God daily for wisdom and strength. He has been faithful to give it, daily. I could share a plethora of things He has imparted to me from the time of the falling out with my natural mother, until now. I’ll pick two.

My natural mother declared to me even before she knew she was sick that she would “go to her grave with my father’s name”. I held out hope that she wouldn’t, after she got sick. But, she did. I have to admit, there are still some days I wake up even today and say to myself, “Did that really happen?”

I remember feeling the most intense defeat I have ever felt in my life, when she died. Yes, because she was dead, but also because she died with my natural father’s name.

It felt hopeless, utterly hopeless in those first few days. One of the most powerful moments for me, and I’ve held onto this every day since, was when my friend Michelle, a Lost Daughters blogger, wrote on my Facebook page: “She is not the victor…”

I felt the opposite of Michelle’s declaration at the time. But I held onto it and knew that even without having knowledge of my natural father (yet) I was a victor for who I had become in the process of the previous months. I learned a lot about who I was in 2012 even though a lot of my history is still a mystery. My natural mother wasn’t treating me with kindness during that year, but my therapist reassured me that mounting courage and walking into her hospital room in her final hours was more a statement about who I am than how she was treating me.

I’ve gone to a whole new level in my life of learning what it means to do the right thing, as far as it depends on me. Verses that have been lifelines to me are:

My life verse:

No one will be able to stand against you all the days of your life. As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you. 6 Be strong and courageous… — Joshua 1:5 and 6

Also this:

Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. — Isaiah 41:10

Some days the thought of forgiving was so overwhelming I could only wail. There were days words failed me completely but God said, “You’re right Deanna, you can’t do this on your own but I will strengthen you, help you, uphold you and enable you to do what you can’t do on your own.”

He is faithful.

~~~~~

Deanna Doss Shrodes is a licensed minister with the Assemblies of God and has served as a pastor for 26 years, along with her pastor-husband, Larry. They have been married for 26 years, have three children and live in the Tampa Bay area.  Adopted in 1966 in a closed domestic adoption, she searched and found her original mother, sister and brother and reunited with them in 1993.  Deanna blogs about adoption issues at her personal blog, Adoptee Restoration, and also serves as the spiritual columnist at Lost Daughters, and well as being a regular contributor at Adoption Voices Magazine.

Want more of this anthology? Click over to read Deanna’s interview with me.

~~~~~

One eBook is available for giveaway through this post. Please leave a comment below by February 7 and I’ll use random.org to select a winner. Make sure I have your email address to notify you in case you win.

**Northern Star — you win! Look in your emailbox for further information.**

Thanks to Pastor Deanna for sharing her resilience, determination and reclaiming. For more posts by and about contributors to this anthology, see below.
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