Category Archives: Adoptee

Articles that explore the viewpoint of adoptees, as well as ideas of special concern to parents who are raising an adopted child.

Dear TX Senator Donna Campbell

Let’s talk — adoptive mom to adoptive mom.

I understand having fears about adoption and, by extension, fears about making changes in adoption law. Change can be scary. For decades many states have had laws on the books to protect people from the humiliation of unwed pregnancy or the shame of infertility or the stigma of being born to unmarried parents. In response, we have put up walls to hide the shame and stigma and humiliation.

One of those walls is the practice of closing birth records for one group of people who, due to circumstances of birth, to this day do not enjoy a civil right that all other citizens in your state do. It is time to re-evaluate the existence of this wall, as so many of your Texas bipartisan colleagues in the Senate and House  were eager to do at the close of the legislative session last month.

While I do understand having fears, Dr Campbell, I also think we should periodically re-examine and let go of fears that don’t withstand ongoing scrutiny. Let’s take a look at one of the fears that motivated your stance on Texas House Bill 984. Your office said that you’re “concerned with the broad language of the bill, and felt it violated the privacy of those involved in the adoption.”

[Click for news story of the bill’s defeat.]

When you say privacy I wonder if you are confusing it with secrecy,  which takes simple privacy and wraps it in toxic fear and shame. Privacy is chosen, secrecy is often imposed.

Secrecy exists because shame exists. With openness, by unsealing records and providing equal access for all, we can dissolve the shame and  vanquish the need for secrecy. Regarding the privacy issue, accurate birth records should be kept private from the public but not secret from the parties directly involved.

As you may already realize, the Internet and advances in DNA testing have enabled birth mothers and birth fathers and their now-adult children to find each others’ identities by skirting laws that were constructed in that era of shame and secrecy. Psychotherapist Karen Caffrey, who is an adult adoptee with birth family from Texas, says, “Family genetic secrets are very soon going to be a thing of the past.”

So why not change the laws to keep up with the times?

By the sheer numbers of people — adopted or not — who are searching for their biological kin, we can conclude that there is an innate human need to know one’s origins, no matter the story behind it. How else to explain the popularity of Roots, of Who Do You Think You Are, or of, which facilitates folks in enjoying the second-most popular hobby in the country?

I wonder, Senator Campbell, if one of your fears comes from an Either/Or mindset that stems from the way we’ve done adoption during our lifetimes, in which for you to fully claim your daughter, you must negate on some level the existence of her other set of parents. But we don’t have to split our children in this way. We can instead embrace a Both/And heartset in which all are acknowledged and valued, no matter if there is contact or not, no matter if you know the identity of your daughter’s birth father or not.

I hear during your questioning at the hearing of a similar bill in 2013 that you may be fearful that the child might want to “go back for financial reasons.” Quite frankly, I do not understand this. You pressed witnesses quite hard to name a valid impetus for the bill. Might I press you to say what makes you think an adult adoptee would  have money as a prime motivator for searching for her biological roots? In all my years of learning about the many facets of adoption, I have not heard one story or seen any statistics on this being the case.

When STAR (Support Texas Adoptee Rights) and its legislative allies manage to bring this issue to the table again during the 2017 legislative session, please consider the 180-degree turnaround that happened 21 years ago to a citizen activist in Ohio.

Adoptive father Brad Norris had worked with the legislature to seal Ohio’s birth records in the 1960s. He later said:

“I did not want any and all members of the general public to have access to my children’s birth records . . . We must be honest in recognizing that the 1964 law was created mostly out of concerns felt by adoptive parents.” [source]

Three decades later in the 1990s, Brad Norris testified in support of a bill to equalize access to birth records for adult adoptees. In his testimony, Mr Norris, adoptive dad to Betsie Norris, Executive Director of Adoption Network Cleveland, explained his change of heart and his chagrin at the wall he’d helped erect.

“In doing what I did on this 1960s legislation, I was unable to see the impact this would have on my adopted children when they became adults . . . I now recognize that closing those birth records to adoptees … was a grave mistake . . . there was not sufficient attention given to what happens when the adoptive child grows up and needs to know his or her genetic medical history or when the adult adoptee develops an undeniable yearning to know what his or her roots are.” [source]

For your own sake, Dr Campbell, please open your mind and your heart to this issue that you have previously been closed tight on. You don’t want to be seen as the last one propping up an oppressive wall, do you?

Lori, mom via adoption

Three things cannot be hidden:
the sun, the moon, and the truth. ~~ Buddha


Lori Holden's book coverLori Holden, mom of a teen son and a teen daughter, blogs from Denver. Her book, The Open-Hearted Way to Open Adoption: Helping Your Child Grow Up Whole, is available through your favorite online bookseller and makes a thoughtful anytime gift for the adoptive families in your life.

Dear Abby Misses the Mark on Adoption Question

Dear Needs Help in Indiana,

It must feel like walking on eggshells for an adoptee to live in an Either/Or world. If you even think about your birth mom, some will judge you as disloyal to the woman who is raising you.  Because, y’know, there is room for only one set of “real” parents in Either/Or world.  About the anger you’re feeling toward your birth mom, you’re told — by Dear Abby, no less — to wait until you’re older to search for her, and in the meantime to just get over it (which is not all that helpful unless the advice also includes how to do so).

dear abby

I wish for you and my own similarly-aged daughter to instead grow up in a Both/And world. In this world, we don’t need to negate one mother in order to legitimize the other. In this world we acknowledge that both biology and biography have value in making a person who she is. In this world we encourage our kids to claim and be claimed by both their clans. In this world we strive to give our teen access to all her pieces (even if that means just wondering and talking about those missing pieces) as she does the hard work of building her identity.

It’s my belief that allowing for healing that split will, in itself, ameliorate some of the intense emotions you’re feeling.

I’m sorry that you are struggling and feeling angry. I wonder if being able to talk openly about your anger would ultimately help you release it. You are wise to see that unresolved anger can spill over into your relationships with friends and family members. Instead of stuffing down your feelings until some later date when you search for your birth mother, my advice would be to enlist your parents’ help* now to find an adoption-competent therapist.  To start your search for one, check with  Brooke, Judy, or Sherrie, all in Indiana.

Bring this book to your first therapy appointment and ask your counselor to read it, if s/he hasn’t already.

Come to think of it, maybe I should send a copy of Adoption Therapy to Dear Abby.

Being 13 is hard. Being 13 and having complex feelings about adoption and no one to process with is super hard. Please. Find someone to talk with you about it. There are people who know this path and can help you along your way.

Best wishes,
Lori in Colorado

* If you think they might not be open-hearted about this, ask them to read this book first.

Image by Benmckune at en.wikipedia [Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons


Lori Holden's book coverLori Holden, mom of a teen son and a teen daughter, blogs from Denver. Her book, The Open-Hearted Way to Open Adoption: Helping Your Child Grow Up Whole, is available through your favorite online bookseller and makes a thoughtful anytime gift for the adoptive families in your life.

Triumph in Ohio

Another One Bites the Dust

Remember when I predicted that glasnost would come to adoption? That the walls erected in the name of shame and secrecy will inevitably fall, state by state, thanks to the hard work of adoption reform activists around the country –because anything built on a foundation of shame and secrecy simply isn’t sustainable?

Well, another wall has fallen, and the number of closed states in my original post just last year is off now by at least 3 (click here for a current count). ohio opens birth records to adopteesAdd Ohio to the list of state legislatures that have restored civil rights to adult adoptees.


I’m participating in this week’s social media thrust, tagged #ohadopteelaw, to highlight a bill that was passed in 2013 and goes into effect March 20. From organizer Adoption Network Cleveland (and my friend Linda Schellentrager):

In 2013 Adoption Network Cleveland achieved a major success towards our long term legislative goal of gaining the right for all Ohio adoptees to have access to their original birth records. This new law gives 400,000 adult adoptees adopted between 1964 and 1996 access to their original birth certificates. For a historical overview of this process, click here.

What are the implications regarding original birth certificates?

What does this new law mean for adoptees  who were placed in Ohio? Find answers at this adoptee access timeline. And how does this new law affect birth parents who placed in Ohio? Find answers via the birth parent decision tree. The 400,000 people adopted in Ohio between 1964 and 1996, as well as the people who love and support them, will find the video below of interest, as it explains what the new law means and how to request one’s own vital (and accurate) record of birth — something many non-adopted people have probably not given a whole lot of thought to.

Walking Through Ohio’s New Adoption Records Law

Also of interest to those who have followed the struggle for civil rights is this video by filmmaker and activist Jean Strauss. She tells the story  of Betsie Norris, Executive Director of Adoption Network Cleveland. Along her journey, Betsie discovered that her own father had inadvertently helped create the very laws she was trying to reverse.

An Adoptee ROARed in Ohio – the Betsie Norris Story by Jean Strauss

This week let’s celebrate the liberation  of sealed birth records in Ohio. And next week, let’s turn our attention to remaining legislatures that still need to right this wrong. The walls must fall. The walls will fall.

Please visit these other #OHadopteelaw posts (and add your own link if you’re writing about #OHadopteelaw).

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Adoption Therapy: On Blank Slate Babies & Being Open

There’s a new book out and I think it’s so valuable for adoptive parents, adoption professionals, and adoption therapists that I’m going to share with you here an excerpt from it.

Adoption Therapy: Perspectives from Clients and Clinicians on Processing and Healing Post-Adoption Issues

When Editor Laura Dennis asked me to read the manuscript for Adoption Therapy: Perspectives from Clients and Clinicians on Processing and Healing Post-Adoption Issues, I jumped at the chance. And was blown away with new ideas and insights that might be helpful in my parenting journey.

When Laura asked me to write the foreword to Adoption Therapy, I aspired to do it justice. Below is my attempt, reprinted with permission from the publisher.



It’s with both trepidation and humility that I compose the foreword to Adoption Therapy. You hold in your hand an extraordinary and incisive collection of writings about adoption and therapy, composed by many who have walked the long walk of facing trauma and healing from it. A majority of these contributors—and the editor herself—are adult adoptees.

Now if there’s one thing adoptive parents are known for in adoption circles, it is for doing more than their share of the talking. Accurately or not, adoptive parents are seen by some as the moneyed ones in the adoption “triad.” Accurately or not, adoptive parents are seen by some as the “winners” in adoption scenarios — they end up with their dreams answered while birth parents and adoptees suffer wounds that society doesn’t recognize. Accurately or not, adoptive parents are seen by some as the ones with the voice, with influence to mold adoption law and policy to their benefit.

And adoptive parents have been accused of speaking about adoption issues when perhaps they should be listening [case in point].

Hence my trepidation.

This notion of listening is why I encourage adoptive parents like me—and others curious about the possible effects of adoption—to pick up this book and read it thoroughly. We should be listening. We should give a temporary rest to our own thoughts and feelings and suppositions about adoption and create within us an open space to simply listen.

The Importance of Being Open

Being open to hearing a new point of view—maybe even a scary point of view—is an expansive state. Being open works best if one has healthy boundaries and appropriate permeability between self and not-self. It requires a healthy ego, one that doesn’t need to “win” to survive, one that recognizes its inherent value and accords others the same recognition. Being open means you have less of a need to defend your truth than you have curiosity to hear another’s.

Being open, however, does not mean there is no discernment. After creating space to hear others’ truths, and after listening and trying to understand a different perspective, it’s still all right to discern whether another person’s truth fits into your own—or not. And even if you decide “not,” it may be prudent to tuck away that perspective for a later time when your own evolving circumstances may cause you to look at the perspective again and anew.

As you turn these pages, I invite you to be open to the gifts and insights within, and to allow the possibility that not all chapters will look like gifts. Anything that strikes you strongly (and dare I say that could be every single powerful chapter?) is resonating for you, either positively or negatively charged, and indicates there is something there for you to look at—within you and from your own experiences.

Understanding Neonatal Trauma

As you read and understand, you’ll find gems like these quotes that will help you better understand the experience of having been adopted:

  • “To be conceived without being intended, to be carried in the womb of a stressed mother facing a crisis pregnancy, leave lifelong traces that persist without an understanding of their origins.” — From Chapter 5: Heeding the Body’s Messages: Physiological Implications of Prenatal Trauma
  • “Adoptive families tend to seek help from a counselor three times more frequently than other families.” — From Chapter 2: Red Flags that a Potential Therapist Could Do More Harm than Good
  • “I felt like I was living under the terms and conditions of a contract I never signed.” — From Chapter 7: Perspective of an Adoptee Conceived by Rape
  • “Start early teaching kids that feelings are like clouds moving through. No feeling is your last feeling. Feelings are not permanent.” — From Chapter 3: Approaches for Repairing the Wounds of Separation
  • “Our lives are a dance between knowing who we are as separate beings and knowing ourselves as parts of the whole.” — From Chapter 3: Approaches for Repairing the Wounds of Separation
  • On connecting with Nature: “Ida Rolf said that if you can’t get it from your mother, get it from the Mother—the earth.” — From Chapter 5: Heeding the Body’s Messages: Physiological Implications of Prenatal Trauma
  • “But moving on is much different from healing.” — From Chapter 7: Perspective of an Adoptee Conceived by Rape
  • “One classic example of ‘parentification’ would be an adoptive parent who constantly implores reassurance from the child that he/she is the ‘real’ parent.” — From Chapter 12: Co-Dependency in Adoptees
  • On adoptee resilience: “We succeed not so much because of that original loss but in spite of it.” — From Chapter 3: Approaches for Repairing the Wounds of Separation
  • “What these therapy modalities have in common is the goal of resolving past trauma at the level of the body/mind connection.” — From Chapter 12: Co-Dependency in Adoptees

Parents who adopted internationally may have been under the impression that a child would be nothing but grateful to the people who rescued him or her from abandonment or life in an orphanage. Surely it wouldn’t be traumatic for these “lucky” ones to land in a loving home. It would be a good thing!

As a mom via domestic adoption, that last quoted passage struck me because once upon a time, people adopting newborns thought we’d bring into our homes a Blank Slate Baby. Because they were infants, these brand new humans would come to us with no problem that our love couldn’t resolve. The babies didn’t have words yet, so clearly they wouldn’t have memories of their placement (which first involved a separation in order to make a new connection). Surely it wouldn’t be traumatic for these little babies to go from a chaotic and unstable place into a family that longed for them. As with international adoption, it would be a good thing!

But I’ve come to know by listening to adoptees that infants DO know. Young children DO know. They may not know in their brains, because it’s unclear how we encode events that happen before we can do the encoding through words and thoughts.

But their bodies know. Their body/minds know. The body/minds of infants and young children who were placed for adoption experienced chemical and hormonal changes, responding with unique and complex emotions that got encoded and stored. Evidence shows that the body/mind houses every experience we’ve ever had, even those that are preverbal. What we are hearing from brain scientists, therapists and adoptees themselves is that the memories of the trauma of a chaotic pregnancy and/or separation from source resides in the body/minds of adopted people.

What About Resilience?

So why might one adoptee turn out even-keeled and unflappable while another is deemed a hot mess? If the “primal wound” is real, why isn’t every single adoptee in therapy all the time?

We find the answer in the wisdom of Forrest Gump: Humans — like life itself — are like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get. Because of the infinite number of influences that go into making a person into who she is, because of the complexity of the interactions among those infinite influences from pre-birth on—because of the enormity of it all we can’t identify any one thing that causes someone to be unflappable or a hot mess or anywhere in between.

Will your child be resilient? Who knows? It takes a lifetime to fully unwrap this metaphorical chocolate. Resilience and all other traits will emerge on their own timetables, being coaxed out or pruned based on life experiences and other factors. As your loved one’s nature reveals itself to you, you can best respond by being open to who she is and attuning to her moment by moment.

Attunement and the Adoptee

The longer I do this parenting gig, the more I hear from parenting experts about incorporating attunement. Attuned relationships mean we are in harmony with the other. Being attuned means we are willing and able to go into discord with our loved one, even when doing so is unpleasant and frightening. To be able to do this, it’s helpful to understand how others have handled such inner discord and come out on the other side.

I desire to be an attuned parent, yet I’m finding though the journey is even more difficult than any other I’ve experienced. I bet anyone who loves an adopted person would like to be able to walk alongside her loved one and help bear the load of whatever he or she is going through. To do this we hold the intention to continually tune in with him, with her.

And to do this we must first hold the intention to tune in with ourselves.

As You Turn the Pages

I ask you to open yourself to information and perspectives that may strike you as helpful, as scary, as possible solutions, as clues to a puzzle you’re trying to figure out. I ask that you begin by preparing within you an open space to really listen to people who have walked this path—before you begin the process of discernment. I suggest that you monitor your own reactions to each chapter, and ask yourself probing questions at any time you notice a strong reaction (why did that trigger me?). I recommend that even if you discard the gist of a chapter today, that you remain open to reevaluating it another day.

May we all strive to open, to listen and to attune when it comes to adoption issues and the people who are faced with them.


cover for Adoption Therapy anthologyAdoption Therapy: Perspectives from Clients and Clinicians on Processing and Healing Post-Adoption Issues is available in paperback and Kindle editions on Amazon and other booksellers. Like the other contributors, I donated my work and have no financial stake in the success of this anthology.

Contributors to Adoption Therapy: Marcy Axness, PhD, Karen Belanger, Karen Caffrey, LPC, JD, Laura Dennis, Lisa Floyd, Rebecca Hawkes, Jody Haywood*, Lori Holden, MA, Mila C Knonomos, Krist Lado, Lesli Maul, LCSW, Brooke Randolph, LMHC, Suzanne Brita Schecker, EdD, LMHC, Raja Selvam, PhD, Lucy Chau Lai-Tuen*, Deanna Doss Shrodes, Corie Skolnick, MS, LMFT

* Guest posters to my recent #flipthescript series.