Tag Archives: closed adoption

Trajectory: Birth Mother Stories Through the Decades

We are products of our times. What’s going on around us has has a huge effect on what goes on within us — the pressures we face, the opportunities we have, the decisions we ultimately make (or have made on our behalf). I’m realizing that this is especially true for birth mothers and the stories they’ve had to tell that span the last five decades.

What brought me to this brilliant realization?

Adoption in the 1960s

I was approached recently by an icon in Adoption World, Lee Campbell, PhD. Lee was a typical teenager of the 1960s who went on to become a mover of mountains in the 1970s. What happened in between?

She tells all in her first memoir, Stow Away, but the short of it (really, you should read it — it’s excellent) is that she became pregnant unexpectedly as a teen, faced the pressures of her time and felt ambiguity about her “decision,” and moved on with her life as a dutiful and proper wife and mother. But despite her attempt to forget the fact that she’d borne a son (as women of that day were told to do), her memories would not stay away — instead they’d been stowed away and eventually would not be denied. In integrating her past of 1963 with her present of 1976, Lee worked through her grief, came up with a legal maneuver called Release of Protection, searched for and found her son (but did not yet reunite with him), connected with others affected by adoption, and ended up founding Concerned United Birthparents,. Lee explains here why CUB decided on the term “birthparent” — which has been controversial through the years.

I just condensed a lot of juicy history into one short paragraph. I recommend getting the narrative and fleshing-out from Lee herself via her books.

I’m currently reading Lee’s second memoir, Cast Off, which focuses more on how he got a start in her extraordinary adoption activism (I’m told she was an influencer of Jim Gritter). It’s a treat to get the insider’s view of reforming adoption from back in the early days. You can see how much Lee and her cohorts have contributed to the changing the culture that exists currently.

When Lee approached me she suggested I watch this, an episode of Donahue from 1979. I found it fascinating so I shared the show via social media. I had already decided that I wanted to get to know Lee better, so I asked her for an interview. As the newly appointed curator of CUB’s History Project, she graciously agreed.

The video I caught the eye of Kim Court, a woman who placed her son in the 1980s and was featured in a documentary that aired on Oxygen. Kim, struck by several commonalities between herself and Lee and transfixed by Lee’s memoirs, jumped at the chance to interview Lee with me.

With a “the more the merrier” mindset, I also asked Monika Zimmerman, a woman who placed her daughter in the 2000s, if she would like to join us. The result is this Roundtable, which will publish here in two parts.

Birth Mother Roundtable: Experiences Over the Last 50 Years.

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

birth mother stories

Please share the basics of your adoption story.

Lee: In the spring of my junior year in high school, I became pregnant by my first love of several years during our “first time.” His mother denied his paternity, resulting in what was then a scandalous court case. I thought my devastation was complete but there was still more to come. My school kicked me out due to my pregnancy and my parents shipped me to a home for unwed mothers in another state — both cruel but “standard operating procedures” for 1962. After I delivered Michael, I begged my social worker for “permission” to see him in his foster home. Although she condescended to allow my visits, there was a cost. For payback, she kept shoving the surrender papers across her desk at me but I kept pushing them back, saying I couldn’t do it.

As a middle-class young mother, I didn’t know about social assistance programs and my social worker did nothing to inform me. Meanwhile, as the eldest of five, my parents expressly told me their duty was to protect my younger siblings from the harm to their reputation my “situation” had caused them. After a debilitating year, including four months of visits with my son Michael that had been like pulling my social worker’s teeth, I remained without help and without hope for any help. I finally caved under the pressure. I surrendered.

Kim: I became pregnant at 17 with my longtime boyfriend. It was our first time. I was a smart young high school senior, but an extremely naïve teenager: I concealed the pregnancy for five months. Just days after my high school graduation, my secret was finally discovered. It was a shock to both of our families and a dark cloud of shame and guilt fell over me. I had disrupted the “nobody-needs-to-know-our-business” image of perfection our family diligently presented. I felt horrible. It was agreed that I would travel across the country (literally from the east coast to the west coast) to live with relatives. I wasn’t forced, but I really didn’t have a say in the matter.

My west coast family was warm and welcoming and didn’t look at me in the same disappointed way my parents did. Looking back, I can see that my parents’ disappointment was also mixed with sadness for what they knew I would go through. My mother accompanied me to the west coast to get me settled. Before she left, she found the number for Catholic Social Services in the yellow pages and encouraged me to call to speak with a counselor about adoption. That was early June; I didn’t call until mid-August. My views on adoption were based solely on what I could research at the local library. Unfortunately, in 1988, there were few books that presented anything other than a negative perspective on adoption.

My social worker was a wonderful woman named Judy. Unlike other stories I’ve heard – including Lee’s heartbreaking experience – Judy did not coerce me or sway me in one direction or another. She talked with me, but more importantly, she listened to me. I met with her about five separate times before telling her that I was ready to consider placing my baby. Part of the reason I feel there was no heavy coercion is because I would be 18 when the baby was born. Legally, my parents would have no say over what I should or should not do. However, since the option of parenting my child was never a consideration, and my resources were limited, the decision was basically made for me. She brought me several photo albums prepared by prospective adoptive parents. I found one family that really resonated with me. I kept going back to their album, finally deciding that they were the family I wanted to raise my child. In early October, I gave birth to a very healthy 10lb little boy and placed him for adoption one week later.

Monika: I didn’t know I was pregnant until the day I gave birth. With my daughter’s biological father in the military and deployed to Iraq, I was alone. I was 34 at the time of her birth, so I wasn’t a “typical” mother who surrenders her child. I was neither emotionally or financially prepared to have a child – in fact, I’d never wanted to bear my own children. Growing up, I could always see myself being a foster parent (and perhaps adopting from the foster care system), but never wanted any biological offspring. I also knew that if my daughter’s biological father and I stayed together that he’d most likely stay in the Army, and I knew that military spouses are single parents.

I wanted my daughter to have at least two consistent authority figures in her life, so I chose to surrender. I was having seizures at the time of her birth (pre-eclampsia, not a seizure disorder) and the hospital social workers didn’t believe my choice, so they put her in state foster care and I had to go to a couple of court hearings to prove I was of sound mind surrounding my decision. On the second court date, nearly two months to the day after my daughter’s birth, my daughter was released to my custody, and that was the day I signed over legal parental rights to the state, who then turned over legal parental rights to my daughter’s adoptive parents. That was also the day I first met them in person, though we’d all individually expressed a desire for a phone conversation prior to surrender day. The agency definitely dropped the ball on that one.

What were two things that needed to change systemically (not just your circumstance) from your era?

Lee:

  1. Social workers should have been oriented toward helping new families stay together. Any disequilibrium caused by external circumstances should have been righted.
  2. Social workers should have presented options both verbally and in writing and provided help to exercise the options that were selected..

Kim:

  1. There was still such a stigma in the 1980s about becoming pregnant out of wedlock. Although the pendulum has swung a full 180 degrees since then with reality shows seemingly glamorizing teen pregnancy, I do believe that this stigma about what “everyone will think” put an enormous amount of pressure on me and others to atone for our sins and right our wrongs.
  2. My social worker was wonderful when it came to pre-birth counseling; however, she was in California and I returned to Massachusetts a few days following my son’s placement. Back home, there was no mention of any follow-up counseling. It was assumed I would go on with my life as planned. This was devastating for me, although I didn’t realize it at the time. The full effects of the pain of relinquishment wouldn’t show up until years later when I was married and parenting our two daughters. I cannot overemphasize how important I believe pre and post-placement counseling would have been for me.

Monika:

  1. The biggest thing for me is that I believe the system needs to be oriented toward foster care and foster-to-adopt, and NOT private infant adoption. I think that needs to be the last thought in a couple’s mind as they consider adoption for their family. I’m not certain how to accomplish that. Greed is too prevalent.
  2. Though my personal experience was decent, I agree with Lee. There needs to be more support pre-birth for mothers who are wrestling with a decision about their babies, and not just a push toward surrendering.

More to come…tune in for part 2, in which the ladies of this Roundtable will address progress made, wish lists for today, thoughts on open adoption, and looking forward and looking back.

If you’re already hankering for more and can’t wait for my next post, see Claudia’s take on the Birth Mother Trajectory.

For those of you who have placed a child for adoption (or had one placed), how do these stories compare with your own? What would your answers be to these questions?

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.

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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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