Tag Archives: closed adoption

Half-breed

What do Cher, President Obama and adoptees have in common?

This earworm was on the radio the other day and made me think of all three.

Half breed. That’s all I ever heard.
Half breed. How I learned to hate the word.
Half breed. She’s no good, they warned.
Both sides were against me since the day I was born.

I felt sorry for the subject of Cher’s song (this was before I saw the size of her waist and the length of her legs on the video — not mustering up much pity for those traits). Must be awful to claim parts of two cultures but to not have them claim you back.

I noticed the same about Barack Obama during the 2008 election. Wikipedia says his mother was “of mostly English ancestry” and that his father was from Kenya. I’m not the first to bring up the fact that some people consider him black (“the country’s first black president”) and others consider him not black enough. While he has claims on multiple heritages, those groups don’t necessarily fully claim him.

Sadly, sometimes a half + a half a whole.

For both Cher’s character and for Barack Obama, their two halves had trouble existing in harmony with the world at large, in being fully claimed by either of their sides.

Which can also happen with adoptees. I asked my friend Torrejon, who grew up in a closed adoption, about this idea of halves, and she had this to say about adoptee math.

I think it was BJ Lifton who said that adoptees are “betwixt and between” two worlds like Peter Pan.  I always hated Peter Pan, maybe that is why.   Other people compare being adopted to having one foot on each side of a road.  I don’t think of it like either of those analogies.  I’ve got both feet on both sides of the road at the same time.  I’m not half here and half there…I’m fully both places at the same time.  It is counter-intuitive and impossible.  Have you ever heard the expression:  “Half is something I want no part of”?  It is sort of like that.  And the Romani gypsies that I know will tell you that they are Spanish and Romani…not half and half…both things.  Those two terms are not mutually exclusive nor inclusive.  Not 1+1=0…but rather 1+1=1…adoptee math.  However, I do think adoptees can end up with a 0 if they are divided into exclusive halves:  ½ + ½ = 0

Whatever analogy or model I try to come up with, (haven’t yet found a perfect one) I always test it against my own kids and me.  For instance, I’ve got two kids.  I’m not half a mother to one, and half a mother to the other; I’m a full mother to both of them.  That doesn’t mean I’m two halves…or two people.  I’m simply a mom with two kids.  So, by extension, I prefer to think of myself as existing fully in my two families.  By the way, I don’t presume to speak for others…we’ve all got our own ideas about how to think about this.

Don’t you love how she reverses the generations to make her point? By splitting the parent between the children we can see the ridiculousness of splitting the child between the parents.

The key for adoptive parents, then, is this: how can we ensure that 1+1 = 1, like the Romani gypsy and not ½ + ½ = 0, like Cher and the President? One reason I advocate so strongly for openness is that I believe it provides a way for an adopted child to experience the first formula. Openness helps two halves become whole by having both families — birth and adoptive — fully claim the person.

Your thoughts?

 

Open Adoption Examiner Book Tour: Found, a memoir

Today kicks off the latest Open Adoption Examiner Book Tour. With this third outing of the OAExaminer Book Club we are discussing Found: a Memoir, by Jennifer Lauck.

Adoption plays a major role in Jennifer Lauck’s memoir, but the book has appeal beyond those who are connected to adoption. You do not have to have read the book to read along on this tour.

As I read Found and the author’s revelations about herself, I discovered that Jennifer Lauck and I have many things in common:

  • We were born a year apart, almost to the day.
  • We are the same height
  • My husband and her significant other have the same name
  • We are both yoginis and meditators
  • A person close to me placed a daughter for adoption in the same time period and geographic area as the author’s birth mother did. This was a big secret and I found out about it only recently, as an adult.
  • We are both writers (this I knew before I read the book)

Perhaps these points explain why I felt a certain resonance with Found. The gripping story she has lived includes being orphaned at 9 by her adoptive parents and suffering abused by later caretakers, searching with almost mystical guidance for her birth parents and healing from her early traumas. I appreciate that Lauck presented not only the tale of her primal wound but also chronicled her journey in healing from it.

One paragraph gave me a new way to frame the age-old issue why some people seem to have more than their share of bad things happen to them:

If we are talking about cause and effect — karma — what is the energetic power of the traumatized brain? Is it a force of its own, like a magnet that drags terrorizing circumstances, people, and events into its path in order to reexperience traumatic responses that have become familiar and even comforting? If terror is what the mind knows, is terror then sought out? Is this how predators identify victims? Is this power what attracts cruel people into the lives of trauma victims and has them stick around year after brutal year? Had my brain — with its unique wiring and built-in responses — been drawing me into situations that resulted in rape, abuse, neglect and cruelty? (p116)

I ultimately value the book for the fact that Lauck explains how, with awareness and mindfulness, she turned her karma around. She now teaches others, especially adult adoptees, to do the same.

Here are the discussion questions I chose to answer.

On pp 17-18, Jennifer talks about a baby searching for her mother after being born. How did this sensory-rich passage strike you? What thoughts did it trigger about the role you play in adoption?

This was a painful passage for me, a mother by adoption, to read. I was there the moment Tessa was born. I watched her snuzzle with Crystal that first 36 hours in the hospital. And then I brought her home (albeit with a detour). In my memory, Tessa was a calm, happy baby. I recall no frantic searching, “outrage, panic or terror.” Did I simply miss it?

With Reed, I wasn’t present for his first three weeks, one of them being in the NICU, one with Michele and the other with cradle-care parents. Was he then and does he remain in a state of “amnesia — shock-based unconsciousness”?

I hesitate to say a flat-out no because of the “thou-doth-protest-too-much” thing, but I didn’t see signs.

The passage had the effect of making me look. And to be on the lookout.

Assuming the loss of a first mother is extremely painful for an adoptive child, is there a way to empower or help an adoptive child heal if an open relationship with their first mother is not an option?

Yes. An adoptive mom (or dad) can foster such an open and trusting relationship with her son (or daughter) that he feels safe feeling his emotions and allowing her to witness him doing so. For the mom to do this, she must work through any botheration* she may have about her role in her son’s life as a second mom, and be aware of her own feelings of sadness, grief, jealousy or guilt she harbors for her son’s first mom.

I believe that feelings get stuck and rot only when they are squashed beneath the surface of consciousness. When a son is allowed to feel and process sadness, grief or anger, with the support of someone who loves him deeply and is unimpeded herself, he is more likely to be able to release and be free of painful emotions — in essence, to heal, to be empowered.

It takes a lot of self-work to provide that space to a child, because you have to have that space within yourself.

If a first mother is not willing to have contact with her child or adoptive family, is it prudent to attempt to compel the first mother into an open relationship?

No! The “open” in openness refers not only to the type of adoption but also the spirit of it. To compel someone to do what she doesn’t want to do is a recipe for resentment, disappointment and heartache all around.

However, I’m all for persuading people into open adoption relationships. By using logic — it will be better for your child in the long run if you can have a steady and positive presence in her life — or by using emotion — you’ve already done the hardest thing out of your love for your child; now stay in her life so that she can continue to know herself better through you — I wholeheartedly support gentle and repeated reminders about why the first mom (or dad) should participate in an open adoption.

I realize, however, that not all birth moms are open to being open. My son’s birth mom has such tendencies toward closedness, and sometimes the most I can do is stay Friends with her on Facebook. We adoptive parents are the caretakers of the relationship between our children and their birth parents until it is able to happen on its own.

What I suggest in these cases is that adoptive parents make it clear to a first mom that they desire an Open Door adoption, in which the first mom can walk through when she’s ready. For one thing, it shows that adoptive parents see in her the potential to heal and to return to the relationship, and for another, people change and grow. Having an open door adoption leaves a way to accommodate that growth and create or resume a relationship.

* It’s a word!

To continue to the next stop of this book tour, please visit the main list at The Open Adoption Examiner.

Unexpected fallout

Once in awhile, a situation goes down 180 degrees differently from how I think it will. Something goes horribly awry, despite my best intentions and the clearest foresight available to me.

It has happened in the last two weeks.

Twice.

In the first instance, I publicized a cause that was important to a group of people by way of an event. I am a guest on the group’s forum and I know to tread lightly because of the dynamics between the group and a position I hold. I posted said event about said issue on this group’s space. Turns out the group (the vocal ones, anyway) did not like the person who sponsored the event nor the timing of the event — issues I did not foresee and issues which unleashed 5 pages of seething vitriol aimed squarely at me.

At the time of the unleashing I was on a road trip, touring Civil War battlefields with my family and my newly-bereaved father-in-law and sister-in-law. Which meant that on my smart phone I was able to read but not to respond to the spinning-out-thread.

And, with two car-weary kids in the back of a rented van, also meant an abundance of battle energy all around me.

I thought and thought and meditated about how to best handle this unexpected turn on the thread. Walk away and never come back? I would lose a forum that I value; plus that would mean all the allegations about me would go unanswered. Defend myself? That would likely not resolve anything, but rather fan the flames. Gather my meager forces to back me? It seemed wrong to bring others into the fray.

On the day between Gettysburg and Antietam, it hit me. I remembered the title of this post. And the way became clear.

Everyone wants to be heard. Being understood is one of the best gifts we can give or receive. So I composed a brief reply addressing what I heard group members saying. I tried to be an objective mirror, reflecting back to them the points they were making, without vitriol and without defense. I admitted nothing, I apologized for nothing, I simply reported what I heard their concerns to be.

That proved to be the key.

Many forum members were gracious,  reaching out to me publicly or privately. I was thanked for the understanding and I was redeemed.

~~~~~

The second derailment began with my recent post about questions from a closed-era adoptee. I “met” JoAnne online somewhere along the way. She would clue me in whenever she made progress on finding out more about her adoption and her origins. Hers is a  story that has villains (judges, attorneys, doctors — at best unethical and at worst, criminal) as well as angels (librarians, historians, genealogists — common people with common decency in helping her find her roots), with twists and turns worthy of a John Irving novel. She’s in her 50s, adopted at birth and readopted later on, her truth hidden from her by so many players in her saga.

She is also one of the kindest, gentlest people I can imagine. Think Beth of Little Women, Celie of The Color Purple, Truvy of Steel Magnolias. Graceful and gracious to the core. In spite of the numerous wrongs done to her, JoAnne has maintained her ability to see the good in people, proof that what you see and assume about others is what you see and assume in yourself.

JoAnne was raised in the 1950s and 60s when adoption was something all parties pretended didn’t happen. Her petri dish, if you will (we are all surrounded by culture and grow in it accordingly, just like strep germs do in agar), was full of spoken and unspoken beliefs and assumptions. She read my stories about the way I’m raising my children, and she wanted to further explore those assumptions she’d been exposed to and had absorbed, almost by osmosis.

Now I know that many in the open adoption community are committed to educating about openness in adoption. So I had the bright idea to not only answer her questions but also invite others to. When I gave a heads up to Heather, the founder of the Open Adoption Roundtable, that I was doing so, she offered to make the questions part of the OART.

Similarly, the Open Adoption Roundtable once tackled O Solo Mama’s “Ignorant” Questions about Open Adoption (her blog is no longer available so I cannot direct you there). This mom via international adoption sought to better understand the strange-to-her thing that is open adoption, and OA bloggers were eager to help her understand, abiding by the old adage that there are no stupid questions.

This was my expectation with JoAnne’s wonderings, as well. She, too, was trying to wrap her mind around a road she didn’t get a chance to walk. She, too, had an innocent curiosity about a concept that was foreign to her.

I did not foresee that some would take offense at the questions JoAnne posed. I did not foresee that JoAnne would thus be hurt and shamed.

But our intentions were good. Neither JoAnne nor I set out to insult or inflame, but rather to illuminate.

Does that matter? Should it matter?

As I hover over the Publish button, I acknowledge that this post, also, may be taken as either an explanation — or 180 degrees opposite my intention. I do hope it turns out to be the former.

Closed-Era Adoptee Asks Open Adoption Questions

closed adoption and open adoptionPeople raised with shame and secrecy  in closed adoptions sometimes find it difficult to imagine the alternative of open adoption. My friend JoAnne has posed the following questions to me, some that I can answer and some that I can’t.

I invite any of you who write about open adoption to chime in on any question(s) you choose. Leave your linky below  so others can come visit your answers.

1. Can the adoptive parents really go back on their word after the adoption has been finalized and do whatever they please in regard to updates and pictures?

They can. They do. They shouldn’t.

(In the vast majority of cases.)

There is an inherent power shift in adoption. Until relinquishment, the first parents have all the power (although many have told me they feel anything BUT powerful). After finalization, the adoptive parents have all the power. Legally, it is never a shared power. But pragmatically, my belief is that it’s best for the child if the adults focus on the child’s need to integrate his biology and biography by figuring out a way to all be present in his life to whatever degree works for each family cluster.

I can’t tell you how reprehensible I think it is for an adult to promise the world when you DON’T have what you want and then change the rules once you DO have what you want. It’s morally and ethically wrong, it shatters the Golden Rule into pieces, and creates some very strong karma that I wouldn’t want to be on the receiving end of.

But. I do not personally know of anyone who has done this. I do know of adoptions that have been closed by one party or another because circumstances change. But I am unaware of anyone who promised openness out of baby lust and did not follow through. I am sure it happens, though.

A few states do honor open adoption agreements. But open adoption is often compared to building a relationship with your in-laws. You are joined by your love for your spouse, and as a gift to your spouse you do all you can to make it work. Rarely do we need the law to mediate between in-laws. And when we do, it means something has gone horribly wrong.

2. Who is the go-between for communication with most Open Adoptions: the case worker, the placing agency, or the lawyer handling the adoption?

This is probably done on a state-by-state or even agency-by-agency basis, but in our case the agency advised us about the benefits of open adoption and told us we would be creating our own relationship. That, similar to a matchmaker of yore, once the introductions were made and we decided to connect, the agency would step out as intermediary.

However, our agency was there for us years later when we wanted help establishing a relationship with a first father who was unavailable during Tessa’s first 7 years.

3. What are the advantages and disadvantages for each of the above contact persons?

In my state, all adoptions must go through an agency. In our situation, the social worker worked for the agency, and we felt well-served by both. Our social worker was not adversarial with us (no white-gloved judge), and both our children’s birth moms say they also were assisted ethically by the agency, being given resources on parenting as well as space to make their respective decisions. The efforts of every party seemed to be focused on the babies. It set a good tone for us to develop our own ideas of child-centeredness and openness.

I cannot speak about how interactions with lawyers or facilitators  can go.

4. How can case workers be involved in Open Adoption as well if DHS are already so understaffed and the budgets are maxed out for the thousands of forgotten children lost in the system?

I think, when you say DHS (Department of Human Services), you are talking about state or county agencies that intervene when biological parents are suspected in cases of abuse or neglect. More and more, these agencies are recognizing the benefits of openness for a child placed in foster or foster-adopt situations. You can find thoughtful posts on this topic at Social Wrkr 24/7 and Our Full Circle.

5. Is there an incentive such as money for the adoption agency to be still involved indirectly and indefinitely for an Open Adoption? Does it cost the prospective adoptive parents more money upfront for it to be an open adoption?

To my knowledge, adoption fees are not affected by the presence or absence of openness.

6. If the contract is legally binding, what happens to the adoptive parents if they don’t follow through? Is there really any legal recourse for both parties that are clearly spelled out?

This document, about adoptions in Hawaii, says that adoptions there are bound only by “good faith,” “trust” and the “best interest of the child.”  I would love to hear about this from anyone in a legally-binding open adoption. What is the legal recourse?

Also, I would like to know what happens if it is the first parent who does not keep his/her part of the deal, specifically by closing the adoption. Should the rules be different for each set of parents?

Weaver interviewed Meghann on this topic during the Open Adoption Interview project.

7. What deters the birth parents from coming to your house unannounced?

I’ll answer this with a question: What deters your cousin from coming to your house unannounced? Your sister-in-law? Your friend from high school? Just a social more that says it’s polite to call first. In my experience, our children’s first moms wouldn’t dream of surprising us with a visit, although if they did we’d be pleased to see them.

We don’t consider our children’s birth parents outsiders or intruders. They are a welcome part of our extended family because they are important to our children and also just because we like them.

8. Do you know if there are any court cases where it’s obvious that there are loopholes in Open Adoption that need to be addressed?

I do not — it’s not something I’ve looked for — but I’d be interested in hearing of any.

9. Just like there are issues with closed adoptions and we have the outspoken activists’, etc., are there any Open Adoption opponents or vice versa that are working to be the voice for the birth mothers as well as the adoptive children and their best interests?

In my limited experience, I have heard no hue and cry from first parents opposed to open adoption. The intention of open adoption is not to force openness, but rather to educate the grownups in the equation on the benefits to the child of openness. And to give those grownups the freedom to work out a relationship that works for each of them as much as possible.

I am, however, aware of adoptive parents who are against the trend toward openness.

10. When is the adoptee old enough to choose if they want contact or not? What if they are the ones who want to break off ties with the bio parents?

I’m going to quote myself:

Have you ever heard–or perhaps even made–statements like this? “The decision to have a relationship with her bio family should be hers when she is ready. Creating a relationship between them before she wants it might cause issues in the future.”

Because I see our children’s first parents as extended family, I am going to replace one key word to see how logical the new statement sounds:

“The decision to have a relationship with her grandparents should be hers when she is ready. Creating a relationship between them before she wants it might cause issues in the future.”

Ridiculous, no? Have a child wait until she’s “ready” to meet her grandparents? When will she be ready, and how would you know?

That said, we give our children lots of control over their relationships with their birth parents. If they want to call, they call. If they want to arrange a Skype session or a get-together, we make it happen. If, for some reason, they want to reduce contact, they do. Until they’re ready to resume, which they always eventually are.

I believe two keys for my children are having control and having adoption in our home be normalized to the furthest extent possible.

11. Are there any support groups/legal aids for birth mothers where they can get honest answers with their concerns for open adoptions?

I am aware of Open Adoption Support and Open Adoption Insight, and I’m sure there are more groups that offer advice and support. I hope other responders will chime in with their ideas.

~~~~~

If you have insights to share with JoAnne and other interested closed-era adoptees, please write your post and leave your linky below [linky tool closed].

UPDATED: Here is a follow-up post in response to some of this post’s fallout.

Image: nattavut / FreeDigitalPhotos.net.